The Golden Egg.
This song was called “the golden egg” by Nickolas Ashford, one half of the famous songwriting team Ashford and Simpson. According to his wife Valerie Simpson, the late Ashford looked at the song as their entry into Motown Records back in 1966 when it was written. Ashford & Simpson thought so much of the song, when Dusty Springfield asked to be the first artist to sing it, they turned her down.
Turns out, the duo made a smart decision, because “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has become one of the most influential, and most loved songs, that the pair ever wrote. So many artists have covered it; this post will spotlight a few of them. The first of these is perhaps the most beloved of them all: Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s duet version. There is a story that Terrell was nervous and intimidated when recording the song because she hadn’t rehearsed the lyrics. Because of this, her part was recorded seperately and then Gaye’s vocal was added in later. Given how awesome the finished product sounds, you’d never know any of that happened.
And as they say, the rest is history: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” began a string of classic Gaye-Terrell duets, written by Ashford & Simpson. “You’re All I Need To Get By,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” “Your Precious Love,” and “If This World Were Mine,” are some of the classic examples.
In 1968, Diana Ross (at that time a member of The Supremes), recorded a version of the song with her group and the Temptations. That version was faithful to the Gaye-Terrell original and was contained on the album The Supremes Join The Temptations. Once Ross left the Supremes, she was approached by Ashford & Simpson to record the song a second time. Ross was not thrilled about doing the song again, but the songwriters convinced her to do it. What she ended up wth is an individual tour de force, with gospel elements, loads of strings, and even some spoken word sections by Ross. Once again, the songwriters were right-Ross’s version became an even bigger hit than the original, hitting number 1 on both the pop and R&B charts.
If Marvin & Tammi are black and white, this version is Cinemascope and Technicolor.
Later in the 70s, Salsoul Records decided to give the song the full disco treatment. With lead vocals from Jocelyn Brown (“Somebody Else’s Guy” from 1984), the group Inner Life performed a version of the classic. The best known version was remixed by famous dance DJ Larry Levan and runs over ten minutes—which made it perfect for the dance clubs, but to my knowledge, never charted anywhere but the dance charts—where it peaked at #20.
Ahh…that classic disco.
I suppose if Ashford & Simpson never wrote another song, they wouldn’t starve from the royalties this one has given them over the years. It’s a song that has obviously stood the test of time; it was written fifty-one years ago. And as long as people love romantic songs, and famous duets, it will continue to be sung. Even as iconic a voice as Michael McDonald’s has wrapped his pipes around it. Keeping it pretty faithful to the original version, McDonald recorded his take for his first album of his trilogy of Motown covers back in 2006.
Do you have a favorite? Do you like them all? Of course, there are dozens of others that I did not feature here. You can read about the song and its history here. Personally, if one has to go, it’s Inner Life’s version. I love classic disco, but that version stretches the song to the extreme. I like McDonald’s voice too much to throw his version out, and the other two are soul classics; even if they sound nothing alike. Have your say about this classic song in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading and listening.