Beyonce never does anything by half, and never until she’s ready. Thus, it’s not a big surprise that she paid musical tribute to her idol Tina Turner several days after the icon’s death last Wednesday — and with a stripped-down version of the song that is not only the most musically complex in Turner’s catalog, but one of the most complicated hit singles of all time: “River Deep – Mountain High,” the 1966 hit written by Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry with producer Phil Spector.
Beyonce’s performed the song Monday at the first show of her five-night stand at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
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“I want you guys to help me sing one of my favorite songs,” Beyonce said to the crowd. “We love you, Tina.”
While the original version is a dizzying opus filled with dozens of musicians and tempo changes centered around Tina Turner’s magnificent vocal, Beyonce did the song as more of a ballad, accompanied by piano, occasional drums and (presumably) keyboards playing the orchestral parts.
The fact that she covered the song in London was fitting as well: While Spector was one of the most successful hitmakers in history, his behavior became increasingly erratic throughout the 1960s (he was convicted of murdering a woman in 2003) and the American music and radio industries began to turn against him. He considered “River Deep” to be his magnum opus, but the song was not a hit in the U.S., both because of its complexity and a spurning by the industry. However, it was a top five hit in Europe and reached No. 3 in the U.K. The song has since achieved historic status and was ranked at No. 33 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2004 list of the greatest songs of all time.
Beyonce had paid tribute to Turner, who died at the age of 83 after a long illness, last week with a post on her website.
“My beloved queen. I love you endlessly,” she wrote. “I’m so grateful for your inspiration, and all the ways you have paved the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion. We are all so fortunate to have witnessed your kindness and beautiful spirit that will forever remain. Thank you for all you have done.”
The two performed together at the Grammy Awards in 2008, soaring through a version of “Proud Mary,” Turner’s hit 1971 cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic. Three years earlier, Beyonce paid tribute to Turner by performing the song solo at the 2005 Kennedy Center Honors.
She also spoke about Turner during a concert in Paris last week. “I just want to take a second and honor Tina Turner,” she told the crowd. “If you’re a fan of mine, you’re a fan of Tina Turner. I wouldn’t be on this stage without Tina Turner, so I want you guys to just scream, so she can feel your love. I feel so blessed that I was allowed to witness her brilliance.”
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