Nary a day goes by without a new usage of an Ashford & Simpson song, and yesterday was no exception.
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” the Motown classic written by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson and a duet hit in 1967 for Marvin Gaye, then revised as an Ashford & Simpson-produced solo hit in 1970 for Diana Ross, was used twice last night, first in Dancing With the Stars, then by Aretha Franklin as part of her new single “Rolling in the Deep,” which she performed on Late Night with David Letterman.
It was “Movie Night” on Dancing With the Stars, and Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Cheryl Burke hoofed a foxtrot to “Ain’t No Mountain,” the Gaye-Terrell version of which is featured in the closing sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy. But the song has been used in other films including Sister Act 2 (a mix of the Gaye-Terrell versions, in 1993), Remember the Titans (a cast performance, in 2000) and Chicken Little (Ross’s version, in 2005).
As she does on the single, Franklin tagged “Ain’t No Moutain” on to the end of her cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” in bringing Letterman’s studio audience to its feet.
Simpson spoke about the song last April at a Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Sessions at NYU (New York University) event held at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village.
She noted that after she and Ashford—with onetime Ikette Joshie Jo Armstead–landed their first hit with Ray Charles’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” Motown’s great songwriting/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland) came to New York to scout talent.
“Timing is everything,” stated Simpson. “They had got our names, and Nick went to meet them at the Hilton with some of our demos. But he waited a long time and almost left: Our opportunity was just about to go down the elevator!”
But H-D-H liked Ashford and Simpson’s demo of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“We did great demos!” Simpson acknowledged. “They wanted something for Marvin and Tammi. We’d just finished writing ‘Ain’t No Mountain,’ and we knew it was a hit: Dusty Springfield came to the house and listened to our material and she loved it and wanted it. But we told her, ‘We’re taking it to Detroit!’ We went to Motown and were asked to write for this duet. It fell in our laps.”
Songwriter Phil Galdston, the NYU Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence and Master Teacher in Songwriting, hosted the session and began by relating an exercise he does with student songwriters.
He said that he asks his students to close their eyes and imagine an important live event taking place 10-15 years in the future—and a song to go with it. Invariably, he said, two songs are mentioned: Lennon-McCartney’s “Yesterday” and Ashford-Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
“That’s cool,” Simpson said.
[The Examiner wrote liner notes on several Ashford & Simpson CD and DVD releases.]
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