Saturday 4 February 2012

Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (1967)


Continuing on from revamping my analysis of 'Darling Dear' I have decided to take a closer look at one of my favorite Jamerson lines - the 1967 classic duet between Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough'. The original post back in 2012 has become the most popular analysis on the site, and so I though it was about time to freshen up the article.

Here I take a close look at the iconic intro / verse descending line, the great chorus groove and the bridge - but as always I encourage you to delve deeper and learn the whole song. It's a masterpiece!

Intro and Verse 2 - A Comparison

Firstly I am going to take a look at the classic descending line that carries us through the intro and verse. This is a great study in how Jamerson can lay down a simple part, and begin to gradually embellish the line - rhythmically building up his part to drive the song forward towards the chorus. These two sections are overall very similar, both based around the chromatic descending motion down through the A, G# and G, but we can see how Jamerson chooses to leave much more space during the intro. Through changing up the rhythm in the first, second and fourth bars of the verse Jamerson manages to completely alter the feel of the piece - creating a much more driving quaver based line in bars one two and four. Over the G#m7(b5) he builds into a classic Jamerson syncopated phrase. He is mostly just playing root notes here, using the chromatic nature of the chord progression to lead his descending bass line. The F# and B which he plays in the second half of bar three is the major seventh and third of the Gmaj7, but also the minor second and fifth of the Em7 in the next bar - here he is using scale tones shared by both chords in order to aid a smooth and strong melodic transition.

Chorus 1

Mostly chord tones are used here - clearly outlining the harmony alongside some chromatic passing phrases to tie together the chord transitions. Jamerson uses a similar run in bar two and four (again, mostly chord tones) to allow a fluid climb from the Bm7 to Gmaj7. The movement in bars six and seven matches the other instruments on the track, creating a moment of unison as they drop back into the verse.


With the chords changing frequently in this section Jamerson keeps it simple and uses root, fifth and octave patterns throughout the whole of the bridge. Right through the first four bars - up until the last quaver of bar four - he is just working up and down a simple root, fifth and octave phrase. A quick open E right at the end of bar four carries us up to an F# in the next bar - a great example of how Jamerson uses open strings to bounce around the neck and help smooth position changes. From here he again essentially just sticks to a root, fifth and octave phrase that really drives the song forward towards the final verse. Dynamically this section is building right up, and with the final chorus just round the corner Jamerson's simple, driving line really works in this section. A great example of this can be seen in the final four bars - the chromatic nature of the progression already creates a sense of motion and build, and choosing to construct a line largely based around the root of the chord really accentuates this motion. Through keeping his part harmonically simple the focus is shifted to the rhythmic variations between the sections, which Jamerson uses to change the feel and dynamics as the track progresses.