The Empowering Meaning Behind “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is about so much more than a simple love story—it’s a story of empowerment. Written by the husband and wife hit songwriting duo of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was first a Top 20 single for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell before it ended up in the hands of Diana Ross, who turned it into one of her signature hits.

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[RELATED: Diana Ross Closes Out Jubilee Platinum Party With “Aint No Mountain High Enough”]

British singer Dusty Springfield originally wanted to be the one to record it after the couple played it for her, but they ultimately declined, as they wanted to pitch it to Motown Records. Below, we look at the origins of the classic Motown hit.

Meaning Behind the Song

Though the lyrics sound solely like a love song, “Ain’t No Mountain” came from a place of struggle, particularly for Ashford. “It’s not the love song that it sounds like, it’s so much more,” Simpson expresses in an interview on Unscripted: Conversations w/ Christian John Wikane. “I think the ‘more’ is what people get and why it’s lasted through the years.”

Simpson notes that there’s a sense of “empowerment” embedded into the lyrics that were inspired by Ashford’s journey to New York City. Ashford was homeless at the time, but Simpson recalls how he said he was walking by the large buildings in the district of Central Park West and thought, “‘The buildings looked like mountains.’ He was so determined that New York wasn’t going to do him in,” Simpson explains. “He was determined that he was going to be a success and then he said, ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough,’ looking at the buildings, ‘There ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from making it.'”

His inspiring words then became the famous lyrics known today, the couple opting to change “keep me from making it” to, To keep me from getting to you, baby. “I think people when they’re going through something, they sense that meaning that’s deeper,” she says. “And it does empower people because it was born into the lyric.”

The Ross Recording

What made Ross’ version particularly unique was the parts where she speaks in between singing, such as when she opens the song by saying, If you need me, call me / No matter where you are / No matter how far. Ashford and Simpson both grew up in church and wanted to bring that high energy into the song. They also wanted to create a longer song that Isaac Hayes was doing at the time, so they put in the speaking parts to highlight Ross’ “sexy” speaking voice. “It fit that description that we could build all that into this production,” Simpsons observes.

[RELATED: 7 Songs You Didn’t Know Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson (Ashford & Simpson) Wrote for Other Artists]

Despite Motown Records President Berry Gordon tearing their version apart and asking them to change it, the couple stood their ground on the original recording. “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was released as the first single off Ross’ 1970 solo self-titled debut album, but when radio stations got ahold of “Ain’t No Mountain,” the song soon became a hit. “They felt it, they felt what we were doing,” Simpson professes. “It’s probably one of my proudest productions that we’ve ever done.”

Accolades

Ross initially cut the song with her band, the Supremes, but later recorded it again for her solo debut album. The song proved to be a massive success, her solo version topping both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Hot R&B / Hip-Hop Songs. It was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1971 Grammy Awards. Ashford and Simpson also produced Ross’ self-titled debut album with Johnny Bristol on which “Ain’t No Mountain” appears.

Over the years, “Ain’t No Mountain” has also appeared in such films as Remember the Titans in 2000 and Guardians of the Galaxy released in 2014.

Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images

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