Tina Turner (born Anna Mae Bullock; November 26, 1939) was down and out by the mid to late 70s. She had suffered at the hands of her abusive then-husband Ike Turner for almost two decades and even tried to take her own life several times. She eventually picked herself up to become the arguably the symbol of strength, perseverance and courage for a generation of women. Her musical comeback was hard fought and so was in keeping her stage name as she set about carving out a solo career. For many decades she stayed on course with a strong inner belief in her talent. Her music of course along the way heavily influenced an array of contemporary female singers from Beyonce to Lady Gaga especially with her high-energy choreography and incredible live vocal performances. Even her fashion sense hit an accord with fans and observers worldwide. (Often Tina Turner is best remembered for her red sequin minidress or the black leather dress and denim jacket with black stilettos made famous by her What’s Love Got To Do With It music video.)
In 1991, both Ike & Tina Turner were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a duo and more recently just shy of her 82nd birthday, Tina was inducted by actress Angela Bassett (who played Tina in the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It) for a second time as a solo artist in 2021. A select group of artists including Christina Aguilera payed tribute to the ‘Queen of Rock and Roll’ on the night. Musical performances in homage to Tina included It’s Only Love, What’s Love Got To Do With It and River Deep, Mountain High. It’s fair to say the calibre of songs chosen for the event were a reflection of some of the best songs Tina Turner as an artist had to offer.
Here below are a memorable selection of Tina Turner songs that I believe will endure forever. Please note, despite a career spanning over fifty years, songs represented here with Ike Turner are minimal at best. A greater focus has been made in relation to her solo career. Enjoy!
#10 – Typical Male (1986).
Thanks to the success of Private Dancer (1984) and her acclaimed supporting role in Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Tina Turner popularity in the mid 1980s was practically unmatched. And just when we thought Turner’s bubble was about to burst she released the album Break Every Rule in 1986. The lead single from the album Typical Male saw Turner venture into electronic pop rock. One might say she sold her soul to put out a record like that but you can’t begrudge Turner inventiveness as a musician. The chart topping Typical Male would find Turner using her incredible voice once again as a weapon to lure new converts to worship at the altar of the Queen of Rock and Roll.
#9 – Let’s Stay Together (1984).
In her long musical career Tina Turner wasn’t shy of recording cover version of popular songs by established acts. In 1984, Turner decided to tackle Al Green’s sublime 1971 smash hit Let’s Stay Together with a little help from English new wave and synth-pop band Heaven 17. It would serve as her ‘comeback’ song after years in the musical wilderness. In short, this song fits Turner perfectly. The comparisons between Al Green and Turner are obvious with its atmospheric synth sound. Turner also tweaks the order of the first two verse but overall she stays true to the spirit of the song.
#8 – Nutbush City Limits (1973).
Turner’s raspy, soulful vocals and control are still often talked about especially amongst fans who have seen her energetic and raw live performances. There is no doubt Nutbush City Limits is a rollicking showstopper going all the way back to the 1970s with Ike and later through her celebrated solo comeback in the 1980s. In the early 1990s Turner re-recorded the song for her compilation album Simply The Best and What’s Love Got to Do With it soundtrack album. Its position of importance in her discography arguably comes down to the fact that this is a very personal song for Turner who was raised in unhappy circumstances in Nutbush, Tenessee. Over the years Turner has said Nutbush was anything but a happy memory for her. Yet despite that Turner decided to write a song about her former ‘little ol’ town’ as a form of cathartic release. Famously the song begins with Ike Turner’s stratchy rhythm guitar before bursting with Turner’s firery lyrics detailing all that Nutbush had to offer.
#7 – Better Be Good To Me (1984).
It’s incredible to think that not one song on Tina Turner’s signature album Private Dancer can be credited to her as a songwriter. Moreover with not one song specifically written for Turner (except I Might Have Been Queen) she somehow still manages to make all nine songs her own, especially by tweaking song arrangements to suit her own musical style. Better Be Good To Me is one of the finest examples of Turner at her best. It scored a Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1985 and still today sounds better than ever as a rock protest song. No disrespect to American rock band Spider and its lead vocalist Amanda Blue Laugh who first recorded and released Better Be Good To Me but only Tina Turner on her version knows how to make biting lyrics like “Cause I don’t have no use/ For what you loosely call the truth” sound anthemic and caustic.
#6 – We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) (1985).
The theme song for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was the power ballad we all needed in 1985. Those who say that this song doesn’t hold up as one of Turners best songs have rocks in their head. It was a song with themes that leaped from the big screen which could be applied to real life. Those who grew up with the threat of nuclear annihilation and witnessed the widespread famine affecting Ethiopia between 1983 and 1985 will know what I’m talking about. We need only to listen to the first few lines – “Out of the ruins / Out from the wreckage / Can’t make the same mistake this time” – to realise the lyrics are vague enough that we could apply them to almost any situation. Little proof is needed to realise Turner puts in an impassioned vocal performance worthy of anything she did at the time.
#5 – The Best (1989).
One of Tina Turner’s most beloved tracks is her cover version of Bonnie Tyler’s The Best. It’s a song that offers up a nice contrast to Tylers original but ultimately comes across far superior with its loud and confident attitude. Turner asked musician, songwriter and singer Holly Knight permission to make some changes to the song she originally penned with Mike Champion. These changes saw the introduction of a bridge and a key change. In 1992, Turner re-recorded the song with Australian rock singer Jimmy Barnes. It was a successful collaboration that showcased the unique larrikin yowl of Barnes and Turner’s robust belt.
#4 – River Deep – Mountain High (1966).
River Deep – Mountain High was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. It was produced and written by Phil Spector and arguably stands as his greatest song. After seeing Ike and Tina Turner Spector perform one night the mid 1960s, Spector asked the duo if they would make a record with him. In truth, Spector was only solely interested in working with Tina and came up with an unusual arrangement to keep Ike out of the studio. He promised to credit any new recordings with Tina to ‘Ike and Tina Turner’. Spector also bought out their contract with Loma Records and signed the duo to his own label Philles Records. Tina apparently worked her ass off in the studio with the perfectionist Spector. It is rumoured she sang ‘River Deep’ over and over again before Spector was pleased. Aided by his incredible ‘Wall of Sound’ production techniques, River Deep, Mountain High with Tina’s powerful vocals, a full orchestra and chorus behind her would become one of the greatest songs ever recorded even despite initially being a chart failure.
#3 – Proud Mary (1971).
John Forgerty’s Proud Mary was initially recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969, but quickly became one of Ike and Tina Turner’s most iconic songs primarily due to the wonderful new rendition tweaked by Ike Turner. It famously transforms from a roots rock track into a sizzling gospel-inspired funk rock extravaganza held together by Tina’s incredible performance. The song would ultimately revive the duos fortunes in the US at the beginning of 1971 and earn Tina Turner the first of her 12 Grammy Awards.
#2 – Private Dancer (1984).
In the mid 1980s Tina Turner had been riding high ever since her album Private Dancer took the world by storm. No less than seven singles from the album made the charted with varying degrees of success. One of them was the title track of the album originally written by Mark Knopfler for his band Dire Straits. Unfortunately he hated it and it was never released as a song because he believed the lyrics suited the finesse and touch of a female singer. Eventually Tina Tuner was offered the song and many wondered why she would want to sing and record a song about a call girl and or stripper. The lyrics themselves are sexy but dark in tone describing a self-loathing dancer looking to get out of the industry. This was exactly the reason Turner agreed to recording it. She could relate to its story of a woman down and out and trying to survive. In the hands of someone else, this song could have easily slipped through the cracks of the 80s music wasteland. But it didn’t because Turner was the perfect vocalist for this song with her earthy raspy tones and seductive voice.
# 1 – What’s Love Got To Do With It (1984).
My earliest memory of Tina Turner’s success over adversity boils down to her incredible 1985 Grammy Awards performance of What’s Love Got To Do With It. At the end of the performance the standing ovation she received arguably even still today stands as an enduring symbol of Tina’s survival and grace. Maybe more so than that Grammy standing ovation, What’s Love Got To Do With It is the ultimate reminder of Turner’s comeback and rise to prominence as a solo artist. Written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was incredibly rejected by Cliff Richard and Donna Summer before Turner despite her initial reluctance decided to record the reggae-tinged song. It was also during the height of MTV’s popularity that the arresting music video helped Turner and her big hit climb to the top of the US charts at #1.
I love Tina Turner and I love this post! I pretty much agree with all your song picks and rankings, Robert. I had the pleasure of seeing Tina in concert in 1993, with Chris Isaak opening, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.
Thanks Jeff. My biggest regret is not seeing her in concert. She is very loved in Australia and her chart success was a reflection of that. Here’s hoping The Tina Turner Musical makes it way here.
Tina Turner has an incredible story. If I recall it correctly, while she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time, her loser ex-husband was in jail. Undoubtedly, Ike Turner was a talented musician, but physically and emotionally abusing your spouse just isn’t cool and forever tarnishes his reputation.
In terms of the music, I have to admit I generally prefer Tina’s songs from the Ike & Tina Turner era over her later more mainstream pop-oriented music. That being said, the “Private Dancer” album is a great record. I also still like some of the tracks (the more rock-oriented ones) from the “Break Every Rule” and “Foreign Affair” albums.
I was fortunate to see Tina Turner twice. My first show in Dortmund, Germany, in the ’80s was in part used for the 1988 “Tina Live in Europe” album. If you listen carefully, you can hear me scream in the audience! 🙂
I saw Tina a second time in the U.S. in 1993. Both concerts were just incredible. She was such a great live performer with an amazing amount of energy. At times, it was almost unreal how she worked that stage in her high stiletto heels!
Tina knows exactly what her fans want. For years I thought I recognised your scream on ‘Tina Live in Europe’ 😉
She has so many great songs, but my favorite is definitely#6 Thunderdome! My childhood consisted of watching Mad Max and the Thunderdome whenever it came on!