Tina Turner

Tina Turner

No one wanted Tina Turner in 1982...at least the heads of record labels. Six years after leaving Ike Turner with only 36 cents and the bloodied clothes on her back, Turner had established a successful solo career everywhere but on vinyl. A record deal seemed impossible for a woman in her early 40s who hadn't charted a hit in ten years, despite gravity-defying performances that put artists half her age to shame. At the time, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones invited her along for guest spots on their tours and Turner regularly sold out shows in London and New York City. The reviews were rave and she tore through "Proud Mary" and "Honky Tonk Woman" with more vigor than three Ikettes combined. Though record executives routinely dismissed her as a "has been," the foresight of John Carter at Capitol Records, the genius of manager Roger Davies, and the resilience of Turner herself, created what is arguably the most dramatic comeback in the history of popular music. Two decades later, Tina Turner is an icon whose influence extends well beyond hit songs and sports arenas around the world.

There was only a distant hope of a better life for young Anna Mae Bullock as she worked the cotton fields in Nutbush, Tennessee. Singing with local musician Bootsy Whitelaw and watching the glamorous images in Hollywood movies were an escape for the girl whose face would fill the silver screen in two scenery-chewing roles many years later. After moving to St. Louis in the 1950s to live with her mother and sister, Anna Mae met Ike Turner. His Kings of Rhythm band held court in the city's vibrant music scene and was the band to see. Upon hearing Anna Mae sing B.B. King's "You Know I Love You," Turner convinced the aspiring singer to join his band and, a couple of years later, get married: the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was born.

The story of Tina's personal and professional life with Ike Turner really merits its own editorial space. The duo religiously churned out albums from 1960-1975 on nearly a dozen different labels while touring relentlessly and earning a spate of hits on the R&B and pop charts. "A Fool in Love," "Poor Fool," and "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" represent the best of their early hits on the Sue label followed by a pair of "live" albums on Kent and Warner Bros. Studio impresario Phil Spector sought Tina's dynamic stage presence and vocal prowess for the historic recording of "River Deep-Mountain High" in 1966. Though U.S. radio stations didn't warm to the tune, British audiences devoured it and brought the song to #3 on the U.K. singles charts.

By the early ‘70s, the Revue's popularity peaked with a Grammy-winning rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary." Their smoldering renditions of "I Want to Take You Higher," "Come Together," and "I've Been Loving You Too Long" further solidified the band's rousing blend of rock and soul. Workin' Together (1971) and What You See Is What You Get: Live at Carnegie Hall (1971) caught Ike and Tina at the top of their game in the studio and onstage, respectively, while their appearance in Ghana for the Soul to Soul concert (1971) captured the Revue's mega-watt energy on film. Tina's autobiographical "Nutbush City Limits" marked the last Top 40 hit Ike and Tina Turner charted before Tina walked out on Ike after enduring years of his physical abuse. (TimeLife released the most thorough compilation of Ike & Tina Turner's work to date on its 2007 box set, The Ike & Tina Turner Story 1960-1975.)

Tina's solo career ostensibly began while she was still married to Ike. Of all things, a country album, Tina Turns the Country On (1974), marked the first of four records she recorded for United Artists. Acid Queen (1975) followed in the wake of Turner's scene-stealing role in the film version of The Who's Tommy but paled in comparison to the harder-edged rock of her screen performance. Following her divorce from Ike, Tina made the rounds of TV variety shows and established an extravagant Las Vegas act. Rough (1978) and Love Explosion (1979) were well-intentioned efforts to match Turner with the pop and disco sounds of the day but ultimately indicated that live performances were a better vehicle to sustain steady work as a solo act. 

At the dawn of the 1980s, Tina's fortune began to turn with a change of management. Australian Roger Davies, who'd managed Olivia Newton-John, helped reinvent Turner's image as the rock singer she always longed to be. Hiring new musicians and dancers proved to be a smart move and reintroduced Turner to younger, more hip audiences. Though Richard Perry produced a couple of tracks for Tina on the forgettable Summer Lovers soundtrack (1982), it was The British Electronic Foundation's Music of Quality and Distinction (1982) album that caught the attention of tastemakers when Turner wrapped her raspy chords around a chilly version of The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion." The project's producers - Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory - were enlisted for a follow-up single in 1983; Turner's guttural rendition of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" was a bonafide hit in the clubs and her new label home, Capitol Records, demanded an entire album to build on the momentum of Turner's burgeoning profile.

No artist was more celebrated than Tina Turner upon the release of Private Dancer in 1984. The album sustained the attention of radio and the record-buying public for more than 24 months, with singles like "Better Be Good to Me" (Pop #5), "Private Dancer" (Pop #7), "Let's Stay Together" (R&B #3) and the chart-topping "What's Love Got to Do With It" dominating the airwaves and MTV. Private Dancer showcased the full range of Tina's vocal talents and her industry peers (finally) took notice. When Diana Ross handed Tina Turner the "Record of the Year" Grammy for "What's Love Got to Do With It" at the 1985 ceremony, it symbolized the achievement of an artist who persevered despite numerous obstacles and dismissive misanthropes.

Coupling a sold-out concert tour, Tina Turner scored another hit with "We Don't Need Another Hero," the theme to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) in which she starred at Aunty Entity opposite Mel Gibson. The role earned her an NAACP Image Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture. Her steamy appearance with Mick Jagger at Live Aid and participation in U.S.A. for Africa's "We Are the World" kept Turner's smiling visage in public view for all of 1985.

As the ‘80s continued, Tina Turner released three more albums of voltaic pop-rock: Break Every Rule (1986), Tina Live in Europe (1988) and Foreign Affair (1989). Though still a concert draw in the U.S., wracking up hit singles like "Typical Male" (Pop #2) and "The Best" (Pop #15) along with gold and platinum albums, her commercial base flourished more in Europe with audiences that hadn't ever abandoned Turner during the lean years of her career. South American fans also expressed their appreciation when Turner performed in front of 184,000 people at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro: a world record.

The 1990s proved no less fruitful, though Turner took more of a well-deserved break between recording projects. Simply the Best (1991) offered a concise overview of her ‘80s career while the soundtrack to the film What's Love Got to Do With It (1993) featured the Top 10 single, "I Don't Wanna Fight." Starring Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike in Oscar-nominated turns, the film was based on Turner's candid autobiography I, Tina (1986), which revealed the extent of Ike Turner's physical abuse during their marriage. Though Turner was a consultant for the film and coached Bassett on some of her trademark gestures, she expressed little interest in seeing the film having "lived it". (Capitalizing on the renewed interest in Turner's life story, Capitol Records released a career-spanning 3-CD box set in 1994, unimaginatively titled Collected Recordings: Sixties to Nineties.)

Her dramatic theme to the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995) set the stage for the Wildest Dreams (1996) album, which included covers of John Waite's "Missing You" and "Unfinished Sympathy" by Massive Attack, as well as songs by Sheryl Crow, the Pet Shop Boys, and Brenda Russell, and vocal contributions from Sting and Barry White. Despite Turner's strongest album in years, the album failed to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard 200. More successful was Twenty Four Seven (1999) and the corresponding tour, billed as Turner's "last." At 60 years old, she'd been performing virtually non-stop for 40 years, outliving the lifespan of countless pop confections. More than any other performer, Tina Turner had earned the right to hang up her spiked heals and mini-skirts. Though Turner hasn't recorded a full-length of album of new material since Twenty Four Seven, she's been far from inactive, lending her distinctive voice to the music for The Lion King (1999), Aida (1999), Brother Bear (2003) and projects by Santana (Ultimate Santana, 2007) and Herbie Hancock (River: The Joni Letters, 2007).

As the new millennium's progressed, Tina Turner's role as an icon has kept her at the forefront of popular culture. All the Best (2004) offered yet another overview of Tina Turner's solo career with the obligatory three new songs plus previously released duets with Bryan Adams and Eros Ramazotti. The set debuted at #2 and gave Turner her highest charting album to date. The following year, she was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and was named one of 25 "Legendary Women" by good friend Oprah Winfrey.Later that same year, Turner was named "Woman of the Year" in the U.K. for her enduring contributions to music. Fellow musician Joan Armatrading presented Turner with the award.

In October 2008, Turner embarked on her first tour in eight years while Captiol issued yet another career-spanning compilation entitled TINA! The set featured two new tracks, "I'm Ready" and "It Would Be a Crime," and debuted at #61 on the Billboard 200.

In an age where stars are created by "voting" and the talent of artists is dizzyingly cross-marketed, Tina Turner remains a rare individual. No amount of record sales or critical acclaim can accurately reflect the gift that Turner has brought to listeners over the past five decades. She inspires and astounds with a remarkable voice and infectious energy. She is the embodiment of soul. She is, simply, the essence of music's transcendent power.

By Christian John Wikane

Available Music

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