Tina Turner was a true original. The field of rock’n’roll performance would not look like it does were it not for Turner and her electrifying stage presence with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in the early 1960s. She changed the game. After leaving abusive husband Ike behind, Turner did it again. She went on to forge a stellar solo career that saw her leave her indelible mark across the worlds of R&B, rock and pop. Generations of performers from Mick Jagger to Beyoncé have followed in the wake left by Turner’s wild and singular style.
Despite her death at 83 in her adopted home of Switzerland after a long illness, Turner’s spirit will live on every time a high-energy singer loses themselves in the glare of the stage lights and finds something transformative within themselves. Here are seven times Tina Turner proved herself the true Queen of Rock’n’Roll.
Putting Nutbush, Tennessee on the map forever
Turner was born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939 in Brownsville, Tennessee and grew up in the nearby community of Nutbush. Her father Floyd worked as an overseer for sharecroppers, and a young Turner picked cotton. She immortalised her rural beginnings by writing and singing the thrilling 1973 single ‘Nutbush City Limits’, demonstrating her deft lyricism in lines that sketched the sparse town as: “A church house, gin house/a school house, outhouse.”
1964: Tina Turner of the husband-and-wife R&B duo Ike & Tina Turner poses for a portrait in 1964. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
In the late 1950s, Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm were known as one the hottest bands in St Louis, Missouri. After witnessing the band in action, 17-year-old Bullock became determined to sing with them. She won over Turner by grabbing the mic and performing BB King’s ‘You Know I Love You’. By 1960 she had established herself as the band’s new lead vocalist, and had been rechristened by her band leader – and future husband. The debut Ike & Tina Turner single, ‘A Fool In Love’, became one of the first R&B records to sell a million copies and cross over to the mainstream pop charts.
Ruling post-apocalyptic wastelands in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
As well as playing the ruthless, snowy-maned Auntie Entity in George Miller’s action sequel Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Turner also belted out the film’s iconic theme song ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’. That’s far from Turner’s only memorable role on film: She also played the Acid Queen in The Who’s 1975 musical Tommy, and she delivered a pitch-perfect Bond theme for Pierce Brosnan’s debut as 007 in Goldeneye in 1995.
Scoring her first #1 single at the age of 44
Eight years after Ike and Tina went their separate ways in 1976, Turner’s multi-platinum 1984 album ‘Private Dancer’ marked a remarkable comeback. Lead single ‘What’s Love To Got To Do With It’ gave her a first US number one single at the age of 44, making her at the time the oldest female solo artist to top the chart. The album also produced timeless hit ‘Better Be Good To Me’ and the title track, which was originally written by Mark Knopfler for his band Dire Straits.
Turner said in her autobiography that she related to the song’s sex worker protagonist. “I never had to stoop to that in my life,” she wrote, “But I think most of us have been in situations where we had to sell ourselves, one way or another. When I gave into Ike, when I kept quiet to avoid an argument, when I stayed with him despite longing to leave, that’s what I was thinking about when I sang the song, the sadness of doing something that you don’t want to do, day in, day out.”
Building The Wall of Sound
When Phil Spector saw the Ike & Tina Turner Revue perform on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles he wasted little time in setting up a deal so he could record with Tina. The result was 1966’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, which flopped in the States but won fans in Britain, where it reached number three in the charts and was described by Beatle George Harrison as “a perfect record from start to finish.” In 2014, NME ranked the song as the 37th greatest song of all time, writing: “Atop Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound, 42 musicians deep and $20,000 high, Turner’s desperation and frustration gave ‘River Deep…’ a truly death-or-glory quality, a woman bawling her passion as the mountains crash down around her and the rivers rise over her head.”
Originally written by Bonnie Tyler in 1988, ‘The Best’ took on another life after Turner covered it with a new soft rock production and a few more vocal pyrotechnics the following year. Turner’s version became one of her signature tunes, and the song continues to loom large in the public consciousness – especially if you’re still recovering from Noah Reid’s adorable acoustic version from the final season of Schitt’s Creek.
Turner’s crowning rock’n’roll moment – one of the crowning rock’n’roll moments of all time – comes in the staggering frenzy that erupts during her cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’. The song gave Ike & Tina a breakthrough hit in 1971. “You know, every now and then, I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy…” ponders a sultry Turner aloud as the song begins, “But there’s just one thing. You see we never ever do nothing nice, easy. We always do it nice and rough.”
After a stripped-down, teasing run through the first couple of verses, the full band comes crashing in as Turner raises the energy to a breathless crescendo. It’s exhilarating, unforgettable, and only Turner could have made it work. The B-Side is also spectacular. Written by Turner’s sister Alline Bullock and later recorded by Nina Simone, the song’s title could serve as an epitaph for Turner herself: “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter”.
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