The image at the top is back from when I started PopOff! In 2011 and one of the first tribute shows I did was for Tina Turner. I did it because I wanted to, because the music is good, and because not enough people at the time were talking about Tina in the music conversation and history as trailblazer and icon. A black person singing straight up rock music in the mainstream… yeah… that’s a narrow field even today. So when all the clubs and radio stations start playing her out for the next fee days I just want to ask, “Where have you been these past ten + years?”
I still have that show in the archives but copyright won’t let me post it because it is LOADED with Tina, of course. But I am pleased that I’ve been celebrating our icons before they go and well after. All the GOATs and queens that have left and are still here. While, GOAT is fairly new slang that gets tossed around quite will-nilly in music circles these days, “Queen” has even more years on that term being tossed around willy-nilly. But on May 24th 2023 we lost true a music Queen and GOAT. And a PRIME example of a singer who doesn’t write songs but sure as **** sells them.
Tina Turner is, in my opinion, criminally underrated. She left the spotlight in the early 00s to live out her life in northern Europe and so in the mainstream music dialogue she was never mentioned, if at all, alongside names like Madonna, Whitney Mariah, Beyonce, Stevie, Swift, Bowie, Rhianna, Prince, Michael Jackson, The Beatles… And in queer circles she is also not mentioned nearly as much as she should be among our other divas.
People forget just what a powerhouse she was in the 80s when she landed a comeback in 1984 with the album Private Dancer. At the age most stars fall, Tina was in her mid 40s just hitting her strut with with those legs that extended to the heavens. I’m sure my first dose of Tina power came in the late 80s or maybe early 90s with the Bond theme, “Goldeneye”. But I didn’t really know her or her music in any big way until later. Even after the biopic, What’s Love Got To With It and her appearances on Oprah where O was losing her mind in ways that would become memes years later I was still largely ignorant of her position in music.
It wasn’t until I started deep diving into women in music and looking for the “queens” of various genres that I found her listed as, “Queen of Rock” or “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. But surely Janis, was the “Queen of Rock” or Heart or Wanda Jackson… Tina for me was always pop, right?
Oh the lessons I would learn, Tina was definitely rock in ethos (in the same way Debbie Harry was punk) but also my mind back then had narrowly defined rock music. Defined in one very specific lane as taught to me by classic rock radio that was playing none of her work with Ike from the 60s/70s. And there is a whole lotta ass kicking and naming names in that 60s/70s catalog.
One of the greasiest cuts ever laid IMO is, “Funkier Than Mosquito’s Tweeter” written by Tina’s sister ABOUT Ike. Ike heard Tina sing it and knew they had to record it. That’s how good that song and Tina is. Tina singing it with the kind of accusatory rage I sometimes wish Stevie would sing at Lindsay Buckingham every so often. Whatever went down in the Tina & Ike dynamic Tina definitely let it loose on stage for those listening. I have to imagine it was cathartic but also terrifying to perform with the person who is traumatizing you.
As somebody dealing with my own PTSD and trauma I have learned to thrive. And Tina was also a thriver. But I read a recent interview with her in which she we talked about still being trapped by the trauma and past. And it hit me hard. Because she never really talked about it much or showed it in her public 80s/90s persona with the black dresses and high heels. It was always confidence. And so as a becon of hope for others dealing with trauma you would have thought she “made it” and “survived”. I was one of them. But now having dealt with my own traumas I know that it never truly goes away. If your lucky it scars over and you move on. But even then there are days or weeks or months where is just takes you over and you have sit with the old wounds. But she (and I) learned to thrive in spite of it.
Still, knowing that even up to the end she was still wrestling with those scars and must’ve been during her height has a global superstar it makes hearing her singing the Beatles tune, “Help” even more poignant. For she sings it not as some jaunty friend to friend phone call but as a plea to anyone listening that she literally needs, “help”. For me it is one of the few acceptable The Beatles covers up there with Joe Cocker doing, “A Little Help From Friends” also sung as a plea more than a thank you.
And think of her opening statement, “We never ever do anything nice an easy” on her cover of CCR’s “Proud Mary”. That certainly hits differently and coincidentally is another cover I stand by and might declare as better than the drifting relaxed original. One is Huckleberry Finn down the river on an adventure… the other is the voice of slavery and survival.
Starting out in rhythm & blues in the late 50s and early 60s with Ike, over her career Tina would release; northern soul, delta blues, funk, country, glam rock, pop, soul, quiet storm, house and one of the definitive and greatest, “wall of sound” records, “River Deep Mountain High” with Phil Specter.
In the 70s when she split from Ike, the only thing she wanted to keep was the name, Tina Turner. She appeared on the Cher show but by the mid 70s her career was stalling and she was falling out of the public view. But even as the world was at peak disco with Nile Rogers and Chic she did not bend and released one of her most kick ass and one of the most kick ass glam rock stompers ever, “Root Toot Undisputable Rock ‘n’ Roller” and song so fired up that when it ends, it fires up for one last kick in your behind.
But it was 1984 with Private Dancer that she lost the chains of her former incarnation and came back with the walk and legs (plus a giant 80s wig) to release the biggest record of her career. We finally got THE Tina Turner. As I have said not everyone went disco (Tina didn’t) but everyone went 80s. And you hear on the album a change in her vocal tone. Maybe it’s because without Ike she doesn’t have anyone to direct that grit to you heard in the 70s. But also the synth and overproduction of the 80s take over and I think can and has led to history dismissing the work and mere 80s product. But Tina definitely has some album slices that are totally delicious. Some better than her singles. I mentioned her cover of “Help”, but Undercover Agent For The Blues off 1989’s Foreign Affair is a slinky, slow, late night affair of straight blues worthy of a Stevie Ray Vaughn project. And Afterglow is worthy of the best quiet storm that Sade and Anita Baker were dropping at the time.
But on the comeback album, songs like, “Steel Claw” are such a hurricane force that despite the 80s sheen you feel like getting up and getting some business done. It’s right up there with the best of Night Ranger and Journey. And her soundtrack song for Mad Max 3, the power ballad, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” is definitely on par with any other 80s power ballads, like “Alone” from Heart or “Heaven” by Warrant, “Heaven” by Bryan Adams, or the enteral “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and is perfect for the classic rock playlist.
On Break Every Rule her 1986 follow up to Private Dancer and the 1989 album Foreign Affair, the cast includes people as varied as; Mark Knofler, Steve Winwood, Bryan Adams, Tim Capello, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Guy Fletcher, Holly Knight, Tony Joe White, Edgar Winter, & Dan Hartman. And on those 3 peak 80s efforts no less then 6 singles were released from each album and every single charted someway some how. From hip-hop charts to the rock charts, to UK and other European charts to the dance/club charts. Most albums averaged between 3-4 singles off an album. But that just speaks to the fact the material was good at worst, exceptional at best. I personally think Private Dancer in the best of the 3. But man… there is great stuff of every one of them, especially the album cuts that were not clearly vying for chart status.
You can find live videos of Tina all over YouTube and I HIGHLY encourage that rabbit hole. Her live show from Brazil when she is nearing fifty is like a masterclass in, “You are only as old as you feel/act”. But one of my favorites is her singing, “I Can’t Stand The Rain” from 1994 with Billy Preston on the 88s.
And even in the 90s when she was nearing sixty she could still out perform her own backup dancers and most pop stars going. Over her career she performed with such varied types of musical icons from Mick Jagger & David Bowie, to Elton John, Pavarotti, Barry White, Eros Romazotti, Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, Cher… But by the 90s unlike Madonna or Janet she just wasn’t selling the same. Her last major US hit was, “I Don’t Wanna Fight”. And yet she became even bigger in Europe in countries like Spain. I don’t understand why… But I am glad the videos exist because I never saw her live.
So the work stands and it is there for you to discover if you do not know. And her story is there for you to discover.
The older I get the more I resonate with her personal struggle with abuse and trauma and the day to day living and thriving with it. It sucks… we know things no other human should know but also without it… well… you can’t sing it and inject that in to the songs and become one “Bold Soul Sister”. Tina has passed but it all stands an living proof she was -ahem- “Simply the best”.
I’d make Tina playlist for Mixcloud but copyright… So I’ll list 10 of my favorite cuts for you to check out and rock out.
Bold Soul Sister
Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter
Baby, Get It On
Root Toot Undisputable Rock ‘n’ Roller
Better Be Good To Me
Under Cover Agent For The Blues
Tonight (with David Bowie)
Be Tender With Me Baby