Tina Turner’s Finest: 12 Great Tracks From a Catalog That Runs River Deep, Mountain High
With today’s news of the death of Tina Turner at age 83, it isn’t just the passing of a legend that affects the larger listening audience. It is the end of a style of song, her style of passionately empowered, rough-edged singing, that brings the deepest loss. For whether it was during her time with ex-husband Ike Turner — the man who discovered Anna Mae Bullock only to abuse her — or during her multi-platinum pop solo career, Tina Turner did it, in her own words, “nice and rough,” with a husky, sultry voice filled with the Southern grace of gospel and the gravel of the rocking blues. Whether it was raunchy R&B or glossy power ballads, Tina made such song, every song, into a sweaty, elegant display.
No one ever sounded like Tina Turner. No one ever will.
Here are 12 of the best musical moments of her 62-year-long career, including greatest hits and rarities alike:
Ike & Tina Turner, “I’m Jealous” (1961)
As the first track from their first Sue label album, “The Soul of Ike & Tina Turner,” “I’m Jealous” sets us up for so much of what would come to define Tina Turner’s legacy. As penned by guitarist Ike Turner with Jane Bussong, “I’m Jealous” gives the listener a theatrical tale of lover’s woe, want, and mean-man romance with Tina’s rangy vocals dipping and diving throughout the three-chord melody. Alternately screeching and swooning, Tina allows the listener into her world of frustration with delicious abandon.
Ike & Tina Turner, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (1962)
“A Fool in Love” may have been Ike & Tina’s first million-selling single, but the marrieds’ second big seller, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” also on the “Dynamite!” album, is far more dramatic. Borrowing a fuzzy guitar and rhumba rhythm intro from Bo Diddley, Tina dances around a talking Ike, bouncing between a seductive, low-voiced purr and screaming herself raw.
Ike & Tina Turner, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (1969)
Long a stormy staple of the live Ike & Tina Turner Revue, the Otis Redding/Jerry Butler-penned blues number reminds us that, by 1969, Tina had pulled the Technicolor spirit of psychedelic R&B and rock into her widescreen voice, and grew even freer and gruffer, without ever losing the classical tonality and sweetness of her voice’s bottom end.
Ike & Tina Turner, “River Deep – Mountain High” (1966)
The history of how Phil Spector pushed aside Ike Turner to produce and co-write “River Deep – Mountain High” (with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich) for Tina always looms large in this song’s legend. Yet nothing is as operatic and ascending as Tina climbing Spector’s deceptively complex melody and its dense wall of sound. An epic in every sense of the word.
Tina Turner, “I Can See for Miles” (1975)
Film audiences got a first glam-rock glance at what a solo Tina Turner could be like in director Ken Russell’s wild 1975 version of the Who’s “Tommy: The Movie” when the she-devil appropriated Pete Townshend’s “Acid Queen” as her own. When it came time for her 1975 solo album — her second after the contemporary cool of 1974’s “Tina Turns the Country On!” — Tina went for a slew of Jagger/Richards and Townshend numbers, with “I Can See for Miles” given a manic blend of rubbery, swaggering rock and glittering, schmaltzy disco. Yikes.
Tina Turner and Cher, “Shame, Shame, Shame” (1975)
The high camp of network television in the mid-’70s, as defined by the CBS’ “The Cher Show,” did not deter Tina Turner from internalizing the bile of jealousy and spite that marked so many of her best songs when it came to covering this Shirley & Company hit. Listen to how robust Turner sounds, and she pushes Cher to join her on the edge.
Ike & Tina Turner, “Delilah’s Power” (1977)
Though credited to Ike & Tina, the full album from which this cut is named was released by United Artists a year after the Turners broke up, with a rare, raw handful of its songs — such as this title track — written solely by Tina Turner. Soulfully too, as the mythical tale of a hairy man torn asunder by a woman’s wiles is given genuine funk and grit by Turner’s swaggering vocal performance and her own sinewy melody. Who knows what more Tina could have done as a writer during those years had she taken her leave sooner.
Tina Turner and B.E.F., “Ball of Confusion” (1982)
Languishing without a record label in the UK while trying to figure her next move, Turner made the acquaintance of two then-recently-departed Human League members, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, whose vision of steely electro-pop was fueled by emotive soul. Turner’s guttural iteration of the Temptations’ classic is what turned Capitol Records heads toward a Turner comeback, and the rest was history.
Tina Turner, “Private Dancer” (1984)
It may seem odd to say this now, as Mark Knopfler’s lyrics about the intimacy of sexuality are so much a part of the ’80s playlist. But hearing a middle-aged woman such as Turner embody the immensity of mature sensuality is what made this song powerful — for her and for listening audiences. With a quiet, slippery melody guided by Turner’s sonorous growl, listening to it now brings chills despite the track’s smooth veneer.
Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1984)
Composers Terry Britten and Graham Lyle wound up as two of Tina Turner’s principal writers throughout the 1980s and beyond, and this track makes it easy to hear why. Simple in its message (love is a sweet old-fashioned notion) and its prancy melody, this “Love” song allows Turner to effortlessly jump octaves (E♭3 to D♭5) until she dynamically hits that last epic key change that sends the song home.
Tina Turner, “Not Enough Romance” (1989)
Turner makes the most of the plucky synthetic sheen of composer and producer Dan Hartman, just as she did with B.E.F earlier in the decade, lolling along his walls of sequencers and bouncing off the floors of drum machines as if confronting a full band. An understated vocal performance in collaboration with an underrated genius composer, “Not Enough Romance” is as much of a chess match as a subtle soul workout.
Tina Turner, “When the Heartache is Over” (1999)
For “Twenty Four Seven,” her final solo studio album before retirement, Turner chose old familiars and new songwriting friends to pen her grand finale. The supple, soulful grace and elegant grandeur of “When the Heartache is Over” from composers Graham Stack and John Reid allow Turner to go out on top, as her deep, gravelly voice simmers and shimmies softly across its sweet chords. This song doesn’t sound like a farewell as much as it does as a welcome home.