Constantly challenged by the predominantly white presence of rock n’ roll throughout her career, Turner’s chance to shine was always slim to none, but she found a way nonetheless.
A star in her own right, Turner was not only known for her husky vocal delivery, but her model legs and rockstar mullets. Often head-to-toe in stargazing looks, it was hard to find an artist that channelled the level of glamour she did. Despite this, she spent years of her career trying to break through into mainstream media platforms, at times discriminated for her Blackness and undermined for her womanhood.
Time and time again Turner was let down by the music industry. Her life represents and someone who has fought against every restriction, every turmoil and against all the odds. A gifted soul singer and a natural rock star, throughout her career Turner quickly proved a point that the two genres were highly compatible. Although never fitting the ‘required’ public image of a rock n’ roll expert, Turner went on to redefine what it meant to be a ‘rock and roll star’.
In honour of her legacy I’ve rounded up my top seven Tina Turner hits. From the unimaginable ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ to provocative sensation ‘Private Dancer’. This is by no means a ranking of her best-to-worst, rather a pedestal shining a light on her seven greatest hits.
What’s Love Got to Do With It
This may read as a cliché, but beyond the fact this song is a total worldie, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ has so much significance in Turner’s career path. Co-written by Terry Britten and Graham Layle before being passed around several artists for recording, it wasn’t until Turner’s rendition that this track was officially brought to life.
A sonically heartfelt offering with emotionally penned lyrics, Turner’s version was proof that the singer could transform anything into a colossal hit. Landing her first number one single at the age of 44, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ signifies a true turning point in her music career.
Proud Mary – Live Wembley (2000)
I grew up with this song on repeat in my childhood house. The husky timbre of Tina’s vocals had something in them that ignited a spark of energy and joy. This performance at Wembley in 2000 highlights just a snippet of the glamour and star factor she possessed.
From the synchronised dance moves to the over-exaggerated pre-chorus lead, and the extravagant stage set up, this live show is a performance from start to finish. ‘Proud Mary’ is single-handedly one of the most addictive RnB songs of our lifetime and will live on as a timeless classic.
Private Dancer (2015 Remaster)
‘Private Dancer’ is a seductive release with smoother-than-butter vocal delivery and almost nonchalant production. Her spellbinding storytelling skills captivate you as she casually explores the topic of exploitation and her experience of it through men and money.
‘Private Dancer’ is one of those songs that hooks you in immediately, the emotional intelligence in this track is heart-breaking and, at times, overwhelming. The title of her fifth solo album, Turner officially released ‘Private Dancer’ with Capitol Records in 1984 – which again marked another significant moment in her career.
The Best (Live in Barcelona 1990)
Up there as one of the greatest love songs ever written, ‘The Best’ was made to be sung to your soulmate. It’s just the rules. Her 1990 performance in Barcelona of this single perfectly encapsulates the mesmeric power she has on an audience.
Her mumble vocal style before setting herself free in the colossal chorus is one of the things that makes this song stand out in particular. Truly dominating the late 80s with this heartfelt belter, ‘The Best’ is easily a stand-out track from the artist’s entire discography.
River Deep – Mountain High
Known for covering this track as part of her act with Ike Turner, ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ is one of those songs that Turner effortlessly takes over. Her vocal power and dynamic on this one is completely enchanting. Singing it with plenty of gusto each time, on this single in particular you can really hear the raspiness of her vocals.
Whilst I don’t want to remember Turner for her often-troubled Ike days, ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ is such an important snippet of the artist’s talent before she would later take the brave venture into her solo career. I’m not sure where she’d be without this number.
I Can’t Stand the Rain
Sampled in Missy Elliott’s 1997 release ‘The Rain (Super Dupa Fly)’, Turner’s ‘I Can’t Stand the Rain’ serves as a soulful, disco-esque ballad just as much as it does an RnB essential. Exploring heavy pop synths, there’s something so celestial and euphoric about this number.
Forever exploring the interplay of love and relationships throughout her music, it’s fair to say there was never a moment in which Turner didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. No matter how introspective her lyrics were, the artist always found a way to turn such storytelling into an equally evocative performance.
Whole Lotta Love (Cover)
Taken from her second solo studio album Acid Queen, this Led Zeppelin cover is a really graceful offering that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Never failing to move along with the guitar, Turner’s vocal chemistry with the jive of this song is impeccable. The sultry ease of psychedelic guitar licks, exaggerated string work and rhythmic jazz keys anticipate an enormous vocal breakdown.
Operating in complete symbiosis with the track’s production, throughout this recording Turner effortlessly brings the essence of rock n’ roll to life with a soulful twist. A songstress in her own right, Turner’s range is unmatched. The beautiful acapella in the outro perfectly wraps up this cover too.
As deemed from just these tracks alone – which, to reiterate, is just a snippet of Tina’s offering – it’s a devastating loss to say the least. Reading about her passing yesterday evening came as shocking news to me. Growing up listening to her and overwhelmed by the turmoil she experienced throughout her lifetime, it’s hard not to mourn over the loss of one of rock n’ roll’s greatest stars.
Just last month I treated my mum to tickets to the Tina Turner Musical in Leicester Square for her 60th birthday, where we spent most of it sobbing, laughing and clapping in complete awe at the actor’s grandiose job of celebrating and documenting Turner’s life.
Stunned by some of the facts I never knew, if there’s one thing this play taught me, it’s that rock n’ roll is a much smaller world without her.
It’s important we remember Turner for the kind spirit and truly inspiring figure she was. Representing a voice for so many women and people of colour, it’s fair to say her soul and spirit will forever be embedded within the roots of rock. Rest in power, Queen of Rock n’ Roll.