Tina Turner is a goddess of music and performance, as well as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. Few people can claim to have the career highlights that she has, along side some of the most heart-wrenchingly awful moments. Though she rose to fame alongside her husband Ike Turner in the 1960s and first half of the 1970s, she suffered at the hand’s of Ike’s abuse. Tina would eventually go solo in the mid 70s, but her first few albums didn’t prove successful. It wasn’t until 1984’s “Private Dancer” that Tina rose to the top of the charts with the number one hit from that album, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
To this day, that song receives frequent airplay and has become something of Tina’s signature song as a solo artist. Though she’s had other hugely successful singles and noteworthy album tracks, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” was her only number one hit. And thanks to how popular radio and television and film will often fall back on the same old songs time after time, after time, after time; you’d practically be forgiven if you thought that was her only good song. But oh would you be wrong. Music taste is very subjective so you may not agree with the following list. Still, an honor of Tina Turner’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, here’s the five best Tina Tuner solo songs that are not “What’s Love Got to Do With It?.”
The title track off of Tina’s 1989 record is not the most successful song from it. That honor goes to the memorable top 20 hit, “The Best.” This slick and sleek track that closes out the album though is among Turner’s best. The song has a distinct ’80s groove thanks to its soft keyboards, smooth saxophone, and guitar stylings of Dire Straits frontman, guitarist, and songwriter, Mark Knopfler. Knopfler had famously worked with Tina on her mainstream breakthrough, “Private Dancer,” and he’d popped up on subsequent records to do some production and session guitar playing.
Here Knopfler adds just the right atmosphere with this finger-picking style to help propel Tina’s voice to greater heights. Her vocal performance is always great on its own, but it soars even higher when it has the right texture to bounce itself off of. Sure enough, the smoothness here provides just that sonic backdrop for Tina to paint a picture of two people lusting after each other. As the song speaks of passion that should just be written off as foreign affairs, it’s Tina’s voice that convinces us of that.
“Better Be Good to Me“
This number netted Tina a Grammy award for Best Female Vocal Performance in a Rock song, and it’s easy to see why. Whether or not this song is more rock or pop is debatable in terms of its general feel, but there’s no doubt that Tina gives it an edge in her delivery of the lyric. When she sings the titular phrase, “Better be good to me” it’s often said in a quick, energetic pace. The words aren’t spaced out, they’re launched out in a flurry of conviction. While it’s not quite a threat, it’s also not a half-hearted request; you BETTER be good to her.
Part of what makes this song so compelling is its structure and the way it’s delivered. It doesn’t have a traditional kind of feel to it; it comes across as a bit loose and raw, like Tina’s singing it for the first time. There’s plenty of space in the song for the instruments to breathe; the bass, the warm keys, the rattling drum fills; and how the track winds down only to pick back up with full-force. It’s a powerful performance in a powerful song, and it’s hard to believe this wasn’t originally written for Turner, because she truly makes it her own.
This is easily the poppiest number on the list, hailing from Turner’s 1986 album, “Break Every Rule.” The follow up to “Private Dancer” was generally well received and another platinum record for her, but it didn’t have the same substance and depth that the predecessor did. This becomes immediately apparent in this lead off single, “Typical Male.” The keyboards are incredibly poppy and are punctuated by a lively drum performance by none other than Phil Collins.
Yet despite its 80s excess, and actually perhaps because of it, this song is intensely catchy and memorable. While it still has a kind of powerful female lead using their sensuality or ‘female attraction’ as the lyric states, there’s a much different energy here as opposed to what was heard on the album prior. This isn’t a bad thing by any stretch; it’s the equivalent of musical fast food. It knows what it is, it does it very well, it hits the spot, and it’s fun while it lasts.
It’s surprising that even though this song went to number 2 on the Billboard Charts, I almost never hear it on the radio; ever. That could easily be because of the hyper-polished 80s sheen that may not stand up in quality as much today as it did back then. At the same time though, that’s what makes it so unique, fun, and catchy. This is the Tina Turner you break out for the party and have a blast singing it. And the live version of it is even more energetic with Tina really throwing herself into the lyric.
It completely baffles me to this day that “GoldenEye” was not a hit single in the United States. It went top 10 through most of Europe, but didn’t even crack the top 100 on the Billboard Pop Charts. This, is in fact, ridiculous. “GoldenEye” is one of the best Bond themes that no one ever really gives enough credit to. It’s sleek and sultry while still having that signature Bond sound of intrigue and espionage.
Written by Bono and The Edge of U2 (something that makes sense when you know that and relisten to the song) for 1995’s 007 film of the same name, the mood is ominous and dangerous, seemingly sung from the perspective of a femme fatale. Turner channels that expertly with the way certain words just flow out of her with an intoxicating venom. The way she sings, “It’s a gold and honey trap/I’ve got for you tonight/ Revenge it’s a kiss, this time I won’t miss/Now I’ve got you in my sight,” has her voice rising throughout the verse as the backing string arrangement rises with her.
This is what happens when you give Tina a composition she can really explore and take ownership of. Which is also something that reappears in my number one selection.
The title track to Turner’s commercial comeback was not the album’s biggest single, but it is arguably its best. This track hits everything that a dynamite song needs to be and more. Written by Mark Knopfler, the song was originally intended to be featured on the 1982 Dire Straits record “Love Over Gold.” That particular record is very lyrically dense, depicting scenes of characters that are not necessarily in a sunny spot in life. One of them, “Private Dancer,” was deemed ill-fitting for the record, (which is only five songs in length) because it didn’t sound right to Knopfler coming from a male voice.
So, thanks to some behind the scenes magic of managers knowing each other and all that jazz, Mark gives the song to Tina, as well as the use of Dire Straits to record it. Knopfler was unavailable to play guitar on the track, so Jeff Beck fills in for him. So here’s Tina Turner, basically taking over as the lead singer of Dire Straits for a song, and she absolutely slays it. Her interpretation of the song channels emotions of strength, hope, determination, and sensuality. And she does that while having to work with a group she’s never worked with before.
Tina’s performance is noteworthy for how her voice goes from gravely and sensual in the verses to eventually taking it up a key or two in the back end of the chorus. It’s a dynamic vocal delivery that Knopfler never could’ve done and shows off Tina’s powerful range. She manages to do this too without outperforming the backing musicianship. Dire Straits is laying down a soft, jazzy lounge track with some amazing keyboard and organ playing from Alan Clark. The warmth compliments Turner’s voice to really bring the song into a level of excellence where everything clicks in a way that is truly spectacular.
Of course there are other Tina Turner songs that could and should be mentioned in lists like this. That’s the fun of making lists though, share, compare, and politely debate. What would your Top 5 solo Tina Turner songs be?
[Editor’s note: We have to make sure you know about that time Tina and David Bowie duetted in the most incredible ways on “Tonight.”]