Private Dancer (1984; Capitol, 2000)
Break Every Rule (1986; Capitol, 1998)
Tina Live in Europe (Capitol, 1988)
Foreign Affair (Capitol, 1989)
Simply the Best (Capitol, 1991)
What's Love Got to Do With It (Virgin, 1993)
The Collected Recordings—Sixties to Nineties (Capitol, 1994)
Wildest Dreams (Virgin, 1996)
Twenty Four Seven (Virgin, 2000)
Tina Live (EMI, 2009)
Though she's one of the most exciting singers soul music has ever produced, Tina Turner found her bigget solo success in the Eighties with a sound that largely eschewed r&b—a high-gloss, high-tech, hard-rock sound heavy on electronic drum programs and synthesizer flourishes. Before Private Dancer, Turner had extricated herself from a troubled relationship with husband and longtime musical partner Ike Turner and put out four mostly forgotten solo records, now out of print. But Private Dancer vaulted Turner back to stardom; it also captured the zeitgeist of the Me Decade with its cynicism and its solipsism. The song that got her over was "What's Love Got to Do with It," which logged three weeks at Number One, and in its title alone, much less its scabrous lyrics, said it all about a decade in which romance took a major hit. "Private Dancer" was even more insidious: Its bluesy patina, irresistible hook, and gritty, R&B-drenched vocal sucked in listeners who then heard the song being rendered from the disengaged viewpoint of an erotic dancer whose only pleasure is in the money men give her.
But Turner was indeed speaking only for herself, not for America, no matter what dimensions her song took on. It was left for her autobiography, I, Tina, written with Kurt Loder, to cut away the scar tissue left by her impoverished childhood and the wrenching years with Ike, and allow her to come out whole and to enjoy flexing her muscle as a solo act.
Through the Eighties she built up an enormous reservoir of goodwill with fans and critics who saw in her struggle a genuine triumph over forces that would overwhelm less hardy souls. She toured incessantly after Private Dancer broke big, so it was unsurprising that the similarly-styled followup, Break Every Rule, failed to generate the heat or sales of its predecessor. Foreign Affair was closer to the bone. Featuring a number of songs by the redoubtable swamp rocker Tony Joe White (who also contributed some suitably grungy guitar licks), the album had more of a blues edge than anything Turner had done since leaving Ike, even though its sound is grounded in contemporary rock. The old ebullience has returned to her voice here, especially in her alluring moans. On "The Best" she brought virtue to the big, booming, and justifiably maligned power ballad simply on the strength of her ferocious approach to the lyrics. Even better, "Undercover Agent for the Blues" took her back to her roots in its blues shadings and right into the present with its pop sheen. Simply the Best kicked off a new decade by summarizing Turner's Eighties work, but also takes a broader overview by including the towering Ike and Tina single, "River Deep, Mountain High," remastered by original producer Phil Spector, as well as the "'90s Version" of Ike and Tina's 1973 hit, "Nutbush City Limits."
But the Nineties proved to be the time when Tina stopped and smelled the roses. She didn't release a new studio album until 1996's Wildest Dreams, a feisty set of tunes and performances highlighted by a suggestive duet with Barry White on the title cut. But it's not as if she had disappeared: Virgin's What's Love Got to Do With It and Capitol's multidisc The Collected Recordings—Sixties to Nineties remind anyone who hears these CDs of the serious work she had done in her long career. What's Love Got to Do With It is the soundtrack to her similarly-titled biopic, whereas The Collected Recordings is an essential set, three discs, 48 tracks, covering the years with Ike, the finest of the solo recordings, and a third disc of rarities from different periods.
By 2000, she was billing herself solely as "Tina" and promoting a new studio album, Twenty Four Seven. Changing producers, she teamed up with Brian Rawling and Mark Taylor (who had masterminded Cher's comeback hit, "Believe") for a result that was more rock than soul, and way overproduced; however, Turner seems incapable of giving it less than all she has, and the sheer energy emanating from her keeps things interesting here. Turner kept performing throughout the decade, and Tina Live presents a gig in the Netherlands, part of her 50th Anniversary Tour.
Portions of this album guide appeared in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (Fireside, 2004).
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