The story of Tina Turner’s remarkable comeback is now common knowledge, so here’s a brief recap. After seven years in the wilderness, slowly building a respectable life for herself, picking up an ambitious Aussie manager, Tina's blood, sweat, and tears finally paid off. The year was 1983 and after a series of half chances, a reignited interest came from the UK in the form of pop act Heaven 17, who wanted to record Tina singing “Ball Of Confusion” for a compilation album they were putting together.
The result was a minor hit but enough of a hit for Capitol Records to take a chance on a follow-up single. Tina and manager Roger Davies quickly decided on rerecording Al Green's “Let's Stay Together,” which became a genuine hit record in the UK, Europe, and eventually the USA. The record company then needed an album, and fast.
Tina and Roger insisted on returning to London to record the album as that was where the interest had originated. The album that would become Private Dancer was slapped together in a matter of weeks. “Let's Stay Together” was already a hit and it would also appear on the release. The song is a masterful vocal performance that Tina nailed on the first take. Its breezy intro, doing justice to Green's original, gives way to a R&B-fueled pop track that had both the New Wavers and the mainstream pop crowd grooving in unison.
But the success of the song would become the catalyst for the power struggle between Tina and Roger over the direction of the record. Turner wanted a flat-out rock album. Davies now wanted a cutting-edge pop record produced by pop producers with no sign of Tina's famous "chainsaw" vocals. Davies was to win out, but not without a fight or two. One victory for Turner, though, is the inclusion of the ferocious rocker “Steel Claw” that she delivers with an unbridled enthusiasm few could match.
Opener “I Might Have Been Queen,” an uptempo pop song with great lyrics penned by Jeanette Obstoj after Tina poured out her life story and hopes for the future. It's a great opening statement for the album, finding Tina claiming her place in the now while also acknowledging her past (“And I might have been queen / I remember the girl in the fields with no name.”)
The second track would go on to become Tina's biggest hit record and top the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. “What's Love Got To Do With It,” written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, is three minutes and 48 seconds of pop perfection, a soft synth-driven track countered by Turner's battle weary voice, barely hiding the cynic in her (“What's love but a second-hand emotion? / Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”). The song reeks of attitude and the accompanying video introduced Turner to the MTV audience.
The other big hit was of course the title track, which was written years before by Mark Knopfler. It's a sexy, dark track that gives the album an edge and also a chance for Turner's powerful sexuality to sparkle. Turner nails the synth-driven covers of “Help,” “1984,” and “I Can't Stand The Rain” with her trademark unwavering conviction. “Better Be Good To Me” is an old Spider tune that is transformed into a synth-rocking, shimmering word of warning to any of Turner’s potential suitors.
Overall, this is a cohesive, almost perfect pop album of its time. Turner's vocal performance is flawless (as is her ability to put 100% into everything she does.) It still has the added edge of a truly underrated singer, hedging all her bets and going for broke one more time. On the back of this baby, Tina launched the biggest and most remarkable comeback the rock world had witnessed before, and most certainly since. Private Dancer remains a landmark crossover album and is Turner’s defining moment.
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