40 Years Ago: Tina Turner Takes Private Dancer Public

Her comeback album reminded us why she was the best.


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Even legends need to occasionally launch a comeback. In the case of Tina Turner, she erupted on the scene in the 1960s as part of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Tina became an essential part of the fabric of R&B, rock, and pop, earning the nickname “The Queen of Rock and Roll.” After the dissolution of both the group and her marriage to the abusive Ike, Tina launched a career independent from Ike. By 1984, she’d released four solo albums that had had little impact. Then came 1984’s Private Dancer, and the world watched (and listened) as the Queen took back her throne.

The Ike & Tina Turner Revue perform three songs (Uploaded to YouTube by vintage video clips)

Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, the singer had a tumultuous childhood. After high school, she found a job as a nurse’s aide and sang in St. Louis nightclubs. She wanted to sing with Ike Turner, who fronted the Kings of Rhythm; Ike and the band were the actual artists behind the name Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, the performers of what many consider the first real rock and roll record, “Rocket 88.” Ike initially blew her off, but when she took the stage during an intermission in 1956, he was knocked out by her voice.  Ike and Anna created her eventual stage name, Tina Turner, and the Kings of Rhythm refocused around her as frontwoman under the Ike & Tina Turner Revue (or, simply, Ike & Tina Turner).

The Ike & Tina Turner Revue do “Proud Mary” on The Ed Sullivan Show (Uploaded to YouTube by The Ed Sullivan Show)

The band was a vital part of the rock scene for years, appearing in concert films like The Big T.N.T. Show and opening for the Rolling Stones. Legend has it that it was Tina who actually taught Mick Jagger how to dance. Propelled by Tina’s dynamism up front, the band was as popular on national TV as they were in Vegas. A string of hits followed, peaking with their biggest success in 1971, their cover of “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

“Let’s Stay Together” (Uploaded to YouTube by Tina Turner)

However, this trailblazing success belied Ike’s abusive behavior behind the scenes. By the mid-1970s, the band dissolved, and Tina’s divorce from Ike was official in 1978. Although Tina maintained a fairly consistent presence on TV and on stage during this period, the hits weren’t there in the U.S. She did have chart appearances in Europe, and she sang with Rod Stewart on Saturday Night Live and opened for the Stones in 1981. Things were looking up in 1983; she signed with Capitol Records, proposed work on a new album that wove together covers and originals, and released a single, her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” The song shocked execs when it went to #26 in the States. On the back of its success, Capitol got on board with the new album.

“What’s Love Got to Do with It” (Uploaded to YouTube by Tina Turner)

At the end of May, 1984, Tina Turner released the new album Private Dancer and a single from the record, “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” The new song simply exploded. With a striking video showcasing Tina’s modern look and lyrics that juggled being both cynical and radio-friendly, the tune was a perfect storm for Turner’s comeback. She suddenly found herself a 44-year-old sex symbol with the first solo number one of her career. The song sold two million copies around the world as it announced the Return of the Queen. The tune would eventually earn three Grammys the following year (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance).

“Better Be Good to Me” (Uploaded to YouTube by Tina Turner)

Fortunately for Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do with It” wasn’t simply a one-and-done. “Better Be Good to Me” and the title track (written by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits) went to #5 and #7 in the U.S., respectively, and “Show Some Respect” hit the Top 40. In the U.K., she had two additional charting singles from the record: covers of “Help!” by The Beatles and “I Can’t Stand the Rain” by Ann Peebles. The Private Dancer album peaked at #3 in the U.S. and sold a certified five million copies here and 12 million worldwide.

“It’s Only Love” (Uploaded to YouTube by Bryan Adams)

By 1985, Tina Turner wasn’t just established as a viable solo act. She was a global superstar capable of fronting arena tours and HBO concert specials. She appeared as the villain Auntie Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and recorded hit songs “We Don’t Need Another Hero” and “One of the Living” for the soundtrack. She also teamed with Bryan Adams on “It’s Only Love,” a duet from Adams’s massively successful Reckless album; recorded in 1984, the song hit #15 in America in 1985. And, of course, Turner was one of the featured voices on the superstar-driven charity project “We Are the Worldand a performer at Live Aid, singing with Mick Jagger.

For the rest of the 1980s, Queen Tina reigned. Whether it was appearing in Pepsi ads with David Bowie or knocking out a steady stream of singles, she was constantly visible on video or the stage. She co-wrote her autobiography, I,Tina, with MTV News anchor Kurt Loder; the book was an international best-seller. In 1989, she released one her signature tunes, the #15 hit “The Best.” In 1991, she and Ike were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Ike couldn’t attend (he was, well, a “guest of the state” at that point), and Tina declined citing the exhaustion from her then-recent record-setting European tour. That same year, she released greatest hits album Simply the Best, which would sell seven million copies.

“The Best” (Uploaded to YouTube by Tina Turner)

It’s almost too easy to distill the rest of Turner’s life down to a collection of superlatives. Another bestselling memoir, another multi-platinum greatest hits collection, another top-grossing tour? She did all of that through the ’90s and 2000s. How about a widely-acclaimed film adaptation of I, Tina, titled What’s Love Got to Do with It? That 1993 hit also netted Oscar nominations for Angela Bassett as Tina and Laurence Fishburne as Ike. Kennedy Center Honors, a second induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award would all pour in, signifying that the combination of soulfulness, sensuality, and swagger that Tina and her music embodied would be immortalized.  Private Dancer itself was preserved in the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress in 2020 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Sadly, Tina passed in 2023.

However, had it not been for the turn that occurred with the arrival of Private Dancer in 1984, what would that legacy be? The early work would be remembered, even celebrated. But that vision of Tina Turner as a vital and viable global superstar, performing at the height of her power decades after her debut, was cast in solid gold by that breakout album and the reception of a delighted public. It’s a strong reminder that Tina Turner was, simply, the best.

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  1. Excellent feature here on Tina that covers her entire life. She went through a lot of heartbreak and abuse over the years with Ike Turner she should not have had to endure. She persevered, and channeled the negative into the positive for herself and millions of fans.

    Everything she’d gone through, both good and bad, led her to the acclaim she achieved with ‘Private Dancer’ in 1984 that launched her being at the top for many years. I love the musical links you’ve enclosed here, including the Pepsi commercial with David Bowie. A peak decade for him also, of course.

    It’s hard to pick a favorite, but ‘The Best’ might just be it. Incredible song, video choreography with that beautiful horse, it really was and is. There are no animals better than dogs and horses, and I’m sure the time she spent with horses gave her a deep peaceful tranquility when she needed it. The connection is magical, and on a higher plane than with humans. They just have to be, and that’s it. I know that very well myself.


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