A lifetime of promises, a world of dreams

My introduction to Tina Turner came in 1971, as it did for many other white suburban kids of my age, with these spoken words: “You know, every now and then, I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy. But there’s just one thing: You see, we never ever do nothing nice and easy! We always do it nice and rough. So we’re going to take the beginning of this song and do it easy. Then we’re going to do the finish rough.”

And with that, Ike and Tina Turner launched into a slow, sensual reading of the first verse and chorus of John Fogerty’s “Proud Mary,” then abruptly segued into a frenzied double-time arrangement for the rest of the song. Holy smokes, I thought, this is way more interesting than Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ho-hum original!

Full confession: It would take me many years before I developed a full-blown appreciation for Turner’s gifts as a one-of-a-kind entertainer. I certainly knew her big hits from the 1980s — “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Better Be Good to Me,” “Private Dancer,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” “Typical Male,” “The Best” — and her reputation as one of the most electrifying live performers to ever take a stage.

But it really wasn’t until the past week, in the wake of Turner’s death May 24 at age 83, after reading all the tributes and listening more intently to Turner’s recorded legacy, that I came to understand how much she overcame and how much she accomplished in her 50 years in show business. I strongly urge you to scroll down to the Spotify playlist at the end of this essay and hit “play.” So many superb performances!

Anna Mae Bullock was only 18 when she met and first heard Ike Turner and The Kings of Rhythm perform at a St. Louis nightclub. Turner had been a formidable guitarist and songwriter in his own right, responsible for seminal rock ‘n’ roll records like 1951’s “Rocket 88,” and he knew how to present a riveting live act. But one night in 1957 during a break, the petite girl who longed to be on stage got her chance, belting out B.B. King’s “You Know I Love You,” and Turner was gobsmacked. “I would write songs with Little Richard in mind,” said Turner in his 1999 autobiography, “but I didn’t have no Little Richard to sing them. Once I heard Tina, she became my Little Richard. Listen closely to Tina and who do you hear? Little Richard singing in the female voice.”

Her potent, bluesy singing and supercharged dancing style soon made her the group’s star attraction, and Turner’s wife. The ensemble was renamed The Ike and Tina Turner Revue and became one of the premier touring soul acts of the early-to-mid-1960s in R&B venues on what was then called “the chitlin’ circuit.” Their work wasn’t yet embraced by mainstream audiences, but if you pay close attention to the first dozen tracks selected for the playlist (especially “A Fool in Love,” “Cussin’, Cryin’ and Carryin’ On” and the Phil Spector-produced “River Deep, Mountain High”), you’ll be reminded (or discover) what all the fuss was about.

Over in England, The Rolling Stones invited the group to open for them, first on a British tour in 1966 and then on an American tour in 1969, which caused rock audiences in both countries to sit up and take notice. (You could make a strong case that Mick Jagger was deeply influenced by Tina Turner’s stage presence as he developed his own in-concert persona.)

Tina with The Rolling Stones backstage in 1981

I’m reluctant to mention too much about the horrible abuse and violence Tina endured at the hands of her first husband, particularly once he developed a cocaine addiction and an irrational jealousy of her ever-increasing time in the spotlight. Suffice it to say that she suffered indignities and injuries that hurt her self-esteem and her career for many years in the ’60s and ’70s, and she deserves a huge amount of credit for eventually breaking free from his suffocating control.

“It’s very difficult to explain to people why I stayed as long as I did,” she said many years later. “I’d left Tennessee as a little country girl and stepped into a man’s life who was a producer and had money and was a star in his own right. At one time, Ike Turner had been very nice to me, but later he changed to become a horrible person.”

Desperate to be rid of him, she agreed to divorce terms that left her virtually penniless. She gave Ike nearly all their money and the publishing royalties for her compositions. “You take everything I’ve made in the last sixteen years,” she said. “I’ll take my future.”

Turner’s solo career was slow to take off. Her first few albums didn’t sell, her record label dropped her, and she was back to playing small clubs and in ill-advised cabaret acts for a time. When Olivia Newton-John’s manager, Roger Davies, began guiding her in 1980, Turner readopted the gritty, hard-rocking style that had made her a crossover star, which led to a startling cover version of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” on an album of rock and soul covers called British Electric Foundation. That in turn led to a stupendous remake of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” which reached #26 on US pop charts in 1983. That success attracted Capitol Records, who approved an album with the caveat that it be recorded and released in less than a month.

A number of prominent songwriters and producers — Rupert Hine, Mark Knopfler, Ann Peebles, Terry Britten — came forward to offer their songs and their services, and the result was “Private Dancer,” one of the biggest albums of 1984 and, indeed, of the 1980s, selling upwards of 10 million copies worldwide. The LP was described by one critic as “innovative fusion of old-fashioned soul singing and new wave synth-pop.” Seven tracks were released as singles in either the US or the UK, with “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Better Be Good to Me” and “Private Dancer” all reaching the Top Ten here.

At age 44, Turner had finally attained the superstardom she’d dreamed of since first stepping on stage. Four more albums over the next 15 years achieved platinum status (especially the 1986 follow-up “Break Every Rule,” which reached #4), and she cemented her reputation as one of the top concert draws in the world. She also showed her chops in film, playing the ruthless Aunty Entity in the 1985 blockbuster dystopian action hit “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” which spawned another #1 hit, “We Don’t Need Another Hero.”

One of the things I most admire about Turner is her ability and willingness to record covers of popular R&B songs and rock tunes with equal flair. Check out some of the titles you’ll find in her catalog: “Come Together” and “Get Back” (The Beatles), “Living For the City” (Stevie Wonder), “In the Midnight Hour” (Wilson Pickett), “Reconsider Baby” (Elvis Presley), “The Acid Queen” (The Who). I’m even more impressed by the number of major rock stars who have partnered with Turner on various duet projects over the years: Eric Clapton (“Tearing Us Apart”), Rod Stewart (“It Takes Two”), Bono (“Theme from ‘Goldeneye'”), Bryan Adams (“It’s Only Love”), David Bowie (“Let’s Dance”).

Her tempestuous first marriage provided much of the material for the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” with Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne in the lead roles. Turner re-recorded some of her hits, and one new song, “I Don’t Want to Fight,” but otherwise declined to participate. “Why would I want to see Ike Turner beat me up again?” she said at the time.

Turner (left) and Bassett as Turner (right)

The best indication of how much respect artists have earned is the number of major players who praise them, both in life and in death. “How do we say farewell to a woman who owned her pain and trauma and used it as a means to help change the world?” Bassett said last week. “Through her courage in telling her story, and her determination to carve out a space in rock and roll for herself and for others who look like her, Tina Turner showed others who lived in fear what a beautiful future filled with love, compassion, and freedom could look like.”

Beyoncé, arguably the most popular singer on the planet at the moment, said, “My beloved queen. I love you endlessly. I’m so grateful for your inspiration and all the ways you have paved the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion. We are all so fortunate to have witnessed your kindness and beautiful spirit.”

The Who’s Pete Townshend, who had suggested Turner for the part of The Acid Queen in the 1975 film version of “Tommy,” described her as “an astonishing performer, an astounding singer, an R&B groundbreaker. If you ever had the privilege of seeing Tina perform live, you will know how utterly scary she could be. She was an immense presence. She was, of course, my Acid Queen in the ‘Tommy’ movie, and it is often my job to sing that song with The Who, so she always comes to mind, which isn’t easy to deal with. The song is about abuse at the hands of an evil woman. How she turned that song on its head! All the anger of her years as a victim exploded into fire, and bluster, and a magnificent and crazy cameo role that will always stay with me.”

The multi-talented Oprah Winfrey noted, “I started out as a fan of Tina Turner, then a full-on groupie, following her from show to show around the country, and then, eventually, we became real friends. She contained a magnitude of inner strength that grew throughout her life. She was a role model not only for me but for the world. She encouraged a part of me I didn’t know existed.”

The time Winfrey was invited on stage in Los Angeles to dance with Turner “was the most fun I ever had stepping out of my box. Tina lived out of the box and encouraged me and every woman to do the same.”

The industry has given Turner many accolades. Twice she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with Ike in 1991 and on her own in 2021); she received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2005 and a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2018.

Rest in peace, Tina. Your place in music history is iron-clad secure.


I can turn back the hands of time

It’s fairly amazing that I continue to find, or rediscover, great old songs tucked away on vinyl from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. You’d think the well would eventually run dry. But hey, there were more than 500 albums released every year during those decades (I think the number is even higher these days), so it’s easy to overlook the gems hidden on albums you thought you knew.

Since 2015, I’ve published 36 posts that each offer a dozen “lost classics” worthy of your attention. For this post, I am featuring a fresh dozen of these unearthed beauties, mostly from the ’80s this time. Some you may recognize; others will be all new to you. In either case, they’re here because I think they’re proof of the preponderance of great music that was written, recorded and released in rock music’s formative years.

Naturally, you’ll find an accompanying Spotify playlist at the end. Crank it up! Revel in it. Bathe in it. Get up and dance to it!


“Alabama Getaway,” Grateful Dead, 1980

When The Dead signed with Clive Davis and Arista Records in 1978, they attempted a more commercial sound (“Shakedown Street”) that didn’t sit as well with longtime fans. The 1980 LP “Go to Heaven” was largely rejected at the time because it looked like a disco album (the band dressed in Bee Gees white suits on the cover), but the music was unfairly maligned. Time has somewhat mellowed the general disdain that critics and Deadheads felt upon its release, and I urge you to give this album a fresh look. Case in point: The band had appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1980 playing the spirited opening track, a Chuck Berry-ish romp called “Alabama Getaway,” a Jerry Garcia tune featuring “Captain Trips” on guitar and lead vocals, with new Dead member Brent Mydland contributing a surprising miniMoog solo and backing vocals. The song went on to become a concert favorite over the next 15 years until Garcia’s death in 1995.

“Lion’s Den,” Bruce Springsteen, 1982/1998

In 1982, Springsteen was writing songs at a furious pace as he geared up for his next rock album. He and the E Street Band recorded several dozen tunes, but he found that he preferred his homemade demos of about 10 of these because the sparse arrangements matched the dark, reflective lyrics, so he chose to release them as the startling LP “Nebraska,” a complete departure from all previous Springsteen albums. Critics gushed over it, but I was never crazy about it. Of the remaining E Street recordings, many were resurrected two years later to become the multiplatinum “Born in the USA” album. One of the best tracks from this period, to my ears, was the exhilarating “Lion’s Den,” which remained in the vaults until included on his 4-disc “Tracks” collection of outtakes in 1998. One listen will make you question Springsteen’s reasoning sometimes. How could a song this good languish on the shelf when it could’ve been polished up, maybe extended another minute or so, and been a solid rock radio favorite?

“Let’s See Action,” The Who, 1972/1981

This rocker was written in 1971 as part of Pete Townshend’s aborted “Lifehouse” project for The Who in 1971, and was released in the UK as a single in October of that year, reaching #16 there. Townshend recorded his own longer version, officially titled “Nothing is Everything (Let’s See Action),” on his first solo LP, “Who Came First,” which was released in both countries in October 1972. The Who’s version of the song, which packs more punch and features Roger Daltrey’s vocals and Nicky Hopkins on piano, didn’t show up in the US until 1981 when it was included on the compilation LP “Hooligans.” The lyrics borrow from the teachings of Townshend’s guru Meher Baba regarding positive impulses and cosmic soul searching: “Let’s see action, let’s see people, /Let’s be free, let’s see who cares, /Nothing is everything, everything is nothing…”

“What About Love,” ‘Til Tuesday, 1986

Emerging from Boston in the mid-’80s, ‘Til Tuesday was a favorite on MTV among fans of New Wave, particularly their amazing Top Ten hit “Voices Carry.” Lead singer Aimee Mann’s commanding, haunting lead vocals rightly became the band’s focal point, and her songwriting has made her a critic’s darling ever since. Although the group’s second LP, the beautifully produced “Welcome Home” in 1986, was chock full of excellent songs, it underperformed on the charts and led to the group’s dissolution two years later when their third LP stiffed badly. Tracks like “Will She Just Fall Down,” “Sleeping and Waking,” “Lovers’ Day” and “Coming Up Close” gave the album impressive consistency, but curiously, the sonically rich single “What About Love” managed to reach only #26. For my money, this is one of the best albums of the 1980s.

“All the Children Sing,” Todd Rundgren, 1978

Rundgren was feeling wistful and reflective in 1977 due to the breakup of his relationship with Bebe Buell, caused partly by the birth of Buell’s daughter, Liv, who turned out to be the result of a tryst between Buell and Aerosmith vocalist Steven Tyler. Rundgren chose to isolate in his upstate New York home nearby the Utopia Sound Studios he built there, creating a batch of songs that became “Hermit of Mink Hollow,” one of his most commercially successful LPs. The tracks were intended to be played on piano with minimal arrangements, and one of them, the autobiographical “Can We Still Be Friends?”, emerged as one of his biggest hits. The album opener, “All the Children Sing,” offered a sing-song melody and words that celebrated how children’s voices can bring such joy to the world.

“Home and Dry,” Gerry Rafferty, 1978

This Scottish singer/songwriter composed many wonderfully infectious tunes and made nearly a dozen winning albums, but he shunned the limelight, touring very sporadically, and a developing problem with alcoholism certainly didn’t help, curtailing his life at age 63 in 2011. First with the 1973 Top Ten single “Stuck in the Middle With You” as part of Stealers Wheel and then on his own with the phenomenal “City to City” LP in 1978, Rafferty turned a lot of heads in the US and elsewhere. “Baker Street,” of course, was his biggest hit, followed by the pleasing “Right Down the Line,” but largely forgotten was the third single from “City to City,” a majestic track called “Home and Dry,” which reached #26 in the US late in 1978. I suggest you check out more of Raffery’s repertoire on LPs like “Night Owl” (1979), “Sleepwalking” (1984) and “North and South” (1988).

“First We Take Manhattan,” Jennifer Warnes, 1986

A starring role in the LA production of the musical “Hair” in 1968 helped Warnes kick off her career, and by 1977, she reached the Top 10 on US pop charts with “Right Time of the Night,” sounding uncannily like Linda Ronstadt. Two years later, Warnes was the singer of the Oscar-winning song “It Goes Like It Goes” from the film “Norma Rae,” which jump-started a successful run of movie soundtrack hit singles, including two #1s: From “An Officer and a Gentleman” in 1982 came “Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker, and from “Dirty Dancing in 1991 came “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” with Bill Medley. Between those two award-winners, she earned high praise for her LP “Famous Blue Raincoat,” on which she covered some of songwriter Leonard Cohen’s finest tunes, including a new one he hadn’t yet recorded himself, “First We Take Manhattan.” It’s a powerful track, with Stevie Ray Vaughn making a guest appearance on guitar.

“Caribbean Wind,” Bob Dylan, 1981/1985

This is one of those Dylan songs he said he never fully finished, rewriting the lyrics and recording it more than once, but he never felt satisfied, so it was shelved. He first recorded it in 1980 and twice more in 1981 during sessions for his “Shot of Love” LP, with different lyrics in each case. It first appeared on the “Biograph” box set in 1985 and later on his “Side Tracks” compilation in 2013, and it’s such a fine song, you’ve got to wonder why he felty it unworthy of release at the time of recording. Backed by the likes of keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarists Fred Tackett and Steve Ripley, Dylan offers a fine vocal performance and probably the best version of the lyrics, even though he has always said he isn’t really sure what the song is about. “Sometimes you write something to be very inspired, but you don’t quite finish it for one reason or another,” he said. “Then you’ll go back and try and pick it up, and the inspiration is just gone. Very frustrating.”

“Angel (What in the World’s Come Over Us),” Atlanta Rhythm Section, 1974

For ten years (1972-1982), the Atlanta Rhythm Section cranked out album after album of pleasing Southern rock, carried by the warm vocals of Ronnie Hammond and instantly accessible melodies and ensemble playing. They eventually had some big hits in 1977-78 (“Imaginary Lover,” “So Into You,” “Champagne Jam,” “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight”) but their early records were unjustly ignored. Their 1974 release “Third Annual Pipe Dream,” yielded their first Top 40 hit “Doraville,” a tribute to the Atlanta suburb where they recorded. Although it stalled as the follow-up single, “Angel (What in the World’s Come Over Us)” is even better, with the band jamming away on the main riff and giving hints of the strong musicianship ARS would bring to bear on subsequent albums.

“Keep On Going,” Fleetwood Mac, 1973

Between the formative blues music of the Peter Green period (1967-1970) and the sunny pop of the Buckingham/Nicks era (1975 onward), Fleetwood Mac managed to survive the 1971-1975 years thanks to great songs by Danny Kirwan (“Bare Trees”) and Bob Welch (“Hypnotized”). On their 1973 LP “Mystery to Me,” Kirwan had already split, but Christine McVie stepped up as a formidable singer and songwriter as well. Generally, each song’s writer also sang lead vocals, but in one case, Welch turned over his song “Keep On Going” to the dulcet tones of McVie, which served the recording better. A dominant, aggressive string arrangement gave the track additional oomph that helped it earn FM rock radio airplay then and ever since. I’ve always enjoyed most of the music from this middle period of the group.

“Moonlight in Samosa,” Robert Plant, 1982

When Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham, most observers figured Jimmy Page would be the one to watch, but it turned out to be Plant who pursued the more ambitious recording and touring schedule. His debut solo album, 1982’s “Pictures at Eleven,” was the result of Plant’s new collaboration with British session guitarist Robbie Blunt, who deserves credit just for trying to fill Page’s shoes. Indeed, on the lovely, downbeat track “Moonlight in Samosa,” it is Blunt’s understated electric and acoustic guitar work that stands out as counterpoint to the quieter side of Plant’s vocal stylings. Through 11 studio albums of quality material and performances, Plant has put up as solid a track record as we could hope to expect from one of rock’s most amazing vocalists.

“See the Lights,” Simple Minds, 1991

Among US music listeners, Simple Minds has one of the most overlooked catalogs in rock. Sure, we obsessed over “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” (from “The Breakfast Club”) and their 1985 LP “Once Upon a Time” (with “Sanctify Yourself” and “All the Things She Said”) but there was so much more from singer/songwriter Jim Kerr and the band. Their audiences in the UK and Europe were always more appreciative, giving them numerous Top Ten album chart successes throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s. From their solid 1991 LP “Real Life,” check out the impressive “See the Lights,” the last of their songs to sneak into the US Top 40 and a bonafide hit on alternative and mainstream rock charts. It has such a pleasing groove and arrangement, and hearing it again reminds me to play their music more often.