Part II of this look at huge chart stars who’ve never quite made it to the top. Yesterday we featured Bob Marley, whose five biggest UK hits were an eclectic mix. Today we feature a woman whose career spans eight decades… and whose five biggest hits are wall-to-wall classics. The Queen of Rock n Roll: Tina Turner.
‘The Best’ – #5 in 1989
I should actually do a full ‘Should Have been a Number One’ on what is probably Turner’s signature song, in Britain at least. It deserves the attention. Although released in the final year of the decade, ‘The Best’ sums everything great about the 1980s (a decade I may have been critical of, musically speaking, from time to time…) Throbbing synths, power chords, a belt-it-out-at-the-top-of-your-voice chorus, a galloping black stallion in the video, and one of the most outrageous uses of a saxophone ever heard in a pop song.
Before writing this, I had no idea that the original had been recorded by Bonnie Tyler a year earlier, or that it was written by the man behind so many ’70s glam rock classics, Mike Chapman. All that is interesting, and relevant, but also completely shunted to the background by Tina Turner’s performance in owning would could be, in different hands, a completely ridiculous song. The fact that I can even overlook ‘The Best’s decades-long association with Glasgow Rangers – they enter the pitch to it, and fans even had the song re-enter the chart at #9 in 2010 – is a testament to how good it is.
‘Nutbush City Limits’ – #4 in 1973 (with Ike Turner)
Before her reinvention as an eighties power-rock diva, Tina had a first wave of success with her then husband Ike in the sixties and seventies. And if ‘The Best’ has a rival for its position as Turner’s signature tune, then ‘Nutbush City Limits’ is it… (OK, and ‘Proud Mary’, which doesn’t feature here…) It’s a fabulously funky tale of a little ol’ town in Tennessee, that sounds as crispy as a piece of fried chicken. It’s a (hopefully) tounge-in-cheek ode to her hometown: no whisky for sale, you get caught – no bail, salt pork and molasses, is all you get in jail… Elevating the song further is the rumour that the track’s distinctive lead-guitar was recorded by none other than Marc Bolan…
‘River Deep – Mountain High’ – #3 in 1966 (with Ike Turner)
Belted out by a young Tina, and produced by Phil Spector using every Wall of Sound trick in the book (it even has Darlene Love on backing vocals), ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ gave Turner her first big hit. Ike was credited, but didn’t actually feature on this version (the couple would go on to re-record it in 1973). It was a big hit around Europe in 1966, but flopped in the US. Spector was so distraught by the song’s failure that he didn’t produce another one for two years, and set off on a very destructive path…
‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ – #3 in 1984
Turner’s certified biggest hit, and her only solo #1 in the US. This was her big comeback after seperating, both musically and romantically, from Ike. While it doesn’t do it for me like ‘The Best’ and ‘Nutbush’ – it tends a little too much towards ‘icky eighties’, especially in the harmonica – I can accept its classic status. In fact, Turner’s outrageous hairdo in the video would be enough to seal this one’s place in the pantheon. ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ went on quite the journey before being recorded by Tina: Cliff Richard turned it down, Donna Summer dithered over recording it, and Bucks Fizz recorded a (pretty decent) version that never saw the light of day until 2000.
‘We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)’ – #3 in 1985
Turner’s joint-biggest hit is this track from the soundtrack to ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’. She starred in the movie, alongside Mel Gibson. Again, I’m not a huge fan of this one: it’s standard mid-eighties power-balladry (though I do like the snarling guitar). I’d have taken ‘Private Dancer’ (a #26), or ‘Proud Mary’ (never released as a single in the UK!) over this.
Still, there you have Tina Turner’s biggest UK hits that never quite made it to #1. One more ‘Never Had a #1…’ up tomorrow. And it’s the 1980s biggest girl-group!