Tina Turner’s 20 greatest songs – ranked!

She made her name with Ike, but her stardom became all her own. As Tina: The Tina Turner Musical celebrates five years in the West End, we round up the best of a barnstorming performer

20. Ike and Tina Turner – Stop the Wedding/Please, Please, Please (1970)

Ike and Tina Turner’s 60s singles hit intermittently, but their reputation rested on a live show they honed relentlessly touring the chitlin’ circuit. This lo-fi but extraordinarily powerful eight-minute medley – taped in front of a rowdy audience in the mid-60s, released in 1970 – gives you at least a flavour.

19. Ike and Tina Turner – Workin’ Together (1970)

The pair weren’t known for their ballads – they dealt largely in high-octane soul – but the mid-tempo title track of their 1970 album is fantastic. Improbably enough, given that the violently abusive Ike wrote it, it’s a plea for universal brotherhood and unity, given a rasping urgency by his wife’s voice.

18. Ike and Tina Turner – A Fool in Love (1960)

Ike may have had the longer-standing musical pedigree, but from the moment he hooked up with his wife-to-be, there was little doubting who the star of the show was. On their debut single, it sounds as though the recording equipment can barely cope with the sheer power of Tina’s voice.

17. Ike and Tina Turner – Up in Heah (1972)

Up in Heah’s fuzzed-out rock/southern soul hybrid has a distinct gospel tint to its backing vocals, which fits perfectly. Written by Tina, the song is effectively a more brutal take on Son of a Preacher Man, with the gender roles reversed: the pastor’s daughter’s dalliance ends with her “disowned by my family … the daughter of evil”.

16. Tina Turner – The Best (1989)

Tina Turner: The Best – video

This was picked on Desert Island Discs by Gordon Ramsay and Lord Digby Jones – you can somehow imagine both of them singing The Best to themselves in the mirror, can’t you? – but let’s try to ignore that. Although it may seem an obvious smash hit now, Bonnie Tyler’s original flopped; its ubiquity is down to Tina Turner’s performance.

15. Tina Turner – Typical Male (1986)

Her album Break Every Rule was perhaps too transparent an attempt to ape Private Dancer’s success: the same team, more songwriting contributions from Mark Knopfler and David Bowie, another Al Green cover (cut from the final tracklisting). But opener Typical Male is strong, its little-me coquetry undercut by the eye-roll of the chorus’s final line.

Tina Turner performing in New York City in 1985.
Tina Turner performing in New York City in 1985. Photograph: Ray Stubblebine/AP

14. Ike and Tina Turner – Sweet Rhode Island Red (1974)

The follow-up to Nutbush City Limits was a relative flop, though it should have been as big a hit as its predecessor. The title track powers along on a relentless guitar and electric piano groove. There’s a great of-its-era synth solo, and Tina’s vocal is magnificent: “I’m 34-38 and 22 at the tummy.”

13. Tina Turner – We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome) (1985)

We Don’t Need Another Hero goes all-out for epic – squealing guitars, ambient synths, a children’s choir – but it’s a tough call for a vocalist: the lyrics don’t make much sense divorced from the Mad Max film it soundtracked (“all we want is life beyond Thunderdome!”). Yet Turner’s full-on performance somehow makes it work.

12. Tina Turner – Whatever You Want (1996)

As the 80s turn into the 90s, it takes a degree of searching to dig out the gold on Tina’s professional yet increasingly bland albums. But the epic Whatever You Want – Trevor Horn in the producer’s chair, gradually whipping up a storm of juddering electronics – is worth the effort.

11. Ike and Tina Turner – Sexy Ida Parts One and Two (1974)

Penned by Tina – and improbably featuring Marc Bolan on guitar during the instrumental Part Two – the humid, horny funk of Sexy Ida is proof that, however horrific their private life, in the studio Ike and Tina could turn it out right until the end of their partnership.

10. Tina Turner – Let’s Stay Together (1983)

Tina Turner: Let’s Stay Together (live in Barcelona) – video

Tina’s big 80s comeback hit works because it significantly alters Al Green’s original, the smooth instrumentation replaced with surprisingly icy electronics, the order of the verses flipped, the tone changed from a gentle expression of fealty to desperate pleading. The sense of her grabbing an opportunity and giving it everything she’s got is inescapable.

9. Tina Turner – GoldenEye (1995)

Bono and the Edge got the Bond theme gig when Swedish pop-reggae band Ace of Base pulled out – which boggles the mind slightly – but GoldenEye is a pretty good replacement. Tina alights on the song’s distinct sass, and the throaty high note she hits at the end is fantastic.

8. BEF – Ball of Confusion ft Tina Turner (1982)

The track that reinvented Tina’s career – it led to a new record deal, and thus Private Dancer – turns the Temptations’ psych-soul classic into synth-driven funk far edgier than her subsequent output, with Britfunkers Beggar and Co on brass and post-punk hero John McGeoch providing abstract feedback-heavy guitar. And Tina nails it. Magic.

7. Tina Turner – Acid Queen (1976)

Elton John had the big hit from Ken Russell’s film of Tommy – with a potent reworking of Pinball Wizard – but Tina’s take on Acid Queen offers the soundtrack’s biggest transformation, turning the Who’s original into supremely ballsy soul. The version you want is the tighter, tougher take on her solo album of the same name.

6. Tina Turner – Private Dancer (1984)

Tina Turner: Private Dancer – video

Written by Mark Knopfler, Private Dancer hits the same note of slick but affecting melancholy as Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet or Your Latest Trick. Its middle eight allows Tina to let rip, but her skill here is in quietly suggesting that the protagonist’s optimistic dreams of wealth and love aren’t going to come true.

5. Tina Turner – Whole Lotta Love (1975)

Of all Ike and Tina’s rock covers, her solo version of Whole Lotta Love is the most striking, precisely because it turns the Led Zeppelin original inside out – from cocksure strut to atmospheric, string-laden Isaac Hayes-esque funk, while the vocal deals in yearning and ache rather than swagger.

4. Ike and Tina Turner – River Deep – Mountain High (1966)

The crowning glory of Phil Spector’s maximalist wall of sound approach, or the cluttered breaking point when his deliberately OTT production style finally became too OTT for its own good? Either way, no one can argue with the brilliance of the song, or the awesome power of Tina’s voice.

3. Ike and Tina Turner – Proud Mary (1971)

Ike and Tina Turner: Proud Mary (Live on the Ed Sullivan Show) – video

A cover that became the definitive version. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s original feels oddly understated next to Tina’s all-guns-blazing approach, complete with explanatory spoken-word intro: “We’re gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy, then we’re gonna do the finish rough,” she offers, before proceeding to do exactly that.

2. Ike and Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits (1973)

A song both nostalgic – for Tina’s titular home town – and entirely of the moment for 1973. Over a supremely funky clavinet and horns, its fat, compressed guitar sound and siren-like synth suggests a familiarity with British glam rock. “Absolutely sensational,” offered one contemporary critic, quite rightly. (But steer clear of Tina’s ill-advised 90s house remake.)

1. Tina Turner – What’s Love Got to Do With It (1984)

Tina Turner: What’s Love Got to Do With It – video

Devotees of Tina Turner’s 60s and 70s work understandably struggle with her later oeuvre: it’s harder to locate the grit that made her famous in the music that made her a solo superstar. But it’s there on What’s Love Got to Do With It, a masterpiece of mainstream pop songwriting that was, perhaps mercifully, rejected by Bucks Fizz and Cliff Richard. Amid the Mellow Magic production – synthesised pan pipes! cod-reggae guitar! – Tina’s voice brings the pain and bitter experience. Weary in the verses, defiant in the chorus, she fully inhabits the lyric’s cynicism: it’s her theme song for a reason.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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