Tina Turner: Late stars Top 5 songs and their background story

Tina Turner was known for her classic R&B, funk, rock and pop combinations

By Ellen James May 25, 2023
Tina Turner: Late stars Top 5 songs and their background story

Tina Turner left a treasure behind.

With her successful fusion of R&B, funk, rock, and pop, Tina Turner, who passed away at the age of 83, produced numerous timeless albums, all delivered with her unmistakable raw vocal strength.

The songs tell the story of her turbulent marriage to her first husband Ike and subsequent 1980s rebirth thanks to a British synth-pop duo.

Here is a list of her top 5 most well-known and cherished songs.

1. River Deep, Mountain High (1966)

In 1960, Tina achieved fame with Ike, and six years later, when producer Phil Spector enquired about working with her, she received one of pop music's greatest works.

Spector didn't want the domineering Ike in the studio, and Tina was content to work with someone else even if the song was credited to the pair.

She was shocked to learn that the producer had put together a complete orchestra and choir to construct his well-known wall of sound.

"I was just a girl from Tennessee who got caught up with Ike and became a singer," she wrote in her autobiography. "Never, ever had I seen anything like this, except in a movie."

The song peaked at number three in the UK but failed to catch on in the US. She claimed that radio DJs "said it wasn't 'black' enough to be rhythm and blues, or white enough to be 'pop',"

2. Proud Mary (1971)

Ike and Tina changed this song's laid-back country-rock atmosphere into an explosive and grandiose funk tribute to freedom after Credence Clearwater Revival made it a smash in 1969.

US music lovers took notice of this song, which began with her seductive whispered introduction before bursting into life with her vivacious vocals. It received a Grammy Award and peaked at number four on the Billboard list.

This was the song Beyonce performed as a tribute to Tina during the 2005 Kennedy Centre Honours. The two joined forces to perform it as a duet at the Grammy Awards three years later.

3. Nutbush City Limits (1973)

With the lyrics "A church house, gin house/a school house, outhouse," Tina is credited with immortalising her Tennessee hometown.

The energetic song brought back memories of her chaotic upbringing when she had also done some cotton picking. "You go to the field on weekdays/And have a picnic on Labor Day."

After being abused by Ike for three years, Tina left him, putting her career in jeopardy.

4. Let's Stay Together (1983)

Tina had to rebuild her career as a solo performer from scratch. She met two members of the English electro-pop group Heaven 17 and that encounter served as the turning point in her comeback, which would result in even greater popularity than previously.

Tina didn't have a record deal when Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory were looking for one more performer for an album of cover songs for their British Electric Foundation project.

She entered Abbey Road Studios, but no other musicians were present. She asked, expecting a Phil Spector-style orchestra, "Where's the band?" Synthesisers were used to create the music instead.

The Temptations' Ball of Confusion was the first song they recorded, followed by Al Green's Let's Stay Together, which became her first UK top 10 hit in ten years.

5. What's Love Got to Do With It (1984)

With this song, which was co-written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle and had already been presented to Sir Cliff Richard, Donna Summer, and Bucks Fizz, she solidified her position as a solo artist. It didn't appeal to Tina at first either; she thought it was too cheery and light.

She agreed to record it nonetheless, but only provided she could do it "forcefully, with gravity and raw emotion" in her own way. It worked; Turner's seductive, defiant performance earned her sole US solo number one and the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The song was backed by a music video that showed Turner strutting through the streets of New York dressed in denim and black leather.