The importance of managers in artists’ careers cannot be talked about enough. When Tina Turner recorded What’s Love Got To Do With It, what will become his greatest success and the beginning of his rebirth, he hated her. She hated the lyrics, the intention and the anti-sentimental sense that enveloped the song. She nevertheless trusted her Roger Davies: an Australian 20 years younger, relatively new to the recording industry, but who instilled in Tina Turner a sense of competence and confidence.
There really wasn’t much choice. After the disastrous and violent divorce with Ike Turnerwhich ended both their marriage and the duo Ike & Tina Turner, the American singer was struggling to take back her place in the music world. She tried it with three albums, all widely snubbed by audiences and critics. Then that young Australian arrived, determined to get Tina Turner back on her feet and deliver her to the place where she rests today: the Olympus of music.
For this, but also for other reasons, when Davies tells her that What’s Love Got To Do With It it will be a success, she trusts. And, in hindsight, it will be one of the best decisions of her life.
The period of crisis
Ike & Tina Turner break up artistically and humanly in 1976, after years of domestic violence and abuse. The duo is mainly known for their spectacular cover of Proud Marymasterpiece of the Creedence Clearwater Revival. Tina tries in every way to recover, to demonstrate to the public, to Ike, but above all to herself, that she is an independent woman.
He remains in limbo for 13 years during which, as mentioned, he releases three albums. Everyone goes unnoticed. Then something happens. In fact, two things happen. Tina knows Roger Davies, who was manager of at the time Olivia Newton-John, and in 1979 he decided to entrust his career to him. Never was a wiser choice.
Davies first sends her on tour to open for European concerts Rod Stewartand then proposes it to the Rolling Stones as an open act. You understood that Tina Turner must gain the credibility of colleagues, before the public. Meanwhile, while Stewart, enraptured by her voice, takes her with him to Saturday Night Live, Davies works on the record revival.
The second great event that changes the fate of Tina Turner’s story and career is the contract with Capitol Records. Initially the major absolutely did not want to invest in the singer, seen as a lost bet. “She burned herself artistically,” they said. However, the upper floors of the Capitol had to resign themselves, even a little out of exhaustion, because they continued to receive the insistence of the talent scout John S. Carter and of a certain David Bowie. We don’t know exactly what they said in the meetings, but we can imagine that at least one executive said: “well, if Bowie says so…”.
Anyway, Capitol gives Tina Turner a three-album deal. The stars had aligned. Now only one thing was missing: music.
The history and meaning of What’s Love Got To Do With Itthe rebirth of Tina Turner
With a secure contract, a manager ready to throw himself into the fire and a vocal talent of those born and never made there, Tina Turner was ready to implement chapter 1 of her rebirth. Davies trusts songwriters Terry Britten e Graham Lylemembers of the duo Gallagher & Lyle, the task of churning out a hit that can drive Private Dancer (1984), the new album.
Britten and Lyle pull out What’s Love Got To Do With Itwhich they had actually already written and proposed to various artists previously (i Bucks Fizz they had even recorded their own version, which, however, will only be published posthumously).
But back to Tina Turner. Do you know when an interpreter falls in love with a song that is proposed to him? Guy Mine with If Calling? Here, between Tina Turner and What’s Love Got To Do With It exactly the opposite happened: the singer loathed the song.
The text is about a woman who is sexually attracted to a man, but she is keen to make it clear that there is, and will not be, anything sentimental between them. No love, just sex. A song absolutely anti-romantic, which Tina Turner didn’t like. Initially she also refuses to record it, let alone choose it as the first single of her artistic renaissance.
Davies however reassures her and, in fact, the song brings Tina Turner back to number one in the charts for the first time in 24 years. What happens next is written in music history and can be summed up like this: tre Grammy Awards (Song of the Year; Record of the Year and Best Female Vocal Performance). In accepting this last statuette, a particularly excited Tina Turner dedicated the award to Roger Davies, describing him as “a great man who has revived my career”. A dedication not only in words: that Grammy still stands out in the Davies house today.
In Tina, the 2021 documentary film about the legendary singer-songwriter’s life, song co-writer Terry Britten says he suggested Tina Turner pace the vocal melody by saying: “imagine yourself singing it while jogging”.
The video of What’s Love Got To Do With It redefined the Tina Turner aesthetic
We are in the 80s, which means that launching a single on the record market also means promoting it on MTV, which was born three years earlier. The importance of a song’s official music video in 1984 is comparable to that of today’s Spotify playlists: crucial for promotion.
The direction is entrusted to Mark Robinsonwhich sets everything in New York. The video is as 80’s visual as can be, with crossfades and flashy outfits. Tina Turner shows up with voluminous hair, high heels and a very short skirt, thus redefining her aesthetic as we know it today.
This look has become so iconic that, in 2022, Mattel released a Tina Turner Barbie that portrays her as in the video for What’s Love Got To Do With It.
The video had a great impact and MTV began passing it in high rotation, contributing to the global success of the song. At the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards the clip was awarded Best Video by a Female Artist.
A record song for Tina Turner
What’s Love Got To Do With It led to Tina Turner breaking several records. On September 1, 1984, the song hit #1 on the Hot 100, making Tina Turner, 44 at the time, the oldest artist ever to reach the top of the chart. An impressive result in a sector, and in a historical context, which favored young artists, especially among women.
The first place in the standings earned Tina Turner another record: that of the longest period of time between two songs at number 1 by the same artist: 24 years. Tina Turner had in fact reached the top position in 1960 with A Fool In Lovepaired with Ike.
Both records will later be broken by Cher in 1998, with Believe, the first pop song in history to use Autotune (we told you about it in another episode of Inside the Song). At the time of BelieveCher was 54 years old.
The version with Kygo
In 2020, the year marked by the pandemic, a new version of the song arrives in collaboration with the DJ Kygo, who remixed the song also drawing on previously unreleased tracks from the original recording. You can listen to it below.
The Myth and Legend of Tina Turner
Tina Turner passed away this week, May 24, 2023, at the age of 83, after a legendary career. Upon the announcement of the death of the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, social networks were flooded with messages of love from fans and colleagues.
Among the many we want to bring back Beyoncé’s beautiful post on her website, accompanied by a photo of the two artists together:
“My beloved queen. I love you infinitely. I’m so grateful for your inspiration and all the ways you’ve led the way. You are strength and resilience. You are the epitome of power and passion. We are all so lucky to have witnessed your kindness and beautiful spirit which will remain forever. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”