31 Years Ago: Tina Turner Launches Her Comeback With ‘Private Dancer’ Album
One of the greatest comebacks in popular music history began 31 years ago, with the release of Tina Turner’s 1984 solo smash, Private Dancer -- an album that has since sold an estimated 30 million copies worldwide, but might have never happened if not for the former R&B star’s incredible story of perseverance and incomparable talent.
In fact, ask almost anyone and they would probably mistake Private Dancer for Tina Turner’s first solo album, instead of her fifth (the first four having largely vanished without a trace). Scores more would know only the vaguest details about her first era of fame alongside former husband Ike Turner, even with the subsequent movie and miles of press devoted to their troubled relationship. Indeed, by the early '80s, Turner was widely viewed as nothing more than a has-been, and her second act owes much to the belief of veteran A&R executive, John Carter, who signed Tina to Capitol Records in 1983, when her career was in the doldrums.
It was also Carter who steered and supported Tina throughout the sometimes confusing recording process for Private Dancer, which involved no less than eight different producers to see it through before it was ready for shipping to the record pressing plants. And yet, what by all rights could have amounted to a chaotic collection of songs was instead coalesced into an eclectic LP thanks to the work of all involved and, of course, Tina’s amazing voice, versatile interpretative powers and sheer will and charisma.
Not that this was immediately apparent when her first single, “Let’s Stay Together” (a relatively staid update on the Al Green soul classic), released in late 1983, took its sweet time climbing up international charts, cresting at an impressive No. 6 in the U.K. but stalling at No. 26 in America. A second single, “Help,” which made a ballad of the Beatles’ mid ‘60s standard, was a comparative failure, frozen out of the Top 40 most everywhere in the winter of 1984. If not for the persistence of all involved until there was a chance to release a third single, “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” the course of Turner’s career might have never been rewritten, and rock, pop and soul history right along with it.
Written by veteran British songwriters Terry Britten (who also produced Tina’s rendition) and Graham Lyle, “What’s Love Got to Do With It” would go down as one of the biggest hits of the '80s, bar none. Tina’s emotional performance took her back into the Billboard Top 10 for the first time since the early ‘70s, before giving her her first and only No. 1 solo hit, at the ripe age of 44 (the oldest female performer to achieve this until 1999, when a then 53-year-old Cher went to No. 1).
Simultaneously, and somewhat paradoxically, the song’s memorable music video, showing Tina wandering around lower Manhattan, succeeded in introducing the singer to an entire generation of younger fans via MTV, later winning an astronaut for “Best Female Video” to sit alongside the three Grammy Awards that would follow in early 1985.
By then, Private Dancer had yielded two more global hits in the hard rocking “Better Be Good to Me,” penned by the songwriting team of Mike Chapman, Nicky Chinn and Holly Knight, and the sultry title track, composed by Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler. Originally intended for that band’s 1982 album, Love Over Gold, but left off when Knopfler decided he didn't feel comfortable singing a song from a woman's perspective. The song ultimately found that woman in Turner, whose bravura performance, both on wax and on video, notched another massive hit with a little help from a dazzling guitar solo performed by six-string god Jeff Beck.
All in all, seven singles would be released from Private Dancer (“I Can’t Stand the Rain” and “Show Some Respect” followed) over a near-two-year span, and Turner would also deliver the goods on nearly 200 concert dates across the world over the course of 1985, later immortalized on a best-selling Private Dancer Tour VHS. And, as though all this weren’t impressive enough, Tina also made her presence felt on that year’s USA for Africa charity album, before bringing the house down, alongside Mick Jagger, at that summer’s Live Aid benefit in Wembley Stadium -- pretty much cementing her new title as the “Queen of Rock and Roll.”
And to think what struggles, both personal and professional, had to be overcome before the singer could justifiably earn this universal, if belated, recognition. A Private Dancerno more, Tina Turner was now one of the most public and beloved figures in popular music, and today she still owes much of her artistic legacy to the events surrounding this historic album. -- Eduardo Rivadavia
See 20 Rappers’ & Singers’ Yearbook Photos You Won't Believe