The queen of rock and roll, Tina Turner, died at the age of 83 on Wednesday (May 24) at home in Switzerland. Born Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee in 1939, she auditioned for Ike Turner’s band as a teenager in 1957, eventually marrying the guitarist and becoming the star attraction of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The duo scored hits throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, with Tina’s legendary stage presence influencing countless performers from Mick Jagger to Beyoncé.
After years of surviving Ike’s physical abuse, Tina Turner divorced her husband in 1978 and went solo, starting her career over at square one. With the goal to “become the first Black woman to fill stadiums around the world,” Turner eventually became bigger than ever, selling 5 million copies of 1984’s Private Dancer, winning three Grammys, and briefly crossing over into movie stardom with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Turner released her final album, Twenty Four Seven, in 1999, and retired from touring a year later, although she continued to tell her dramatic life story in the 2021 documentary Tina and produced the Broadway show Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.
Tina Turner is, alongside Stevie Nicks, one of only two women to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here’s a look back at the best songs from her 40-year recording career, both with Ike and as a solo artist.
10. “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” (1985)
Turner’s first feature film roles were in a pair of musicals based on classic rock albums: 1975’s Tommy and 1978’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After her ‘80s comeback, she took on her most substantial acting gig when Mad Max director George Miller created the antagonist for the sequel Beyond Thunderdome with Turner in mind. Turner played Aunty Entity in the dystopian action movie and recorded two songs for the soundtrack, with the grandiose power ballad “We Don’t Need Another Hero” becoming one of her biggest chart hits.
9. “Sleepless” (1962)
Tina’s voice absolutely explodes out of the speakers on Ike & Tina Turner’s aptly named second album, 1962’s Dynamite! The contrast between the Ikettes’ placid harmonies and Turner’s pained wail on “Sleepless” is almost comedic, even as they sing the same sentiments and finish each other’s sentences. She begins the song at a 10 on the intensity scale and never lets up for the next three minutes.
8. “Unfinished Sympathy” (1996)
Towards the end of Tina’s career, major stars eagerly lined up to write for her, and 1996’s Wildest Dreams features songs penned by Bono and the Edge, Pet Shop Boys, and Sheryl Crow. The album’s most surprising track, however, is a faithful cover of British trip-hop group Massive Attack’s 1991 breakthrough single “Unfinished Sympathy.”
7. “Overnight Sensation” (1986)
Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler wrote Private Dancer’s title track, and on the follow-up album, 1986’s Break Every Rule, he contributed another song that seemed to capture her life story in four minutes: “I had to beat the stage fright, I had to cry all night / Trying to make a song fit when you know it never was right / I said, ‘Girl, get up and get out of this mess / You’re going to be an overnight sensation.”
6. “River Deep, Mountain High” (1966)
If any pop hitmaker’s legacy has been even more tarnished by his personal life more than Ike Turner, it’s groundbreaking producer and convicted murderer Phil Spector. Unfortunately, Tina worked with both men on the 1966 album River Deep – Mountain High, but the title track is a marvel, one of the few times when a vocalist sounded like they could actually overpower Spector’s massive “wall of sound” production style. When the song barely scraped the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100, Spector temporarily announced his retirement. Thankfully “River Deep” was a major hit in the U.K., leading to Ike and Tina opening shows for the Rolling Stones.
5. “I Don’t Wanna Fight” (1993)
Turner’s 1986 memoir I, Tina was adapted into the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It, featuring Oscar-nominated performances by Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. Turner re-recorded some of her hits for the soundtrack album as well as three new songs. The weary, bittersweet “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” co-written by ‘60s pop star Lulu, became Turner’s last top 10 hit on the Hot 100.
4. “The Best” (1989)
The songwriting team of Mike Chapman and Holly Knight penned several songs for Tina, including the 1984 hit “Better Be Good To Me.” Their best song, however, was first recorded by Bonnie Tyler, becoming a minor hit in Europe before Turner made it into the iconic lead single of 1989’s Foreign Affair.
3. “Nutbush City Limits” (1973)
In her vast and legendary performing career, Tina only wrote about 30 songs, most of which appeared on later Ike & Tina Turner albums in the ‘70s. By far the most famous of them is the title track to 1974’s Nutbush City Limits, a top 40 hit about Turner’s childhood in Nutbush, Tn., that was later covered by Bob Seger. The hard-driving funk track features a clavinet riff, a gurgling Moog, and a glammy rhythm guitar track rumored to have been played by T. Rex’s Marc Bolan.
2. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (1984)
After leaving Ike in 1976, Tina recorded a couple of moderately successful solo albums, but by the ‘80s she’d fallen on hard times and was performing in clubs to get by. The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart put Turner back in front of big crowds as an opening act, though, and covers of hits by the Supremes and Al Green did well enough in Europe to get her a contract with Capitol Records. The resulting album, Private Dancer, was a multi-platinum phenomenon thanks largely to “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” a song first recorded but never released by the English pop group Bucks Fizz. At 44, Turner scored one of the greatest comebacks in music history and broke pop’s age barrier, becoming the oldest woman to hit the top of the Hot 100 (a record only broken by Cher 15 years later).
1. “Proud Mary” (1971)
Plenty of songs have been hits for multiple artists, but it’s rare that one becomes a career-defining signature song for two classic acts. Two years after Creedence Clearwater Revival’s original “Proud Mary” was released, Ike and Tina returned the John Fogerty-penned song to the top 10 with their “nice and rough” rendition. Tina initially sings it slower than the original, and then the band’s horn section kicks into high gear as she attacks the lyric again at a frantic new pace which completely reshapes the song.