Tina Turner has an indestructible singing voice. The saying goes that no one needs a heart if one can be broken.
When taken out of context, this line becomes a chilling murder weapon, conjuring images of bleak resignation and broken dreams. The chorus resolution is taken for granted because of the mesmerizing riff that comes before it (which is also the song’s namesake). However, just one line sums up the entire song’s message.
Except for the incredible success of the woman who made the song her own and made it a global phenomenon.
Tina Turner, who passed away this past Wednesday at 83 in Switzerland, had a number-one hit with “What’s Love Got to Do With It” in 1984 when she was in her forties. She was just as captivating to watch perform as she had been over a decade ago when she was the show-stopping centerpiece of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.
Her rough, rasping, in-your-face vocal style, which made up for its lack of acrobatic range with seismic force, was more explosive and robust than her tawny-haired, long-legged physical presence.
Before the release of “What’s Love Got to Do with It” and the album on which it appeared, “Private Dancer,” she was regarded mainly as a “oldies” act, one whose sound was out of step with the aesthetic of the early 1980s and instead more closely associated with the R&B/Soul Music nexus of pop music that helped define the tumultuous juncture of the 1960s and 1970s.
After a public split in 1976 and a protracted legal struggle nearly bankrupted her, she divorced her bandleader Ike Turner in 1978, ending an abusive marriage. Even when she appeared alone, she was still greeted warmly at international events. However, the surprising success of “Private Dancer” propelled Turner to the forefront of the 1980s musical zeitgeist.
Many songs from “Private Dancer,” including the title tune and “Better Be Good To Me,” soared to the top of the singles charts. Even though it had been offered to other singers, like Cliff Richard and Donna Summer, before Turner got the chance to perform it, “What’s Love Got to Do With It’s” blend of world-weary bravado and poignant vulnerability proved such a strikingly appropriate match for Turner’s personal life of heartbreak and survival that it still seems shocking.
She was given a warm welcome into the rock community and thrived there. At the height of her newfound fame, she starred in the 1985 box office smash “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” in which she played a violent gang leader who was only slightly less terrifying than “The Acid Queen” she had played in “Tommy.”
Her concerts sold out across Europe and beyond by the decade’s end. After having another platinum hit with her song of Bonnie Tyler’s “The Best” in 1989, her success continued into the new millennium with the release of the biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” (1993), based on her 1986 memoir of the same name.
A smash Broadway musical, “Tina,” which followed Turner’s life from her humble beginnings as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her reign as the Queen of Rock, was inspired by the film and garnered Tony Award nominations for Laurence Fishburne (as Ike) and Angela Bassett (as Tina).
Few of her ardent admirers even ventured to think that the multiple near-death experiences she’d had over the past decade would slow her down. After everything she faced, it’s hard to believe death would be the final obstacle. That’s why, despite her age and health problems, the news on Wednesday took the world aback.
But she hasn’t slowed down. That gruff, booming voice will become one of the most memorable in the annals of popular music. No one else can ever claim ownership of the “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” chorus as their own.