From Clarksdale, Mississippi, pianist/guitarist Ike Turner, with his Kings Of Rhythm, was instrumental in the birth of rock’n’roll, with Rocket 88, a US R&B No.1 hit in 1951, widely acknowledged as the first recording of the genre.
Tina Turner, born Anna Mae Bullock, meanwhile, was raised in the Baptist church in Nutbush, Tennessee, belting out holy roller gospel from an early age.
By 1958, both she and Ike were in East St Louis, their paths crossing at the city’s Club Manhattan; Ike leading the house band, Tina an audience regular. One night, she got on stage with Ike, burning her way through BB King’s You Know I Love You. “My jaw literally dropped,” Ike later said.
A musical and personal relationship ensued and, in late 1959, when Ike’s band’s singer failed to show at a session, Tina took over; the result, 1960’s US R&B No.2 hit, A Fool In Love, which captured one of Tina’s most passionate vocal performances. It kickstarted a series of successful 45s; 1961’s I Idolize You and It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, plus 1962’s Poor Fool and Tra La La La La all hit the Top 10.
In 1966, they recorded River Deep – Mountain High, with five of the tracks produced by Phil Spector. A pioneering amalgam of black gospel fervour with white pop, it broke Ike and Tina in the UK; the title track hit the Top 5 as a single. They reverted to their R&B roots with albums for Blue Thumb in 1968 and ’69, then pushed boundaries again incorporating rock into their soul on a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary, and Nutbush City Limits – which, written by Tina, became the couple’s last Top 20 placing.
When the hits dried up, Tina had no reason to stay: years of Ike’s emotional and physical abuse had taken its toll (she attempted suicide in 1968) and, after divorcing him in 1976, she returned triumphant with 1984’s Private Dancer. Ike, a drug addict and alcoholic with a temper, was in prison when the pair were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1991. He died in 2007.
Dynamite! (Gotham, 1963) (opens in new tab)
Dynamite! is the second of four albums Ike and Tina Turner recorded for Juggy Murray’s New York-based Sue label. All four are unfailingly brilliant collections of high-octane R&B, but Dynamite! just about pips their 1961 debut, The Soul Of Ike & Tina Turner and 1963’s Don’t Play Me Cheap and the same year's It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.
With Dynamite! you’re getting a greatest hits run-through of those magical early years, when Ike played piano and guitar like a demon and Tina was fired-up and hungry. The superlative A Fool In Love and It’s Gonna Work Out Fine provided the biggest hits of their entire career, both making the US R&B No.2 spot.
The remaining 10 tracks on the record are divided equally into two camps; the first, fire-in-the-belly rock’n’soul numbers (You Should’A Treated Me Right, I’m Jealous, I Dig You) and drop-to-your-knees soul-of-a-woman tracks (Sleepless, I Idolize You, The Way You Love Me).
The original artwork, featuring cutouts of Tina – brilliantly brassy and bold in a mink coat – and Ike – mean and moody as his reputation suggests – pinned on a blazing background, is as explosive as the album’s title and the timeless music contained within.
The Hunter/Outta Season (Blue Thumb, 1968 & 1969) (opens in new tab)
Their 1968 and 1969 Bob Krasnow-produced albums for Blue Thumb put Ike and Tina in a blues setting. Both, despite being largely unsung, are great recordings. Outta Season captures the pair on a series of standards from My Babe and Rock Me Baby to Dust My Broom.
The Hunter, meanwhile, features Albert Collin (opens in new tab)s on eight tracks including I Smell Trouble and Bold Soul Sister. The first sees Ike and Tina expand Albert King (opens in new tab)’s soulful blues to six minutes, and is an attack on the Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland song. Bold Soul Sister, meanwhile, is a sassy proto-funk original.
River Deep - Mountain High (A&M, 1966) (opens in new tab)
Comprising five tracks produced by Phil Spector and the remaining seven by Ike, River Deep – Mountain High broke Ike and Tina Turner in the UK, despite the Spector songs only featuring Tina – Spector paid Ike $20,000 to stay away from the studios.
The title song is the grandstanding moment; Tina making the song her own, pinned to Spector’s trademark ‘Wall of Sound’ – Spector thought it was his best production. Tina also blasts through Martha And The Vandellas’ A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Every Day) and The Drifters’ Save The Last Dance For Me.
Workin' Together (BGO, 1971) (opens in new tab)
A blueprint for the Rolling Stones (opens in new tab) and the Faces, their 1971 second album for the Liberty label and follow-up to 1970’s Come Together sees Ike and Tina rock out with a little soul on covers of Get Back, Ooh Poo Pah Doo and Proud Mary, the latter an explosive mesh of funk’n’roll that patterned their 70s sound.
But the stand-out, Funkier Than A Mosquita’s Tweeter, scribed by Tina’s sister Alliene Bullock, is just that – musically a syncopated rhythm’n’groove, lyrically a poke at religion. This reissue is paired with 1973’s Let Me Touch Your Mind, another classic.
Proud Mary - The Best Of (EMI, 1991) (opens in new tab)
This is the best ‘best of…’ out there, and dating from 1991, it collates their first years at Sue, then their later years at Liberty and United Artists – which means it is not comprehensive by any means, omitting tracks from their Kent, Blue Thumb and Phil Spector tenure.
The version of River Deep – Mountain High included is a later re-recording directed by Ike Turner. Nevertheless, it is a choice selection with lessons in rewriting given through magisterial readings of Come Together, Honky Tonk Women and I Want To Take You Higher.
The Kent Years (Kent, 2000) (opens in new tab)
Spanning the years between 1964 to 1967, this 26-track selection rounds up Ike and Tina’s A and B-sides, plus album tracks for the Bihari brothers’ Kent label. Highpoints are the crackin’ riposte, I Can’t Believe What You Say, an obliterating take on All I Could Do Was Cry and an out-blues-ing-the-blues reading of Eddie Boyd’s Five Long Years.
It’s also worth investigating Ike & Tina Turner Revue Live!!! (Kent), which captures the group on stage in the 60s; a blistering take on James Brown’s Please, Please, Please brings the house down.
And one to avoid...
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Tina Turner - Twenty Four Seven (Parlophone, 1999) (opens in new tab)
Between 1984 and 1999, Tina Turner released six albums, bookended by the critically acclaimed Private Dancer and her last, Twenty Four Seven. Each one was a No.1 somewhere in the world, but such commerciality came with a price; see the last-named album, where Tina covers sappy material and her rasp is smoothed out in glib production.
If ever there was a singer in need of a Rick Rubin (opens in new tab)-produced Johnny Cash-style back-to-their-roots makeover, it was Tina. But a year later she announced her retirement, and, unlike many, she's stayed there.