The 15 best Tina Turner songs
Whether rocking out on stage or walking across a crane without a harness, Tina Turner owned every stage she graced — captivating audiences with her soulful, raw rasp.
Turner — who died Wednesday at the age of 83 — was no stranger to strife and struggle. Starting out as part of an R&B act, dancing away her pain alongside her husband Ike Turner, the Tennessee native sang as if every performance would be her last. And, as the "Queen of Rock & Roll" opened up about her rocky road through stardom and her experiences with domestic abuse, her legacy expanded beyond music, reaching out to those facing similar hardships.
Now, in chronological order, EW presents the 15 Tina Turner songs that were simply the best.
"A Fool in Love" (1960)
This joyful debut single was riddled with themes that eerily foreshadowed Tina Turner's future woes. Sassing out lyrics like, "He's got me smiling when I should be ashamed / Got me laughing when my heart is in pain," Tina (or Ann Bullock, as she was known prior to Ike changing her name upon the release of this song, which he wrote) offers raw emotion that reminded us of how love can cloud your judgment and make you a fool in someone else's game.
"I Idolize You" (1960)
With doo-wop flare from the Ikettes, Ike plays an enticing beat while Tina snarls lyrics with pure force and conviction, hooping and hollering her declarations of love. Endearing on the surface, "I Idolize You" also alludes to a power dynamic that rippled throughout Ike and Tina's rocky collaboration, the song singed by the sadness under the surface. The track was re-released multiple times throughout the years, each version a revived testament to Tina's vocal prowess.
"It's Gonna Work Out Fine" (1961)
Ike and Tina's biggest R&B and crossover hit yet (debuting at No. 2 on Billboard's R&B chart and No. 14 on the Hot 100) was a charmed call-and-response duet that first showcased the sass Tina was capable of bringing to a track. Written by Rose Marie McCoy along with Joe Seneca and James Lee, the song was first recorded by the duo Mickey & Sylvia in 1960. If we're being honest, their version doesn't hold a candle to Tina's stunningly soulful interpretation, which many say laid the groundwork for her move into the world of hard rock, something very few Black musicians traversed successfully at that time.
"River Deep - Mountain High" (1966)
Phil Spector signed Ike and Tina to his label after being awe-struck by Tina's voice at a Club Sunset performance — and their first collaboration (written by Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich) married Tina's tenacious vocals with Spector's signature "Wall of Sound" production. Tina once said Spector made her sing the song "over 500,000 times," and that she was "drenched in sweat" by the time recording was done. Though "River Deep - Mountain High" didn't perform well in its original U.S. release, it found success in Europe before a 1969 reissue finally garnered critical and commercial praise in America, with one outlet considering it to be "perhaps the greatest single of all time."
"Proud Mary" (1971)
Nothing about this song is simple — and that is exactly why it's one of Ike and Tina's most popular hits. Originally recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969, Ike and Tina released their version of the song with a more subdued opening. Starting out as though floating down a river on a summer's day, the track eventually smacks the listener with a burst of funk rock to carry the tune to completion. Their effort landed at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won the couple their first Grammy.
"Nutbush City Limits" (1973)
This is where we meet the real Tina Turner — or Ann Bullock, rather. With a sound akin to acid funk, this love letter to Turner's hometown provides a peek into the singer's humble origins, a "quiet, little old community" and a "one-horse town." But we know Turner isn't "quiet." The track, penned by the legend herself, makes it clear she had big dreams and was destined to tackle the world beyond what was she was born into.
"The Acid Queen" (1976)
Inspired by her role as The Acid Queen in Ken Russell's 1975 film version of The Who's classic rock opera Tommy, this is where we see Turner's rock goddess quest solidified. By this time, Ike and his sway over her career were distant memories, as was her tenure as an exclusive R&B singer. With her ever-more ferocious vocals and new Brit-rock sensibilities, Turner was setting the stage for a major rebrand that would offer her a "whole lotta" success.
"What's Love Got to Do With It" (1984)
At 44-years-old, Turner wasn't afraid to ask the question of a cynic who has been through a thing or two. Beyond its self-affirming energy, the song is about someone who, like Tina, has been scorned by love and wants answers for the pain she carries. The ode to independence (her first — and only — No. 1 single) is undeniably one of the greatest remnants of her astonishing legacy.
"Better Be Good to Me" (1984)
On this cover of a Spider song, Turner demands the respect and honor that she so rightly deserves. Hell, that all women deserve. "Did you think I'd just accept you in blind faith?" she professes boldly, adding that any man trying to win her heart "better be good" to her — and her only.
"Private Dancer" (1984)
This dark, sexy track is a prime example of Turner's edge. While on the surface about a "lady of the night," the singer has gone on record stating that she was "naive" and never interpreted it that way when recording the track, which Mark Knopfler original wrote for Dire Straits before deciding it was meant for a woman to sing. Turner, who spent her youth singing at private parties, initially believed "Private Dancer" was about a classical dancer who did the same. Ultimately, she thought, the song was about how people will do anything for love — and, more specifically, a rumination on her own relationship to Ike.
"Show Some Respect" (1984)
On the final single from her Private Dancer album, Turnerr makes it clear that she's found her voice, professing that she is the real gift in the relationship — reminding us that she shouldn't be taken for granted, and that second best isn't good enough for her. As though she's singing to both her former and new self, the track is a perfect bridge into Turner's next era.
"We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)" (1985)
On the heels of Private Dancer album, Turner made her return to the big screen in Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, and recorded this hit for the film's soundtrack. Peaking at No. 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100, the song showcased the bad-ass that Turner had become — not just on the charts, but in real life as well. The power ballad received both a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
"Tonight (with David Bowie)" (1988)
This heartfelt duet was originally set to be only on David Bowie's Tonight, but eventually found a second life on the Tina Live in Europe album. The stars had long been fans of one another, and Bowie admitted in interviews that they were both nervous about recording together. Ultimately, the two sparked a long friendship, bonding over their shared profession as well as their devotion to Buddhism.
"The Best" (1989)
On this cover of a Bonnie Tyler single, Turner sings of the love she has found with someone "better than all the rest." While easily interpreted as a song about a romantic relationship, through the lens of Tina's story, you could also say the lyrics speak to the love that someone should give themselves. It's no surprise that this straightforward and soulful track became one of the singer's biggest hits.
"I Don't Wanna Fight" (1993)
Written by British singer Lulu, this mid-tempo ballad celebrates those who go through hell and come out in heaven on the other side. Turner's version was included in her biopic, What's Love Got to Do with It, and would become the singer's last song to chart in the U.S. before the musician retired. What a final note to end on, the soulful vocals and strong message a perfect distillment of what made Tina Turner a beloved icon to so many.