EML’s Favorite Songs – TINA TURNER: “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

Tina Turner

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of my Favorite Songs, so thought I’d get back into the groove with my favorite Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to Do With It“. Not only is it one of my favorite songs of all time, but Tina is also one of my all-time favorite female singers. And quite honestly, who doesn’t love Tina! One of the best live concerts I’ve ever seen was Tina Turner on her What’s Love? Tour in September 1993 (with Chris Isaak opening for her at the Cal Expo Amphitheatre in Sacramento, California).

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Tennessee in 1939 (hard to believe she’s now 80!), Tina Turner lived part of her rather troubled childhood (thanks to dysfunctional parents) in the town of Nutbush (which she immortalized in her 1973 hit “Nutbush City Limits”), but moved to St. Louis when she was 16 to live with her mother. It was there that she eventually met musician Ike Turner, and began singing with his band Kings of Rhythm by the time she was 18. In 1960, Ike Turner wrote the song “A Fool in Love” for singer Art Lassiter, with Bullock to sing along with Lassiter’s backing vocalists the Artettes. But when Lassiter failed to show up for the recording session, Bullock suggested that she sing lead instead. Ike recorded her on a demo with the intention of erasing her vocals and adding Lassiter’s at a later date. When local St. Louis DJ Dave Dixon heard the demo, he convinced Turner to send the tape to Juggy Murray of R&B label Sue Records, who was so impressed he bought the rights to the track and convinced Turner to make Bullock the star of his show. Well, the song became a chart hit, and Turner subsequently renamed Anna Mae Bullock ‘Tina Turner’, and his act the ‘Ike & Tina Turner Revue’, also adding a girl group called the Ikettes to sing backup to Tina.

Ike and Tina Turner went on to have a successful career, but a very tempestuous relationship, due mostly to Ike’s chronic drug use and the physical and emotional abuse he inflicted on Tina. By 1976, she’d had enough and left Ike on July 1 with only 36 cents and a Mobil gas credit card in her pocket, filing for divorce three weeks later. Tina spent the next six years performing and touring where she could get shows, becoming essentially a nostalgia act. Then in 1983 she signed with Capitol Records, and that November her marvelous cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was released. It became an international hit and peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100. I remember how much I loved it, and was excited to hear Tina singing again. The song was the first single from her phenomenal comeback album Private Dancer, which she recorded in only two weeks. In May 1984 Capitol released the album, along with its second single “What’s Love Got to Do with It”.

The song went on to become Tina’s biggest hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it spent three weeks, and also reaching #1 in Canada and Australia. It’s a gorgeous R&B/pop song about the intense power of physical and sexual attraction, and how it doesn’t necessarily represent or entail feelings of love or romance. Sounds rather cynical, but I know from experience that it’s completely true. Of course, an underlying theme could be that the singer is intentionally protecting themselves from getting hurt by framing their strong sexual attraction as being merely physical.

Musically, the song has a sultry vibe, with shimmery guitars, soulful rhythms and an enchanting flute that really does it for me. Tina’s powerful smoky vocals are spectacular, with a raw vulnerability that’s strongly evident. She has the ability to seduce with a sensuous purr one moment, then chill us with impassioned wails the next.

You must understand though the touch of your hand
Makes my pulse react
That it’s only the thrill of boy meeting girl
Opposites attract
It’s physical
Only logical
You must try to ignore that it means more than that

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

It may seem to you that I’m acting confused
When you’re close to me
If I tend to look dazed I’ve read it someplace
I’ve got cause to be
There’s a name for it
There’s a phrase that fits
But whatever the reason you do it for me

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

I’ve been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way oh oh oh

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second hand emotion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken
ooh got to do with it

The song has an interesting back story. It was written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, and originally pitched to British singer Cliff Richard, who rejected it. It was then given to American singer Phyllis Hyman, who wanted to do the song but Clive Davis, the head of her label Arista Records, would not allow her to record it. It was then offered to Donna Summer, who allegedly sat on it for a couple of years but never recorded it, then offered to British pop group Bucks Fizz. Bucks Fizz band singer Jay Aston wanted to sing lead on the track after hearing the demo, but was told by their producer that it was unsuitable for a female lead vocal. Then Tina got her hands on it and the rest is history.

Bucks Fizz did ultimately record the song in February 1984, but it was sung by male band member Bobby G. It was intended for possible inclusion on their next album I Hear Talk, but was shelved when Tina Turner released her version first. The Bucks Fizz version went unreleased until it was included on a re-issue of their Are You Ready album in 2000. (Wikipedia)

For comparison, here’s the Bucks Fizz version, which ain’t too bad actually:

7 thoughts on “EML’s Favorite Songs – TINA TURNER: “What’s Love Got to Do With It”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.