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:

Ten Best James Bond Theme Songs

There have been 24 films about the dashing British secret service agent James Bond, beginning with Dr. No in 1962, up to the most recent film Spectre, released in 2015.  It has been a long-established tradition for each film to have a theme song. Over those 53 years, some are impressive tracks that have stood the test of time, while others were quickly forgotten. Here are my picks for the ten best Bond theme songs:

10. LICENSE TO KILL – Gladys Knight (License to Kill – 1989)

Initially, Eric Clapton and Vic Flick (who played the guitar riff in the original “James Bond Theme”) were asked to write and perform the theme song for License To Kill.  It was to be an updated version of the original theme, but that project fell apart, and this song, performed by Gladys Knight, was chosen instead.  It was composed by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff, and based on the “horn line” from Goldfinger, which required royalty payments to the original writers.  I love Gladys Knight’s voice, and think it’s a pretty good song that well complements the film.

9. GOLDENEYE – Tina Turner (GoldenEye – 1995)

“GoldenEye” was written specifically for Tina Turner by Bono and the Edge of U2 after they learned that she had been invited to sing the theme to the Bond film of the same name. Like many of the other women who sang Bond themes, Turner’s strong, sensuous vocals were perfectly suited for the genre.

8. NOBODY DOES IT BETTER – Carly Simon (The Spy Who Loved Me – 1977)

I really love this song, which is why I’ve ranked it higher than it probably should be. It’s a great song, but it just doesn’t evoke the sense of mystery and danger we expect from Bond movie themes, and is better suited for a romantic comedy. Written by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Carol Bayer Sager, the song is one of the more pop-oriented, radio friendly Bond themes, and it was a huge hit for Carly Simon.

7. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH – Garbage (The World Is Not Enough – 1999)

Written by composer David Arnold and lyricist Don Black, “The World Is Not Enough” was performed by the alternative rock group Garbage, with sensuous sweeping vocals by lead singer Shirley Manson. Regarding the choice of Garbage to record the song, Arnold stated “Part of the reason I thought Garbage would be such a good idea is that I think Shirley Manson is someone who could easily inhabit Bond’s world.” (Wikipedia)

6. SKYFALL – Adele (Skyfall – 2012)

After the massive success of “Rolling in the Deep” in 2011, Adele seemed the perfect choice by Sony Pictures President of Music Lia Vollack to record the theme for Skyfall. She thought Adele’s voice had a “soulful, haunting, evocative quality” that would bring back the “classic Shirley Bassey feel” of several earlier Bond themes, so she suggested to the film’s producers that Adele be asked to write and record the theme song. After reading and falling in love with the script for Skyfall, Adele agreed to write a song, with assistance from Paul Epworth, her producer and co-writer for her smash album 21. The result was a tremendously powerful track that captured the Bond vibe that Vollack had envisioned, even incorporating the 007 theme.  It was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2013.

5. LIVE AND LET DIE – Paul McCartney & Wings (Live and Let Die – 1973)

Film producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli invited Paul McCartney to write the title theme for Live and Let Die, but wanted it to be sung by Shirley Bassey or Thelma Houston. McCartney told them he would only allow it to be used in the film if performed by his band Wings. “Live and Let Die” captures the menacing danger of the film, and was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

4. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE – Nancy Sinatra (You Only Live Twice – 1967)

One of the most gorgeous Bond themes, “You Only Live Twice” was composed by John Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. The song features lush, soaring orchestration and lovely vocals by Nancy Sinatra. Barry initially wanted the song to be performed by Aretha Franklin, while Cubby Broccoli wanted Frank Sinatra to sing it. Frank recommended his daughter Nancy instead, and the rest is history.

3.  A VIEW TO A KILL – Duran Duran (A View to a Kill – 1985)

John Barry teamed up with Duran Duran in the writing of the excellent “A View to a Kill.” Another dramatic song, it perfectly complements the perilous espionage-filled world of James Bond. Duran Duran were chosen to do the song after bassist John Taylor, a lifelong Bond fan, approached producer Cubby Broccoli at a party and rather pointedly asked “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” (By the mid-80’s, Bond themes had become pretty stale and boring.) Obviously a good sport, Mr. Broccoli subsequently introduced the band to John Barry, resulting in this awesome collaboration. A huge hit, it’s the only Bond theme to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.

2. JAMES BOND 007 THEME – John Barry & Orchestra (Dr. No – 1962)

The original – and classic – Bond theme, and the basis for many subsequent Bond themes, has been the subject of much squabbling over songwriting credit. Monty Norman has been credited with writing it, and received hundred of thousands of dollars in royalties, despite the fact that for Dr. No, the tune was arranged by John Barry, who claims he actually wrote it.  (Barry would go on to compose the scores of another 10 Bond films.)  Courts have ruled twice that the theme was written by Monty Norman.

1.  GOLDFINGER – Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger – 1964)

The most iconic Bond theme, “Goldfinger” is the gold-standard of them all (no pun intended). This masterpiece was composed by John Barry, with lyrics written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.  The song opens with piercing horns, followed by Shirley Bassey’s powerful, dramatic vocals that propel “Goldfinger” into the sonic stratosphere, guaranteed to raise goosebumps every time.  Unbelievably, the song was almost taken out of the film because producer Harry Saltzman hated it, saying, “That’s the worst fucking song I’ve ever heard in my life”. (Wikipedia) Thankfully, he reconsidered.

A final note about Bond themes. The alternative rock band Radiohead were asked to write a song for the film Spectre, but it was rejected by the film’s producers in favor of the song “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith.  They considered “Spectre” too “dark.” The band was rather stoic about it, and decided to release the song themselves (it appears on their phenomenal latest album A Moon Shaped Pool).  Many critics and fans agree that “Spectre” is superior to Sam Smith’s song, despite the fact “Writing’s On the Wall” went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song.  I think it’s gorgeous and a perfect Bond theme that would have placed in my top 10.