Anna Mae Bullock passed away this week after an illness. She was 82.
Those sentences technically tell a story, but the story is much more complicated than that. Much has been written – better than I will or could be able to – about the story of Tina Turner, the stage name that Anna used. Even casual fans of pop music know of the story of her stormy career and marriage to husband Ike Turner, and what she overcame to free herself of him and reinvent herself as one of the most dominant voices in 1980s pop music. (When Turner died, I saw a few posts in my social media feeds along the lines of “Now she is reunited with Ike.” I don’t think they’ll be in the same neighborhood in the afterlife.)
Tina first hit the charts as half of Ike and Tina Turner; their 1960 hit “A Fool in Love” was good enough for #27 nationally late that summer. It fared much better on Black radio, topping the local chart on WOOK in Washington, DC and WUST in Bethesda, Maryland. (There were Top 40 outliers; Akron, Ohio’s WCUE and Oxnard, California’s KACY also bumped this to the top.) In the summer of 1961 their duet on “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” went to #14 around the country. There wasn’t much from Ike and Tina until we get to early 1971, when their cover of “Proud Mary” made it all the way to #4. (I have no doubt that you have heard that song in the past few days.) It’s not that Ike and Tina weren’t trying; they had a number of songs that crossed over but missed the 40 throughout the 60s. They were a performance force: fortunately, this footage saved from Playboy after Dark in 1969 captures the Ike and Tina Turner Revue at its peak. (Of course, you may also vote for Tina’s performance as the Acid Queen in Tommy as the peak in the 1970s. I wouldn’t argue with you.)
After Tina freed herself from Ike in 1976, she remained absent from the pop charts until 1984 – when she returned with a vengeance. She had a streak of eleven singles that all made the Top 40, including a Grammy-winning chart-topping smash in “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” In that string of hits was the theme from Mad Max-Beyond Thunderdome, “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” which spent a week stuck at #2. (Fun fact: my insipid high school football team, the Thunderbolts, took to calling the school’s stadium the Thunderdome in 1985 – the year we won only one game. It would have been more exciting to have people driving around in hopped up vehicles trying to run each other off the road.) This slew of hits spanned two albums, with the title track of Break Every Rule failing to chart. But even that single was followed by one of her better-known releases, “The Best,” in 1989. (The word “simply” does not technically appear in the title, and we’re sticklers for such details around here. Throw in a Bond movie single in 1995’s “Goldeneye,” and the musical collection across that ten-year span would be a career that anyone would be quite satisfied to have. When you consider the additional whole “first life” and music that preceded it, it makes the story more the stuff of legend.
I was torn about picking only one song to highlight, as I tend to do in these posts – so I went with the first one that I thought of upon hearing the news of her death. “Better Be Good to Me” was the third single released from the Private Dancer LP, and it made it to #5 in late 1984. It’s an anthem of assertiveness and power. It’s sung by someone who has had enough, thank you, and is going to explain it to you in simple terms you will understand or else. Given Tina’s whole story, it’s fitting that this is one that she’s known for.
I also remember the song for a strange reason: lip-synching. It wasn’t uncommon for lip-synch contests to take place through the mid-to late 1980s, usually with awful results. Andrew High School was no stranger to this, and in the spring of 1986 one was held in the all-purpose area of the school where the sock hops I have written about before were held. (For review, those are covered here and here, among other places on this blog.) High school events like these tend to be the types of things where students participate, the talent is judged, and the popular kids win even if they’re terrible. That didn’t happen this particular night. One of the “not so popular” girls in the school got up, took the stage in silence, and absolutely crushed this record. It was if she was channeling the message of the song and telling everyone in the room to be a little nicer to her. I stood there, watching, thinking “Holy shit, this is fantastic.” I may have said as much to her that night; it’s been almost 40 years now, so the memory is a little fuzzy. If I didn’t, I’m saying it now. Way to speak up, Kim.
You can assert yourself as well by clicking here. (If you need to assert yourself a little more, the 12″ version is here.)