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Home Feature The unknown Tina Turner showed her power decades before “Private Dancer”

The unknown Tina Turner showed her power decades before “Private Dancer”

The death of Tina Turner has unleashed an unprecedented explosion of social media reaction from the absolute royalty of music and entertainment. Tributes have poured in from Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Bette Midler. Alicia Keyes, Def Leppard, Ringo, Mariah Carey and millions of fans.

Many of the tributes reference her major hits from her early 1980’s “comeback”—”Private Dancer,” written by Mark Knopfler and “What’s Love Got to do With it” by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle. Then there is her unforgettable rendition of “Proud Mary,” written by John Fogarty, who told CNN he was blown away when he first heard her version on the radio.

All these songs, major productions all of them, came from Tina Turner’s “second” career—after her tempestuous marriage and split from Ike Turner, whose abusive and controlling behavior have been well documented in her book and immortalized in the film biography. Tina Turner’s great success—selling over 100 million records, sold-out spectacular shows all over the world, living in luxury in Switzerland –all came as she was into and past her 40’s.

For people of a certain age, though, Tina Turner will be remembered from a much earlier time, 1960, when she was starting out with Ike and the band, still known by her birth name, Annie Mae Bullock. She exploded onto the charts with the song “A Fool in Love,” described by Kurt Loder, who co-wrote Tina’s biography, “the blackest record to creep into the white pop charts since Ray Charles’s gospel-styled ‘What’d I Say,’ from a year earlier. When the song reached its peak position (27 on the Billboard top 100, October 1960), it was sharing the charts with songs like Bobby Vee’s “Devil of Angel,” Brenda Lee’s “I Want to be Wanted,” Ferrante and Teicher’s “Theme From the Apartment,” and “Pineapple Princess” by Annette Funicello—all who scored ahead of Tina. If anything, the song is rawer and as powerful, if not more so than her later material, as the 20-year-old wails and howls through the  gospel-blues song. Ike wrote it for Tina and the lyrics suggest he may have had some awareness of his abusive nature as he gets her to sing:

You know you love him you can’t understand

Why he treats you like he do when he’s such a good man


He’s got me smiling when I should be ashamed

Got me laughing when my heart is in pain

Oh-oh no, I must be a fool

‘Cause I do anything he wants me to, now how come?

Ike Turner managed to place the song on the Sue Label in New York–a label that featured almost exclusively black artists. It was also at that point that Ike changed Bullock’s stage name from “Little Ann” to “Tina Turner,” giving her the name of Tina because it rhymed with Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Paranoid that she would leave him like his previous vocalists, he trademarked the name as a form of protection so that if she left him, he could replace her with another singer. Despite what she later described as her harrowing life with Ike Turner, she kept the stage name that eventually made her one of the most successful female solo acts in the history of popular music.

Tina Turner recorded several versions of “A Fool in Love.” To capture the song’s power, it is necessary to hear the original version on the Sue label.

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