The Ike & Tina Turner Story 1960-75
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Reviewed by Mojo Flucke, PhD
Greatness in rock can be defined in terms of Tina Turner's strongest characteristic: No matter what she's singing – gospel, blues, or cornball Bob Seger rock (as is the case in one of her and Ike's biggest hits, "Nutbush City Limits") – she not only sounds phenomenal, but she elevates the musicians around her. Factoid few people remember: her comeback solo record Private Dancer (the one that spurred all those hits starting with "What's Love Got to Do with It") found Tina essentially using the Fixx as a backing band. Few people would argue that it was a very odd, new-wave combination that probably shouldn't have been successful at all, yet she crushed all comers on the charts with that album. Turner's commanding presence, even in its middle-aged glory, was that commanding. Only a couple of other performers have this degree of charisma and/or ability to flit across decades, genres, and pop-culture epochs with ease. Prince is one, Beck another. And, of course, Tina Turner.
This three-CD set concentrates on the young Tina, plucked from poverty by Ike Turner, a black contemporary of Dick Clark, hustling an R&B road revue across the country. While most people remember Ike as the abusive pariah depicted in the media after Tina finally left him, he does have a legit stake on the title of the inventor of rock and roll; he wrote and recorded the track "Rocket 88" in the early 1950s, if you buy into the theories of at least a few rock historians. Regardless of the credibility of that claim to fame, no one can dispute that Ike was a tireless worker; a guitar and piano giant, and an inventive maestro before he met a teenage Tina in the closing months of the '50s. Yet Ike's stable of performers was lacking star power, and while he was far from done, his popularity was waning.
Enter Tina. This box documents the electric power of her voice, set to his spot-on arrangements, starting with "A Fool in Love" in 1960, and closing down with her 1975 cover of the Who's "Acid Queen" from Tommy. A female Otis Redding, Tina could front any group of musicians Ike put behind her, and it would sound like a more street-wise Supremes, a worldly gospel blues group that bridged the musical history between Muddy Waters and Janis Joplin. Thing is, though, when the blues and soul thing started fading in popularity, Tina didn't fade with it because she had the maestro behind her. CCR's "Proud Mary," "Nutbush City Limits," and a couple well-timed Beatles covers kept the revue sounding fresh and attracting new fans among the college kids, and the low-down dirty funk cuts like "Sexy Ida" helped keep their loyal fan base energized. It's all here on this box, which also includes a bonus disc (previously unreleased on CD) comprising a live recording made from a 1969 San Francisco gig that pretty much encapsulates Ike & Tina at the top of their game.
Say what you want about the couple's stormy life off the stage, and of course hold Tina up as a strong, decisive model from which all women can take inspiration. But when this all-time rock-n-roll power couple was clicking, they put in performances worthy of the Hall of Fame. Of course, when they were inducted into the Rock Hall, Ike was doing time – which tells just about everything you need to know about why this legendary duo lasted only 15 years.