Tina Turner

The Collected Recordings Sixties to Nineties (Capitol '94) Rating: B+
This 3-cd box set nicely encapsulates the career of this true rock 'n' roll survivor, and the timing was right because the last song included on this set happens to be her last major hit as of this writing (December 2010). By now most people know her story (it's been well documented in books and movies), how she rose to semi-stardom in the '60s and early '70s with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, whose exciting stage shows in particular became the stuff of legend, led by leggy Tina's supremely sexy and energetic performances (props to the Ikettes as well). Some support touring slots with the Stones increased their profile, and they had some success, especially on the r&b charts. However, unbeknownst to many at the time, Ike badly abused Tina physically and with their popularity already on the wane she courageously left him. Years of struggle ensued but Tina ultimately persevered with a spectacular comeback years later (1984 to be exact), and she's pretty much been a star ever since, producing several smash hits and selling out stadiums while Ike was left to eat her dust as a largely forgotten has-been (not entirely fair from a musical standpoint as Ike was the musical leader of the Revue and one could argue that he even created the first rock 'n' roll song with Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88", but perfectly fitting from a personal standpoint. As another aside, Ike's death inspired possibly the greatest New York Post headline ever, "Ike Beats Tina to Death," though it has heavy competition from the likes of "Wacko Jacko Backo").

The Collected Recordings Sixties to Nineties is divided into three distinctly different discs. Disc one is basically a best of Ike & Tina Turner covering from 1960-1974, disc two collects various odds and ends (soundtrack-only songs, standalone singles, three live tracks, and three duets), and disc three is basically the best of Tina Turner's solo years from 1983-1992. Disc one and disc three are markedly different from one another, so if you like one it doesn't necessarily mean you'll like the other, and disc two (should've been disc three instead, no?) is more for hardcore fans who already own the prime stuff on discs one and three. In truth, both Ike and Tina Turner and Tina Turner the solo artist were very flawed on record, because neither were great songwriters so they relied a lot on outside writers and (sometimes overly obvious) cover songs. A lot of the songs throughout these discs will seem largely interchangeable; Tina is a great singer/screecher but the songs are often rather generic, and the truth is I like her a lot more as a performer (fantastic), singer (again, great), and person (she's genuinely likeable and her story is inspiring) than I like her recorded work, which is too often simplistic and primitive with Ike and too often blandly airbrushed and sanitized later on.

Still, we're talking about a 30+ year career covered here, and she had her fair share of notable songs, most of which can be found on these three discs. Disc one starts with several gritty girl group-ish efforts, the most successful of which were "A Fool In Love" and "It's Gonna Work Out Fine." Lesser known songs that I like are "Finger Poppin'" and "Bold Soul Sister," which show off Ike's hot band, and of course Tina's Phil Spector collaboration "River Deep Mountain High" is an atypical masterpiece that's among the best things either of them ever did. Among the many cover songs on this disc I'm most fond of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" (Otis' is still definitive, however) and CCR's "Proud Mary," the latter probably Ike and Tina Turner's signature song and their biggest hit as well. Also notable is Tina's autobiographical "Nutbush City Limits," which features a nice stomping groove as well as energetic and creatively arranged horns, while the two-part "Sexy Ida" delivered horn-heavy, danceable funk.

Again, disc two is less appealing to me because few of its songs really stand out, and many of the songs aren't even all that rare, which will no doubt disappoint completeists. Still, The Who's "Acid Queen," taken from the Tommy soundtrack (Tina had starred in the movie), is an energetic rocker that's tailor made for Tina (who was more into rock than soul), and her cover of "Whole Lotta Love" is certainly interesting, musically recalling Isaac Hayes far more than Led Zeppelin. Also notable are "Johnny and Mary," a nice groovy 1982 rarity originally done by Robert Palmer, and the 1983 demo "Games," a slow melodic ballad with a smoky sax solo. Live versions of ZZ Top's "Legs" and Palmer's "Addicted To Love" are also very good, and her duets with Bryan Adams ("It's Only Love") and Eric Clapton ("Tearing Us Apart") were deserved hits (especially the former). Unfortunately, many of the other covers have been done better by many others, so I'm much more apt to cherry pick this disc than play it all the way through.

Then again, I suppose that I feel that way about all three discs, only more so with disc two. As for disc three, most of its songs are much slicker than her earlier stuff, with a dated '80s synthesizer sound and mechanized drums dominating and not necessarily providing the best backdrop for her weathered but powerful vocals. Still, you can't argue with success I guess, and certainly her signature solo song has got to be the sassy, catchy "What's Love Got To Do With It," her lone #1 hit (24 years after her first chart success!) which propelled her comeback; it's hard to hear this one and not see her strutting down the street with her leather outfit and big hair. Her vocal performance on this one and the Mark Knopfler penned "Private Dancer" are admirably restrained and classy, though of course her other biggest hits, the Mad Max theme "We Don't Need Another Hero" (like several of her biggest songs written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle) and "The Best," are all about their big choruses. "Better Be Good to Me" and "Typical Male" were also major hits, as was "I Don't Wanna Fight," the highly moving theme song to her autobiographical movie What's Love Got To Do With It. Of course, this disc contains several covers as well, though I far prefer Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand The Rain." Her version of The Beatles' "Help" is interesting at least in the way that she transforms it into a church-y soul ballad, but then the lively sax (many of her solo songs have sax solos) and keyboards kick in in a decidedly ill-fitting way, as again sometimes the musical backdrops chosen by Tina's collaborators didn't really do her justice. Elsewhere, tracks such as "What You Get Is What You See" and "Back Where You Started" are good guitar-based rock songs.

On the whole, this box set does a good but not great job of summing up a career that let's face it is hard to sum up, because in addition to the distinct phases of her career, with Tina the visual aspect of her performances was always a big part of her appeal (small wonder that Beyonce worships her). I would've liked to have heard more prime live stuff and rarities, and again I find even her hits to be a bit hit-and-miss for me at times, but this is the single best Tina (and Ike) Turner collection currently available.

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