Published on December 18th, 2017 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Private Dancer’ – Tina Turner 
Summary: Turner’s triumphant Private Dancer resonates more than ever in the age of the #MeToo movement. She created the rarest of things: a pop hit that stood for something.
Released: May 29, 1984
Peak Chart Position: No. 3
Top 40 singles: 5
Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Louis C.K., Al Franken, Donald Trump.
The list, unfortunately, goes on.
We all know what these people have in common. We know about power’s corrosive nature and how these men leveraged it to marginalize women.
If there was ever a time to reflect on female triumph, this might be it. We rightfully celebrate women who overcome abuse and attempted degradation. It takes real-life strength to reshape negatives into positives. We applaud the individual who reaches out to us so that we can become — I’m going to say it — woke.
Kind of like Tina Turner did in 1984.
In May of that year, Turner released Private Dancer. While not explicitly about her history of abuse at the hands of notorious husband Ike Turner, it’s all clearly implied. When you hear songs like “Better Be Good to Me,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “Show Some Respect,” it’s impossible not think of the abuse in the singer’s life.
Private Dancer was a personal triumph by any measure.
It was also a chart-buster. Private Dancer notched five Top 40 singles. It was certified platinum in six countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, the U.K. and the States). In the U.S., the album went platinum five times. It’s worldwide sales of 20 million put it neck and neck with Prince’s Purple Rain and Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall.
No one considered the 45-year-old Turner a fit for the MTV generation. She turned out to be the Jennifer Lopez (now 48) of her day … only more relevant. The “What’s Love Got to Do With It” video won Best Female Video at the 1985 VMAs. The video was directed by Mark Robinson, who had just worked with the then-hot R&B duo of Ashford & Simpson.
Ironically, Turner’s career had been in the tank. A guest spot on Hollywood Squares and a cooly received Vegas cabaret act accounted for the extent the public saw of her in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
She had been left hanging. High and dry.
As mentioned, Tina’s career was forged by Ike Turner, her musical partner. Ike had been on the cusp of mainstream superstardom since he formed the Kings of Rhythm back in the 1950s, but it was Tina who put him over the top. The newly christened Ike and Tina Turner Revue notched five Top 40 hits between 1960 and 1973.
They toured with the Rolling Stones. They won Grammys. They made upwards of $5,000 per show. And they married.
The drug-free lifestyle Ike once trumpeted fell apart when he picked up cocaine. Ike literally burned a hole in his nose from snorting so much coke.
He became abusive. In his biography he wrote, “Sure, I’ve slapped Tina … There have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking.”
It was 1976 by the time Tina walked out on Ike, but they were in the middle of a tour. That meant that she was on the hook financially for the canceled shows. Court battles ensued. By the time the divorce was legal, she got the rights to her stage name. That was about it.
So … that’s how Hollywood Squares happened.
Turns out the man responsible for Turner’s comeback was a Capitol A&R man named John Carter, known in business circles for his association with Bob Seger. Carter oversaw the recording of Seger’s 1976 album Night Moves and later worked with the Steve Miller Band.
Carter shepherded Turner through sessions with six different production teams. In spite of working with so many knob twisters, Private Dancer has a uniform sound throughout. This is because of Carter. As if that wasn’t enough, he also produced the title song — itself a Top 10 hit.
Carter’s importance during the Private Dancer sessions cannot be overstated.
Still, it was Tina who ultimately separated herself from the herd — and her past. For someone so identified with rock and soul sounds, here she wrapped herself up in contemporary pop, feeling more at home than perhaps she expected. Private Dancer has a distinct line drawn down its middle. The first half of the record is raw triumph, the liberating sound of breaking free. The second half is sultry, slinky. Even a little weird. She covers David Bowie’s “1984” before lamenting “another fairytale about some rich bitch lying by the swimming pool” in “Steel Claw.”
Perspective comes with age. And Turner loads the record with it.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It” — initially despised by Turner herself — seemed like a direct response to her abusive past. She considered the song too cynical, but Carter and others insisted that’s what gave it power. Her performance is extraordinary. The coolness in the verses offset by the burly apathy in the chorus gives the whole thing a feeling of throwing off the shackles.
From “What’s Love Got to Do With It:”
There’s a name for it
There’s a phrase for it
But whatever the reason
You do it for me
The song was No. 1 for three weeks. Consider that Turner hadn’t had a Top 10 hit since the 1970s. Remarkable. It was later named one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (#309) by Rolling Stone.
…and it’s not even the best song on the album.
That honor goes to “Better Be Good to Me,” a rousing kick in the ass announcing that you’d better damn well recognize.
From “Better Be Good to Me:”
I don’t have no use
For what you loosely call the truth
Oh, you better be good to me
The song rose to No. 5 in late 1984. It was written by masters of ’80s songwriting Mike Chapman, Nicky Chinn and Holly Knight. You’ve probably never heard of them but their collective credits include Huey Lewis & the News , The Sweet, Toni Basil and Pat Benetar. Chapman and Knight teamed to write “Love is a Battlefield” in 1983.
The strutting “Show Some Respect” gives way to the icy cinema of “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” a cover of Ann Peebles’s 1973 classic. Its hypnotic patter may nudge you to reminisce yourself.
From “I Can’t Stand the Rain:”
I can’t stand the rain
Against my window
Bringing back sweet memories
Most songs were handpicked by Turner, Carter and their production team. The only one specifically written for the project was “I Might Have Been Queen.” Turner’s cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was Private Dancer’s first single. It was a good sign when it surged into the Top 20.
In total, seven singles were released. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” was first offered to one-time 1950s hitmaker Cliff Richard and then to Donna Summer. Legend has it that Summer sat on it for two years before it eventually made its way to Turner.
“Private Dancer” was written by Mark Knopfler and at one time was intended for 1982’s Love Over Gold. Members of Dire Straits back up Turner on her 1984 version. Though widely believed to be written from the point of view of a prostitute, that wasn’t the way Turner approached the song.
“I didn’t see her as a hooker,” she once said, describing a feeling of shock when someone explained it to her. “I can be naive about some of these things. But actually the answer is no. I took it because it was an unusual song. I’d never sung a song like it.”
Taken as a whole, Private Dancer exemplifies music made from the gut. It appeals less to the heart or the mind and goes straight for the belly. It’s built on lessons learned the hard way. And while there’s no rhythmic trace of the blues, the genre is very much represented in the spirit of the record.
One needn’t wonder if this was a woman who’s seen her fair share of blues.
The way turner stresses certain lines — the way she quivers the word “rain” in “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” for example — showed attention to lyrical nuances that vocalists rarely capture. Turner’s phrasings complete stories that began with the songwriters’ pen.
It’s worth noting the international release of the album is even better than the already superb U.S. version. The sequence is altered a bit — the title song no longer serves as the closer. The Bowie cover does instead. The biggest difference, however, is the addition of a cover of the Beatles’ “Help!” The frantic desperation of the original is flipped into a piano ballad. It’s a brawny plea for connection that rivals the Beatles’ own ’65 recording.
I’m not kidding. It’s worth hearing immediately.
After a world tour (180 dates spanning most of 1985 that took her through the Americas, Europe, Australia and Asia), she starred alongside a red-hot Mel Gibson in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. She also handled soundtrack duties, reuniting with much of the Private Dancer team and scoring a No. 2 hit with “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome).”
Her proper follow up to Private Dancer was 1986’s Break Every Rule, which again brought back some of the Private Dancer team while adding Bryan Adams on the boards. Singles from that record were successful in all kinds of circles — landing on the pop, rock, dance and R&B charts. Eight singles were released in all, with “Typical Male” as the most successful after it reached No. 2.
If the drumming stands out, congratulations, you have good ears. That’s Phil Collins behind the kit.
By the time 1989’s Foreign Affair rolled around, the tight-knit group responsible for Private Dancer, Mad Max and Break Every Rule had disbanded. Foreign Affair received a lukewarm reception, although Chapman and Knight (writers of “Better Be Good to Me”) penned the massively successful “The Best.”
Turner’s experience under the oppressive thumb of Ike Turner is now the stuff of cultural history. Movies have been made; books have been written. But it’s impossible to tell the Private Dancer story without reflecting on it. Kudos once again to Carter for insisting that Turner’s career had yet to hit its high gear.
Tina Turner’s story resonates more than 30 years later. Just reflect again on these quotes from her ex-husband when listening:
“Sure, I’ve slapped Tina … There have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking.”
If anything, Private Dancer is more impactful than ever. And its sheer muscle might even change the way you see the #MeToo movement.
In the end, Turner created the rarest of things: a pop hit that stood for something.