[12 October 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There’s a clip of Ike and Tina Turner performing “Proud Mary” on the German music show MusikLaden that pretty much symbolizes their relationship. During the song’s “nice and easy” prelude, Ike’s face is projected about ten times the size of Tina’s on a screen behind her and the Ikettes. Though he’s essentially in the background, occasionally contributing a “rolling” in his deep bass voice, Ike’s presence looms large, watchful, domineering. Tina sings her part full-tilt, her hips slowly churning side to side in a gold mesh miniskirt, dutifully projecting the soul and sex that was Ike’s interpretation of “Sheena, Queen of the Jungle”.
At the time of this particular performance, circa 1971, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue was at its commercial peak. Success, it seems, was Ike Turner’s downfall: cocaine binges, marathon recording sessions and a harem of women. His temper may have left Tina with scalded skin, fractured ribs, and bruised eyes but her spirit was unbroken. That moment in “Proud Mary” when the music drops out and Ike slowly intones, “ro-lling on the riii-vahhh”, the camera zooms out and reveals Tina’s sly smile, her hands positioned to suggest, “fasten your seatbelts”, before she and the Ikettes unleash a torrent of twirls. Tina owns that moment and you can sense the kind of confidence in her stage presence that would one day drive her to flee Ike for good.
The Ike and Tina Turner Story 1960-1975 compiles three disc’s worth of material that documents Ike and Tina Turner’s evolution from a sharp-dressed St. Louis-based revue, to the opening act for the Rolling Stones, to the toast of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, to headlining the Soul to Soul 1971 concert in Ghana. Yes, do fasten your seatbelts for this ride.
The dizzying maze of Ike and Tina Turner compilations is long and winding. Countless budget packages have flooded the market over the years, reducing the rich Ike and Tina catalog to an impulse purchase at the checkout line. The few quality releases out there often only skim the surface. Except for the single-disc Proud Mary: The Best of Ike and Tina Turner, (1991), there really hasn’t been an exhaustive anthology of their entire 15-year career. This is partly due to difficulties in licensing music from the numerous record companies that own different parts of the catalog as Ike was always on the hunt for a more lucrative record deal.
Time Life has mustered the financial might to compile the definitive collection of Ike and Tina Turner: The Ike and Tina Turner Story 1960-1975 is, essentially, all you’ll ever need to know. Compilation producers Bas Hartong, Colin Escott, and Tom Vickers deserve many accolades for digging beyond the obvious hits and selecting some deep album cuts from Ike and Tina’s releases on Sue, Kent, Warner Bros., Loma, Minit, Blue Thumb, Liberty, and United Artists.
Ike Turner, eight years Tina’s senior, wrote 14 out of 19 songs on disc one. It’s a challenge not to read some of the early cuts as a tribute to Ike’s ego and womanizing ways. “Without the man, I don’t want to live”, Tina sings worshipfully on “A Fool in Love”. The mantra on “I Idolize You” is “Just a little bit of ‘ttention will see me through” and the twisted logic that Tina pleads on “Don’t Play Me Cheap” goes, “Treat me gentle until we’re alone/ And scold me after you get me home.” No wonder Tina later renounced her early recordings with Ike.
These tunes were undoubtedly misogynistic, this was also the era when Carole King wrote a song called “He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)”, yet they brimmed with raw emotion and sizzling musicality. Ike’s Kings of Rhythm, after all, were the band in the St. Louis music scene. As Colin Escott perceptively observes in the liner notes, a song like “A Fool in Love”, which became Ike and Tina’s first hit single, (#2 R&B), was “soul before soul”. The grooves were hot, even if the sentiment behind the lyrics was not pretty.
Ike and Tina Turner released single after single between 1960-1965, with only a handful of sides making any significant impact on the R&B charts: “A Fool in Love” (#2), “I Idolize You” (#5), “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (#2), “Poor Fool” (#4), “Tra La La La La” (#9). Success on the pop charts was minor by comparison. Ike and Tina Turner just did not fit into a pop mold. Under Ike’s direction, Tina shouted more than sang and she sounded like she was about to burst through the vinyl. Though she donned knee and floor-length gowns early on in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue’s concert appearances, they restricted her movement. Visit YouTube for a clip of “I Can’t Believe What You Say” and you’ll see. Studio records were another kind of restriction: they just could not fully convey the spark that ignited in front of audiences when the Ike and Tina Turner Revue took the stage.
Ike and Tina Turner - I Wanna Take You Higher
One man tried to capture the essence of Tina’s voice in a 3:30 pop song: Phil Spector. The story of the most expensive single ever recorded, at that time, has been told many times over the years but suffice to say, Ike Turner had nothing to do with “River Deep-Mountain High”, (1966), except for earning a handsome sum of money to keep out of Gold Star studios where Spector recorded. The typical bombast of a Spector production reached unprecedented heights. His Wall-of-Sound nearly caved in on Tina. Considered a masterpiece in retrospect, “River Deep-Mountain High” only scraped the pop charts, (the old “too black for pop radio” problem), but was enthusiastically received by audiences in the UK where it hit #3. The version included on The Ike and Tina Turner Story is not the Spector production but a version from Live! The World of Ike and Tina Turner, (1973). Given that Spector’s symphonic pop is worlds away from the gritty soul of Ike Turner, this supplementary version actually suits this collection better than the original.
As the ‘60s wore on, the sound of Ike and Tina mutated through their different attempts at scoring another hit record. There were two blues-based albums on Blue Thumb, The Hunter, (1969), and Outta Season, (1969). The latter featured the infamous album cover of Ike and Tina in white face, chomping on watermelon. Ike and Tina were satirizing the idea that white musicians had co-opted rhythm and blues, as if black musicians has to feign whiteness in order to be accepted as a viable blues act.
The success of Sly & the Family Stone’s musically and racially integrated sound substantiated Ike and Tina’s desire to explore rock music, which clearly resonated more with Tina than, (what she called), the “depressing” nature of rhythm and blues. Come Together, (1970), and Workin’ Together, (1971), featured salutatory versions of hits by The Beatles, (“Come Together”, “Get Back”), the Rolling Stones, (“Honky Tonk Woman”), and Creedence Clearwater Revival, (can you guess which song?). Ironically, it was through rock music, itself an appropriation of the rhythm and blues, that Ike and Tina Turner managed to crossover to pop audiences. “Proud Mary” skyrocketed to #4 on the pop charts, the act became a mainstay at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, and the likes of Dick Cavett, Ed Sullivan, and Sonny & Cher welcomed the Ike and Tina Turner Revue on TV.
While Ike and Tina seemed to be everywhere, their record sales post-“Proud Mary” eventually regressed to pre-“Proud Mary”. After the success of What You Hear Is What You Get: Live at Carnegie Hall, (1971), the quality of the material deteriorated into messy fusions of rock and soul, (see “Sweet Rhode Island Red” and “I’m Yours”). Tina herself even began penning tunes, scrambling to help Ike on his coked-out missions to write another hit record.
The autobiographical “Nutbush City Limits” was the most successful of Tina’s contributions. She’s sassy, saucy, and even a bit amused throughout the rollicking depiction of her Tennessee hometown. It’s a well-produced and well-recorded number, especially by the spotty standards of their ‘70s output, with Ike’s guitar-scratching the driving force of the funk. The slinky strut of “Sexy Ida (Part I)” is arguably the last quality tune that Ike and Tina Turner ever recorded. Released as a single in 1974, the tale about the “sister of a black widow spider” falls somewhere between Cher’s “Dark Lady” and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” as an irresistibly silly tune about women whose powers entrance and paralyze their male prey.
By 1975, it was clear that the fission of Ike and Tina Turner was well underway. An embarrassing duet between husband and wife, “Baby–Get It On”, was the last gasp of Ike and Tina’s chart success when it was released as a single, proving that Ike was less a skilled vocalist than master of the Stratocaster. Tina’s lauded appearance as the “Acid Queen” in the film version of The Who’s Tommy proved that she didn’t need Ike to establish a career independent of the Revue. Ike even tried to produce a solo album for Tina to capitalize on the success of Tommy but Acid Queen, (both the song and the album), was flat without the blistering rock that backed Tina onscreen.
A year later, Tina walked out on Ike with 36 cents, a Mobil card, and her name. The rest is history.
The Ike and Tina Turner Story is a first-class presentation of an act whose path to success was anything but “nice and easy”. There are moments throughout the box set where Ike and Tina Turner sound invincible. At other times, one hears the Revue’s awkward attempts to map their sound after their more successful contemporaries at Atlantic and Motown. The dynamic between these two extremes is intensely played out on disc three, which presents the original Minit recording of In Person: Ike and Tina Turner & The Ikettes, (1969). No stone is left unturned in their repertoire and in their calculated attempt to mine the pop-soul hits of the day: “Son of a Preacher Man”, “Everyday People”, “Respect”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Baby I Love You”, “Sweet Soul Music”.
The band is tight throughout; “A Fool in Love”, by then a nine-year-old number, sounds fresh and vibrant. Tina sermonizes about the cheating ways of men in two rather interminable soliloquies that probably worked better in person than on record. Much more essential is the ‘71 Carnegie Hall concert, the single greatest Ike and Tina album. In total, the recording of this performance suggests that even though Ike and Tina’s act was choreographed to the hilt, the commitment towards their material was viscerally genuine.
Definitive in nearly every possible way, (and despite the cheesy faux-retro cover art), The Ike and Tina Turner Story is the exclamation point on an act that bridged together rock and soul and black and white audiences. Often overlooked, but not easily forgotten, Ike and Tina Turner represent a time when the spectacle of a stage show and the talent of the performers were of equal magnitude. Colin Escott ends his liner notes with the following analysis: “These are some of the records they made. The ones that matter.” I couldn’t agree more.