[25 February 2009]
When is the last time you listened to a song for the first time and said Damn! That’s what I said when I recently heard Tina Turner sing I’ve Been Loving You too Long. The song is vaguely familiar. Otis Redding popularized the song enough for regular radio play in 1965.
“Sock it to me baby,” Tina moans, then shouts at the top of her register. The concluding riffs of this song are chilling and can make any listener stop dead in their tracks. Wikipedia has dissected the track and revealed the lyrics to Ike and Tina’s “provocative, seductive conclusion of the song.” The Wiki article largely refers to live performances where, Tina is “handling the microphone in a raunchy way.” Indeed, the YouTube performances of this song do tend towards the perverse. It isn’t that Tina slides her extended fingers up and down the stiff microphone that makes this performance so perverse. Rather, it is the love and abandon. She is ready to give up each and everything for this man.
“You got what I want,” Ike says in his deep base voice on a microphone from behind. Somehow, his heavy handedness even pours through onto the stage. Noticeably, the Ikettes continue with their sharp moves, despite this song neither having any doo-wop type back-up chants, nor hefty call and response sequences like YOU bend over, lemme see YOU shake it like a tail feather! The band is meticulously on beat and key. It’s just Ike on his bass guitar, roaming the stage and then ever so often materializing over the speakers giving commands. He’s the man!
He grins slyly after spitting each of his lyrics while Tina responds, again grasping the mic and stand as if imitating something intimate. In one scene, Ike nearly chides at the audience after giggling is overheard in response to his feigned crooning. He’s really hamming it up in a way that so starkly contrasts the seriousness that Tina is bringing in the forefront, grunting and moaning like lovemaking. He looks like a dry pimp getting his rocks off. The overall scene betrays any sincerity towards the woman that stands before him abandoning her whole life for his sake. He seems none too gracious for this sacrifice, and that’s what makes the live performance so chilling and perverse.
“Try it one mo’ time,” Tina says after Ike sucks and slurps salaciously into the mic. This was 1969, and according to her memoirs, they were thick in domestic abuse. Ike was tapping that ass on the regular. Interviews from the movie-makers upon the release of her biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, claimed that the film version totally tones down Ike’s abusive talk, insults, beatings and marital rape of Tina.
Looking at Ike and Tina through these lenses, one wonders what kind of leash Ike is tugging. Was their apparent bond really bondage? Was Ike’s mojo so tough that Tina really was A Fool in Love? Was it evidence that they suffered from the Stockholm Syndrome, where captives and captors share a tie through the mutual experience of trauma? Were these live performances part of Ike’s brainwashing of Tina, wrecking her self-esteem right before our eyes? In other performances, Tina has visible bruises and an eyelid or two is swollen shut. Were crowds and teams of screaming fans obvious at the time? Elsewhere, Tina shouts: Here are my lips, you take ‘em, you made them, do as you wish. You use ‘em, abuse em, I’ll be your witch! Ike and Tina’s repertoire is thick with lyrics talking about how his love’s got her chained- anyway he wants her. On a certain level most of their lyrics consisted of this pitiful kind of love, the sort for which one mourns more than celebrates.
I’ve Been Loving You too Long. was originally released on their ’68 Outta Season album, which the website Discogs gives a measly two and a half stars, noting “there’s a lot of very ordinary, rote blues on tap”. Perhaps this is one of those rare instances where anthologies give us a needed break. Therefore, The Soul Anthology has to be one of the greatest releases of modern times. Anthologies are like cherry picking, allowing us to reject and delve into any rhetorical fodder at will. From this perspective, I’ve Been Loving You too Long. is one song better heard than seen.