The Good: Decent deluxe edition, Good vocals, Decent production
The Bad: 1980s production conceits, “1984” is tough to swallow.
The Basics: Arguably the best Tina Turner album, Private Dancer is loaded with justifiable 1980s hits!
Frequently when I immerse myself in the works of a given musical artist, I will downrate an album where all of the best songs are on the various “Best Of” albums for that artist. But, in my ideal music collection, for every artist I have a “Best Of” album from, there is one other album that shows off the talent of the artist or performer which I feel I must have. So, for example, while I have the two-disc “Best Of” discs from U2, I also have Zooropa on the shelf and for R.E.M., I have Automatic For The People. Those albums both have songs that aren’t on the “greatest hits” works which rival the quality of the tracks that did make it onto the compilations. For Tina Turner, I think the one album listeners ought to have outside her two-disc All The Best is Private Dancer.
Private Dancer on c.d. does what I always hope a c.d. will do when an album originally made on record and cassette is remastered. In addition to cleaning up the sound, Tina Turner and her producers flesh out the capacity of the compact disc with additional tracks. The c.d. version of Private Dancer has b-sides recorded for the singles, as well as three extended versions of three of the hit singles. So, despite getting two marginally different versions of “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” “Better Be Good To Me” and “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” the album scores pretty high with me for being full of surprisingly good pop-rock music!
With seventeen tracks occupying 77:50, Private Dancer is a good use of the c.d. medium, despite being only a fair display of Tina Turner’s myriad talents. While Turner was known to write some of her own songs, that talent is not displayed here as all of the tracks were written by other artists. Ironically, on Turner’s breakout solo album, David Bowie and Lennon and McCarthy have more material than anything of Turner’s! While Tina Turner provides all of the lead vocals and some of her own backing vocals, she does not play any instruments on the album. As well, she was not involved in the production of Private Dancer or any of its tracks.
Private Dancer is the five times platinum album by Tina Turner which spawned the instantly recognizable '80s hit “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” as well as Turner’s hit songs “Better Be Good To Me,” “Let’s Stay Together,” and “Private Dancer.” Most of the rest of the songs on the album have a similar resonance, so even though “I Wrote A Letter,” “Rock N Roll Widow,” and “When I Was Young” were never radio singles, they hold their own against the other songs on the album.
Private Dancer is a very typical 1980s pop-rock album by its instrumentation. This is a keyboard-driven album and Tina Turner might not have had much to do with the creation of her instrumental accompaniment, but she (and her producers) know how to use it well. Songs like “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” may be heavily programmed, but they sound good and they have recognizable tunes. In other words, unlike far too many current pop songs, there is a recognizable melody on almost every song on the album; it is not just a seemingly random collection of musical notes which accompany the vocals. Musically, one of the biggest surprises would have to be that “I Might Have Been Queen” and “Show Some Respect” were never released as successful singles, as they are equally catchy to the single tracks. One supposes even Tina Turner couldn’t chart five hits off a single album (as it turns out, “Show Some Respect” was released as a radio single, it simply did not do so well on mainstream pop-rock radio). The only real exception to the rule as far as instrumental accompaniment goes is on "1984,” where the song is just an auditory mess from the keyboard and drum accompaniment.
Vocally, Tina Turner displays incredible range on her songs on Private Dancer. She goes high, sad and melodic on “I Can’t Stand The Rain,” she goes deeper and throaty on the single “Private Dancer,” and she is emphatic and melodic on “Better Be Good To Me.” On all of the songs, she is articulate and all of her lyrics may be easily understood. On “Don’t Rush The Good Things,” she displays her multi-octave range and even though “Help” is a cover, Turner makes it rock from her soulful presentation.
More than anything else, Tina Turner sings about love and relationships on Private Dancer. Here, listeners are fortunate to have the c.d. and the few extra tracks. Tina Turner captures beautifully the angst in relationships when she sings “Took my pride and I threw it away / You gotta release me from this suffering / You`ll find me everywhere running around / Until you showed up to find me in the gutter / I wrote a letter to my love today / I wrote it so hard on what I gotta say / All my life is ending up the blues / A man can make the poor girl sing the blues / Yeah you can make the white girl sing the blues” (“I Wrote A Letter”). Turner may not have written the lines, but when she sings them, she makes the song resonate and she sings it with the passion of a woman who has been wronged and hurt in the past.
But instead of just being a woman singing about all she dislikes about men and relationships, Tina Turner comes through with a message of strength. While the single “Private Dancer” is disturbing for its lyrics of how a stripper degrades herself for men (hey, in the 1980s, I guess people could make hit songs about virtually anything!), other songs come through with more on the nature of strength and the demand to be loved and respected. “Better Be Good To Me” is an excellent example of that. She muses in the song, before making a demand of her partner with the lines “Should I be fractured by your lack of devotion / Should I, should I? / You better be good to me / That's how it's gotta be now / Cause I don't have no use / For what you losely call the truth / You better be good to me” (“Better Be Good To Me”). And with the force of her voice, Turner makes the song rock and the message stick.
Not all of the songs are winners, though. Most notably, David Bowie wrote a song one suspects even the Thin White Duke himself could not sell, "1984.” Filled with unfortunate rhymes, the song collapses despite having pretty interesting imagery. When Turner sings the lyrics “They'll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air / They'll tell you that you're eighty and really you won't care / You'll be shooting up on everything, tomorrow's never there / Beware the savage jaw in 1984” ("1984”), the lines are backed with oppressive backing vocals and such overproduced instrumental accompaniment that even Turner cannot save the song.
The best track is “Better Be Good To Me,” the low point is "1984.”
For other works by Tina Turner, please check out my reviews of:
The Best Of Ike And Tina Turner – Ike & Tina Turner
All The Best (2-disc version)
Tina! Her Greatest Hits
For other music reviews, please be sure to check out my index page for an organized listing of all I have reviewed! That list is updated daily and is available by clicking here!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.