Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some Interesting Recordings, The Very Best Of Ike & Tina Turner Is A Tough Sell.

The Good: Good vocals, Some very cool, funky interpretations of some songs, Duration
The Bad: Some covers are more chaotic than melodic.
The Basics: Decent for archiving some of the best and most interesting works of Ike & Tina Turner, The Very Best Of Tina Turner is a good, not great, album.

One of the nice things about utilizing the resources of a local library is that frequently, libraries will turn up rare, out-of-print and/or imported albums. When I began my monthlong exploration of the music of Tina Turner, I had my local library get in everything it could from the libraries within its system and I was pleasantly surprised when they sent over The Very Best Of Ike & Tina Turner, a rarer import from the UK. After listening to the album almost a dozen times, I find myself generally pleased with it, despite some very odd cover songs which even Tina Turner’s range and Ike Turner’s interpretation and arrangement could not save from being just a little too weird.

The Very Best Of Ike & Tina Turner is one of those musical treasures that becomes nicer when one reflects that many older albums either have never appeared on compact disc or did and are long out-of-print. Curious about what Ike & Tina Turner were all about? A compilation might be your best bet and The Very Best Of Ike & Tina Turner works well because it has an exceptional range of songs, though they are almost all cover songs, most of which were tracks which were more recognizably performed by other artists or performers. Still, The Very Best Of Ike & Tina Turner includes some of their most famous songs, like “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Proud Mary” and “I Idolize You.”

With twenty tracks occupying 71 minutes on a single compact disc, this is an exceptionally good mix of the songs presented by Ike & Tina Turner, including some I have not heard on any other compilations or albums by Ike or Tina Turner. There are very few songs written by either Ike or Tina, but the popular Tina Turner song “Nutbush City Limits” is included and it is a decent recording of the song. Tina Turner provides all of the lead vocals while Ike plays the guitar or organ on the various songs. While Ike produced many of the songs, neither was involved in the production of this compilation. The duo is most frequently backed by the Kings Of Rhythm.

Because this album is harder to find, I’m departing from my usual style to do a track by track listing/commentary on this album. Enjoy!

“River Deep, Mountain High” – A classic Ike & Tina Turner song, this is the standard, soulful recording which featured Ike Turner accompanying Tina on his guitar as Tina sings soulful and energetic. This is one of the easiest-to-find recordings and this version is pretty much the standard one found on every Ike & Tina compilation,

“I Idolize You” – I’ve heard this track many times in many ways, but this is a studio version which is slower, bass-dominated and has Tina Turner singing with a mellow, smoky sound. The result is a funky, soulful track which allows Tina Turner to illustrate her range and ability without any distractions. This recording is also notable for the mellow, noticeable percussion which accompanies Tina’s vocals throughout,

“Nutbush City Limits” – Like most every recording of this song, this is energetic and has Tina Turner telling a musical story in front of some of the funkiest guitars of all time. This is an autobiographical song about a little Southern town,

“Why I Sing The Blues” – Not a blues song at all, Ike’s screeching guitar creates a backdrop for Tina Turner to present some seriously funky vocals. Tina sings essentially about black history as a cultural struggle and she makes it sound funky, gritty and like a slow, menacing groove. It’s astonishing how musical Tina Turner can make singing about cultural oppression,

“Baby Take A Walk With Me” – Ike Turner’s lone vocal outing on the album, this song is a surprisingly jaunty love song. As one who watched What’s Love Got To Do With It at a young age, just hearing a peppy Ike Turner leaves me unsettled. This is a very obvious and simple pop number and Ike has a pretty low voice, but he is stretching upward to the top of his ability, resulting in somewhat scratchy vocals,

“Don’t Look Back” – A blues song, Tina sings low and soulful. This is a track she is able to infuse with a sadness that one cannot help but empathize with. This song of love strained is one of the best examples of Tina’s early songs where she was able to jump registers and she illustrates a talent almost unheard of (it’s her and Ella Fitzgerald for range!),

“Mississippi Rolling Stone” – Tina Turner returns to a higher sound with a very traditional funk-rock song, with her beating out blaring trumpets. Despite her ability, this is a remarkably forgettable and unoriginal track,

“Come Together – Tina Turner presents a very literal cover of the popular song by The Beatles. It’s interesting, but she doesn’t make the song her own in any way,

“Took A Trip” – Another very obvious and typical funk-pop number, this is one of the great “leaving you” classics and Tina Turner has the spunk to infuse repetitive vocals with spite and force each and every time she delivers them. This song works, though it replays poorly as the level of anger of the song is pretty intense,

“I Can’t Believe What You Say” – The whole ensemble gets into this one and this might be best as a historical document. Ike and Tina perform a duet backed by the Kings of Rhythm and the Ikettes and the back and forth between Ike & Tina reminds one of a bad Sonny and Cher comedy routine. This song about mistrust in a relationship is pretty dark,

“I Wanna Take You Higher” – Even Tina Turner can’t save this song, which has dumb, repetitive lyrics. I mean, “fire/higher” was a rhyme done to death and this song does nothing particularly interesting with it,

“Shake” – A dance craze song, this is another unpleasantly repetitive and simple song. Interesting for the funky organ production elements, this is otherwise a waste and a surprisingly noisy song,

“Living In The City” – The album recovers some with this soft, soulful ballad where Tina Turner sings about being on your own in the city. Her opening vocals are so honey-sweet that the saucy nature of the rest of the song becomes a delightful surprise to the ear,

“Get Back” – Another tune originally by The Beatles, Tina Turner covers this one with some surprisingly adept guitarwork from Ike. Turner might not make this one her own, but she does infuse a level of angst into this track which I’ve not heard in any other cover before,

“Humpty Dumpty” – One of the few songs on this album that actually features Tina Turner’s ad libs at the beginning, this is a slower, blues ballad that sounds awfully autobiographical. This is another excellent example of Tina Turner’s vocal range as she starts off low and soulful and goes higher and more poppy in the middle. Still, this has some remarkably simple and repetitive lyrics,

“Stagger Lee” – Last month was the first time I heard this song about urban gambling turned to violence when I was studying the works of Wilson Pickett. The song is no less disturbing or clear with Tina Turner singing it,

“The Loco-Motion” – I’m not sure what is more disturbing: the fact that Tina Turner does this song as a Gospel anthem or that I don’t like it because I’m so used to the perky childish vocals of Kylie Minogue doing it. Either way, this sound more erratic than danceable and that makes the song more unsettling than fun in this incarnation,

“Philadelphia Freedom” – Tina Turner presents Elton John. And it sounds right. Turner has a great voice for anthemic and she makes this song sound big, even through the brass section backing her tries to drown her out. It is unsuccessful. This cover is no more memorable to me than the original,

“Mr. Bootsey White Law” – The arguable highlight of the album, Tina Turner sings about ethnic prejudice and the institutions that were in place to support them, as well as weird, incestuous relationships. This is an alarming song, but Tina Turner sings it in a straightforward fashion that is compelling and well-presented,

And “Proud Mary” – Points would have been taken off if this hadn't been included. The most commercially successful Ike & Tina Turner song is presented as the studio-produced version with Tina singing soft, then rough, with Ike backing her. This is a groovy, wonderful song.

But, as far as albums go, The Very Best Of Ike & Tina Turner is good, within a very specific spectrum. If one wants to hear r&b, blues, funk and soul covers of songs – many of which were in that range initially – this is a good compilation. But the more I listened to it, the more I was glad I was hearing it, but that I would be returning it. In other words, this is a good, not great, album and compilation.

For other works by Tina Turner, please check out my reviews of:
The Best Of Ike And Tina Turner – Ike & Tina Turner
Private Dancer
All The Best (2-disc version)
Tina! Her Greatest Hits


For other music reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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