Private Dancer – The Milestone Album

Private Dancer- Album Cover

In a career of 50+ years you will find many ups and downs and probably more highlights than anywhere else but there still might be the one and only super-nova which outshines everything else. Tina Turner´s “Private Dancer” album is one of these bright spots. Despite all her other successes and her triumphant tours around the globe, this album will always be her finest ever. We dare to ask “Why is that?” Of course, you know that it was successful, incredibly successful to be exact, and maybe you even started your own fan life with that particular album, but still: did it ever occur to you to ask you the “Why is that?”-question? Hopefully, you will find the answers in this article.

Back to the top – at lastTina Turner - Song Selection on Private Dancer 

“Private Dancer” was not the first solo-album by Tina – far from it. After records like “Rough” or “Love Explosion” you could even see it as another attempt to make it happen for her. But, of course, it wasn´t just another attempt like the ones before because for that, the production itself would have been much too complex and elaborated. Even if it is common lore that the actual work on the music alone only took a couple of weeks on her part, but the sheer number of experienced producers and famous fellow musicians show how much work was put into it – to make it happen. It wasn’t quickly assembled as the records before. Here, we can find a variety of songs and styles which showcase how she can deal with nearly any material or music. You feel that they all meant it back then and that everybody put their heart and soul into that very release.

The economic success of the album like a) #1 in the U.S. , Canada, Austria, and Finland,  b) 96 weeks in the German Top 100, or c) 4 Grammy awards, 2 of which in the categories for best female vocal performance in both “rock” and “pop”. No wonder that it can be regarded as a milestone not only in her career but also in music history itself. But thinking in categories like “cause” and “effect”, you can always state that it is not a simple miracle but a result from the work which became manifest in this magnum opus.

Reason 1: Variety of the songs

The numbers on “Private Dancer “ represent a wide variety of styles which can be spotted quite easily in the Grammy awards for “rock” and “pop”. A song like “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is definitely pop, while others like “I Might Have Been Queen”, “1984” or “Better Be Good To Me” are rock or a mild version of it, and a track like “Steel Claw” could also be filed under hard rock or soft metal. But despite all these different styles, her voice also shines through and is constantly the point of culmination. She definitely proves that the is capable of dealing with all these flavors of music and can deliver practically anything from a ballad like “Let’s Stay Together” to a more thoughtful reasoning like in “Private Dancer”. The rock elements prevail, however, especially if we take a closer look to the B-sides of the many single releases like “I Wrote a Letter” or “When I Was Young”. But the wingspread of the album can be measured by the style-mix we find here, whereas the level of artistry can be derived from the vocal performance which can carry the burden of each song.

Reason 2: Message Songs

Tina Turner - US an European LP Covers of Private Dancer
Tina Turner – US an European LP Covers of Private Dancer

Tina Turner once stated that she does not sing “message songs” and that she is far more interested in giving the audience a good time instead of spreading a message and changing the world. That she did change the world by her life story and her struggle for freedom, independence and success is another story and shows that a practitioner can once again win over a theoretician. Maybe you therefore think we should not go down this road because there cannot be any message songs if Tina herself does not want them to be there. But art is not only what is intended by the artist but also what is experienced and perceived by the audience. And we can truly see messages in some of the songs on “Private Dancer”.

  • “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is surely the best example of a song which does not transport a political message but emits a life message hidden in a personal trail of thought. Life experience from a woman who has seen it all and explored every corner of love and human relationships become apparent in each stanza.
  • “I Might Have Been Queen” was specifically written by Jeanette Obstoj, Rupert Hine and Jamie West-Oram for the “Private Dancer” album and plays with Tina´s belief in her previous incarnation as an Egyptian queen and the two meetings with the same soul back then (her brother from whom she took the throne for preventing his destruction of the country) and in her current life (ex-husband Ike who takes revenge on her). She now reaches out for the final glory and overcomes the shadows of the past and leaves the cobweb of destiny and fate.
  • “Private Dancer” came to her by chance as Mark Knopfler and the Dire Straits could not see a possibility to integrate that song from a disillusioned ballroom/lap dancer´s perspective in one of their albums. It deals with nearly shattered hopes and dreams of an everyday life which seems to be out of reach for that private dancer because of her current situation.

These songs – and maybe we could also name others like “Show Some Respect” or “Better Be Good To Me” – treat a similar subject from various perspectives. They are woman-centered and put the hopes or fears of a woman in the focus. The listener can easily connect Tina with that woman because of her wrecked and abusive marriage, her fight back to the top as a divorced or even beaten woman, or her will to succeed in the business against all odds. Even the song titles alone like “What´s Love Got To Do With It?” or “I Might Have Been Queen” or the general scenario which they draw like in “Private Dancer” help us to understand these tracks. But what is the message? Her life story alone is always the message. It cannot be found in the songs directly but it shines through the singer like “Girl, you can get out of that messy situation as a private dancer just by leaving the ballroom” or “Believe in true love but don´t let you drag down” or “Imagine the future and grab it”.

Tina Turner - Private Dancer albums

 

Reason 3: Cover songs

Out of the 10 songs on the album, we have 6 cover songs so that it seems easier to name the original songs as the list is much shorter.  But still, here is the full list of cover songs on “Private Dancer”: #4 “I Can’t Stand the Rain” (Ann Peebles), #6 “Let’s Stay Together” (Al Green), #7 “Better Be Good To Me” (Spider), #8 “Steel Claw” (Paul Brady), #9 “Help!” (The Beatles), and also #10 “1984” (David Bowie).

  • A song like “Let´s Stay Together” dates back from 1971 already was a massive hit before which makes it an easy pick for a cover as “nothing can go wrong with it” while the new singer also bears the burden of the former success. It is highly improbable to outperform the original hit. You can only win if you somehow manage to make the song your own – and Tina was always very good in that. It turned out to be one of her signature songs and made people surely forget that it was #1 on the US Top 100 and #7 in the UK back in 1971.
  • Songs like “Better Be Good To Me” and also “Steel Claw” can be categorized as very good finds.  Paul Brady (“Steel Claw” and also “Paradise Is Here” in 1986) is a musician and songwriter who wrote many hits for fellow musicians but never became as popular as these artists so that his own version never became so popular like Tina´s. Nicky Chinn, Mike Chapman, and Holly Knight wrote “Better Be Good To Me” which was recorded as a demo by the band Spider which only released two albums and only survived seven years. This song became free again and they offered it to Tina who turned into a Grammy award for “Rock (Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female)”.
  • A song like “Help” is truly a challenge because what can you add if you must cover a song by The Beatles? But her slow-motion version which she tested before the actual recording during many concerts seems to be a totally different song which only happens to contain familiar lines.To sum up, Tina Turner managed what you must manage if you want to survive when it comes to cover songs: she turned them into her own hits and made them her own. People sometimes even forgot that they were covers in the first place.

 

Maybe you have other reasons why “Private Dancer” is a milestone in Tina Turner´s career but we are pretty sure that the afore-mentioned three reasons are a good selection of all the possible ones. Feel free to add yours to that list!

 

10 thoughts on “Private Dancer – The Milestone Album”

  1. AMEN to everything you wrote and said! In many ways, what the album officially opened my ears to is the concept of a defining voice being the only unifying force within the album context: The variety of the songs (inc. the B-sides, which are just as good as the album tracks) show the quality of the material, the overall strength of the album, the different voices, tones, and instrumentation of the creations AND their respective producers, and the aural, poetic, and psychological depth of the entire musical era as a(n) album/LP/cassette/8-Track/CD/7″ & 12″ singles & non-album tracks. Honestly, what is now known as the PRIVATE DANCER ERA got its start really in 1982 w/ her excellent vocal contributions to the SUMMER LOVERS soundtrack in the form of “Johnny & Mary” and “Crazy In The Night” AND her lead-off opening to the ’82 SOQAD original compilation LP, “Ball Of Confusion”. Many fans consider it a loss than these songs weren’t included on the 1984 LP, since it would have only enhanced the excellence of it; or, that these songs didn’t get the airplay they could/should have in 1983/84, considering how popular and ubiquitous Ms. Tina Turner had become by that point. These 3 songs really got the 1980s sound of Tina Turner out in to the public eye, and definitely must have influenced Capitol, esp. in Europe, where she never left the minds of the people. Then, came the classic that is, “Let’s Stay Together”, which is really where the beginnings of PRIVATE DANCERS conception started, because John Carter, Tina’s shining diamond in her recording career, begged and pleaded for her to get a new record deal/album, and spent months in the studio w/ her producing most of the stunningly-powerful B-sides to the forthcoming album, like, “I Wrote A Letter” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Widow” (which, to this day, blows my mind that it never graced the LP, or the radio stations for that matter). The actual concerted recording took place over 2 weeks, but the planning had been going on since probably 1981, just like her film acting aspirations. And Tina had been desperately HUNGRY to record new songs as well as a new album for years, and it is TOTALLY displayed/conveyed through her inimitable vocal ATTACK from all of the tunes and LPs from 1981-1985 (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME soundtrack most definitely included). That different writers, producers, musicians wanted to work with her only lends more credibility to how/why the album is so powerful and special. Really, in a world not dictated by LP running times, record prices, and company/marketing heads, PRIVATE DANCER would have been a double album including much if not all of the material recorded in 1982-84. When listening to the album, one is just as excited to hear the non-album tracks, and many of us have mixed the B-sides into the album sequencing, only augmenting and highlighting the greatness of the work.

    Also, along w/ the whole concept of an exclusive, dominant, unifying voice, and A FEMALE ONE especially, was the intrinsic, unique aspect that this album was coming from the point of view of a rather decidedly seasoned woman vocalist just entering the beginning of her middle years. That crucial addition made the album unlike any other LP released in 1984, because it struck a positive, powerful, revelatory nerve w/ collectively young, middle-aged, and mature music listeners all at the same time in its displayed expression of a personalized, thematically-executed documentation/commentary of modern romantic female life in the late 20th Century…emotionally, pscyho-sexually, muscially, and poetically. It esp. introduced young ears to the quality work that can come from a veteran R&B/pop/rock queen in her mid-40s, w/ lyrics that were age/time-appropriate, and yet as modern, relateable, vigorous, and energized as anything coming from “the new kids on the block”.

    It will always be her best album, because it represents the era when she took the music world by storm. The forthcoming starring co-lead in the movie was the icing on the cake.

  2. I am probably one of few who disagrees. I think ‘Private Dancer’ didn’t age that well and sounds very dated with the over use of synthesizers. Live versions of these songs are amazing, studio versions sound dated…

    1. Then again, Lasse: It was the ’80s. Most of those albums were ardently making use of all of the new, modern sounds of the time…synthesizers were probably the defining sound of the 1980s. I love that the LP mixes the acoustic w/ the programmed. It’s timeliness in 1984 is what brought Tina to the forefront of the music world and the charts. Bruce Springsteen, Prince, and Tina had the Top 3 LPs in the Summer/Fall of 1984…each sounds as much of the era, yet transcend it at the same time. It’s a dichotomy in music, esp. w/ classic rock/pop/R&B albums. Which Turner album seems the most “non-dated” to you?

  3. Lasse, you’re absolutely right! After your comment about “datedness”, I thought for a little while which LP sounded very modern/classic at the same time…and the first thought was FOREIGN AFFAIR. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t worship PD subjectively…every album had good songs on their work…they all represent different periods…BREAK EVERY RULE is a very good, quality follow-up to PD, and takes its own flights of greatness…FA has its classics, and the production of the album is dripping w/ great sonic sheen and guts in other places…WLGTDWI will always hold a special place in my heart because it was Tina’s story in music, though it was a very edited one, and the addition of “I Don’t Want To Fight”, “Why Must We Wait Until Tonight?” (in many ways, the follow-up to “Private Dancer” in terms of Tina using her more delicate tones, and the return of the Jazzy sound that she was starting to explore even more), and “Stay Awhile” gave us some new gems…WD became an album I liked a lot more years after first hearing it…and my favorites weren’t even released as singles…etc., etc.

    Please tell me someone over at Capitol/EMI has commissioned that her discography be remastered in HD and reissued in brand new, quality mini-LP-replica editions…It would be sad if only the fans were aware of the goldmine they were sitting on…yet, it would certainly say a lot about the music industry as a whole in the 21st Century.

  4. I call Private Dancer Tin’as reflection about love at the middle of life. It put Tina Turner back in our ears and lips. Fresh sound, hits, songs that stick in the memory, words you can sing along, even karaoke along! And that line that stays until today: “who needs a heart when a heart can be broken”…

  5. This album imho made her a legend. She was already a respective music veteran by the time this album came out but afterwards, she had become this iconic figure.

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