There are a lot of overused (and misused) superlatives applied to beloved musicians when they pass, but when it comes to calling Tina Turner the Queen of Rock n’ Roll, it’s just a fact.
Tina Turner sang with a gritty authenticity and unfettered exuberance that was unmatched in the ‘60s. She taught Mick Jagger how to dance, inspired everyone from David Bowie to Beyoncé and achieved the ultimate career comeback in the ‘80s when her blockbuster Private Dancer album catapulted the 40-something survivor to the top of the pop world.
As detailed in 1993’s Angela Bassett-starring biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It, Turner’s life wasn’t easy. She grew up in rural Tennessee, began singing with future husband Ike Turner when she was just a teenager, and suffered his abusive, controlling behavior for years before finally escaping from him and striking out on her own. Her solo success was hardly immediate. After years of hard work, closed doors and unanswered calls, she staged a remarkable career comeback in the ‘80s which, in many ways, remains the gold standard for any rock or pop star who is supposedly too old to score hit songs.
In honor of the inimitable icon’s life and work, we’re rounding up 15 of Tina Turner’s best songs. While it includes many chart hits – among them “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” her Billboard Hot 100-topping smash – this is not a chart-based list, but rather an editorial one. It includes songs she released during her trailblazing run as part of Ike & Tina Turner as well as solo classics.
With Pierce Brosnan stepping into 007’s suit after the decreasing returns of the Timothy Dalton-starring films, James Bond was treated to a cultural comeback almost as impressive as Tina’s – so it only made sense that she graced the franchise with her grit and presence on this brassy title track to GoldenEye, co-written by Bono and The Edge. She might be holding back a touch — playing with slappers only, if you will — but she still notches the kill in the end. – Joe Lynch
“Typical Male,” No. 2 on Hot 100 (1986)
Turner’s ‘80s comeback was astonishing for a number of reasons, not least among them that in a world laser-focused women’s ages (yeah, not much has changed), she charged up the charts in her forties while still flaunting her unapologetic sexuality and self-possession. The smash hit “Typical Male,” which has Phil Collins on drums, sees her using her wiles to “tip the scales” in her favor on a chump lawyer who’s just “a typical male, a typical male.” – J. Lynch
“The Acid Queen” (1975)
Regardless of your feelings on Ken Russell’s more-is-more approach to 1975’s rock opera musical Tommy, Tina Turner turned in a show-stealing performance in the film. The Who’s original version is surprisingly polite for a song called “The Acid Queen” — an oversight that Turner’s threatening, half-shrieked delivery thankfully rectifies. – J. Lynch
Ike & Tina Turner’s “Funkier Than a Mosquita’s Tweeter” (1971)
The B-side to the duo’s iconic cover of “Proud Mary,” this song – penned by Tina’s sister, Aillene Bullock – is a pissed-off takedown of a “dirty old man” who masks his intentions with tiresome proselytization about “heaven and glory.” Over relentless, percolating percussion and a reverb-y bass line, Tina slowly but surely runs down the creepy old coot’s shortcomings before the gloriously funky kiss-off of the chorus slaps him to bits as if he were just a mosquito bothering her arm. – J. Lynch
Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep -- Mountain High,” No. 88 on Hot 100 (1966)
Hardly the chart-dominating smash that producer Phil Spector anticipated, “River Deep – Mountain High” is nevertheless a sharp-cut, glittering gem in her extensive catalog. Befitting the song’s title, Turner’s voice emanates deeply from her chest one moment before soaring to her upper register the next. And it takes a pro like Tina to sing a lyric about loving a grown man “the way I loved that rag doll” with a tear in her voice and make you believe it. – J. Lynch
Ike & Tina Turner’s “It's Gonna Work Out Fine,” No. 14 on Hot 100 (1961)
Ike & Tina seeing and raising Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” made for one of their finest early rock classics, a delectable back-and-forth over a gumbo-thick southern soul groove. Tina’s ability to stay guttural and visceral without being distractingly dramatic was without peer as she belted to a less-than-committed Ike, “If your love is half as true/ As the love I offer you/ Oh darling, I think it’s gonna work out fine.” Bad news for Ms. Anna Mae on that one, unfortunately, but the horrors of the couple’s denouement doesn’t sap the single of any of its slinky, stanky vitality. – Andrew Unterberger
“Break Every Rule,” No. 74 on Hot 100 (1987)
Not as big of a hit as previous single “What You See Is What You Get,” the title track to Break Every Rule (her follow-up to the blockbuster Private Dancer) demonstrated that Turner’s mixture of effortless cool and rock n’ roll grit was without peer in the ’80s. While a lot of rockers play at flaunting conventions, Turner – who broke damn near every rule industry suits had about pop stars in the ‘80s – had a far better reason to belt about subverting expectations than most. – J. Lynch
“I Can’t Stand the Rain” (1984)
On paper, Tina Turner’s version of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” shouldn’t work — reinventing a well-loved R&B classic from Memphis soul legend Ann Peebles for a rock-inspired album sounds like a tall task for just about anyone. Yet “Rain” shows off Turner’s impressive range when she was at the top of her game, giving the song just enough of a distinct flavor to make it her own while exploring all the pain and heartache in the stirring lyrics, co-written by Peebles. – Stephen Daw
"We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome),” No. 2 on Hot 100 (1985)
The mid-’80s turned into the first golden age of the blockbuster soundtrack power ballad, and you had to know that a post-comeback Tina Turner was gonna get hers on that front. The power and texture in her voice elevates this fairly preposterous anthem from the third Mad Max movie — which Turner also starred in, incidentally — into something genuinely rousing and resonant, one whose film connections you can even forget about as long as you gloss over the “Thunderdome” mention in the chorus. And if you view the whole thing as a rejoinder to fellow ’80s soundtrack diva rasper Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero,” even better. – A. Unterberger
Ike & Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits,” No. 22 on Hot 100 (1973)
Buoyed by a hot n’ swampy guitar riff, a playful bass line and punchy horns, “Nutbush City Limits” – penned by Tina herself — is a funky showcase that finds her waxing nostalgic about her rural childhood in Tennessee, from the church house to the gin house in that “one-horse town.” – J. Lynch
“Better Be Good to Me,” No. 5 on Hot 100 (1984)
Amidst the flurry of Turner’s history-making comeback with Private Dancer, “Better Be Good To Me” proved definitively that the reign of the Queen of Rock n’ Roll would not be a brief one. Earning Tina her second consecutive top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the glimmering rock ballad (originally recorded by U.K. rock group Spider in 1981) stands as a shining example of the star’s exceptional vocal talent — even through the showy guitar riffs, Turner kept audiences “captured” with her singular, emotive voice. And as a survivor of an abusive marriage, Turner makes it clear that while she’s open to love, her hard-won independence and self-worth will not be compromised. – S. Daw
“The Best,” No. 15 on Hot 100 (1989)
It’s all right there in the chorus: Tina Turner was simply “The Best.” On this Foreign Affair single — which became a signature tune for Turner, despite first being recorded by Bonnie Tyler — she sings to an incomparable love interest, adding an insatiable longing to the saucy lyrics. “When you come to me/ Give me everything I need,” she growls, imbuing her vocals with a deep-felt love and admiration that elevates this straight-forward fist-pumper into rarified air. – Katie Atkinson
Ike & Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” No. 4 on Hot 100 (1971)
Yes, technically it’s a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, but Turner more or less took over ownership rights upon first covering the southern-style showstopper in 1971. The song became a decades-spanning live staple, with her tent-revival style performances typically finding her starting slow — “every now and then we like to do things nice and easy” — before inevitably blowing the roof off of any given venue, as “somehow, we never seem to do nothing nice and easy.” – Katie Bain
“Private Dancer,” No. 7 on Hot 100 (1984)
Tina’s take on Mark Knopfler’s “Private Dancer” featured one of her most subtle and understated vocals. In both the song and the Brian Grant-directed video, she portrays a disillusioned “taxi dancer,” a woman who dances with strangers for money. She sounds weary and defeated as the song opens, but gradually summons her strength. Dire Straits intended the song for their 1982 album Love Over Gold, but Knopfler didn’t think it was right for a man and passed it on to Turner. Thank goodness, because Turner’s recording is among her all-time best — and that’s saying something. – Paul Grein
“What’s Love Got to Do With It,” No. 1 on Hot 100 (1984)
Tina Turner didn’t actually want to record “What’s Love Got To Do With It” when presented with the song by her management, saying in the 2021 documentary Tina that she thought the song was “terrible.” But the synth-pop slow burner would inevitably inspire a change of heart upon becoming the biggest song of her career. Walking the fine line between love and hate in stilettos, Turner embodied the longing and disdain involved in needing a heart when a heart, after all, can be broken. Clocking three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, winning three Grammys and giving her 1993 biopic its title, this anthem of resilience became the defining song in her peerless career. – K. Bain