I had the good fortune to interview Tina Turner in February 1984 when her remake of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was climbing the top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100. The interview ran in the Feb. 25, 1984, issue under the headline “Tina Turner Rocks Back Into Top 40.”
Turner’s remake of “Let’s Stay Together,” which climbed from No. 38 to No. 34 that week, was her first top 40 hit since Ike & Tina’s “Nutbush City Limits” in late 1973. And Turner was then in the midst of a 40-date British tour. So, she was already doing well.
But she could not possibly have imagined how big her comeback would be. On Feb. 26, 1985, almost exactly one year after we spoke, she won three Grammys, including record of the year for “What’s Love Got to Do With It.”
Turner credited her improved fortunes to changes she had made in her career, including signing for management with Roger Davies, who was then best known for guiding the career of Olivia Newton-John. She had decided to focus on rock’n’roll, which was unusual for a woman of color – and a woman of a certain age (Turner was 45 at the time).
“I changed my band and changed a lot of the songs,” she said. “I was doing a high-energy Vegas type of show, because I was working a lot of clubs. I changed that and made it more rock’n’roll. I got into a lot of the rock’n’roll clubs, and a result my audience is getting younger and younger.”
Turner also attributed her rediscovery by rock fans to recent pairings with The Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart. Turner performed duets with Mick Jagger during The Stones’ 1981 tour and also appeared with Stewart at a 1982 concert that was televised worldwide via satellite.
Though the door to Turner’s comeback was opened by a remake of an R&B classic, rock’n’roll is where her heart was.
“My stage performance is basically rock’n’roll,” she said. “I’m more comfortable with it; the energy is good and I like the words. I don’t really want to do R&B right now. I can’t say that I won’t go back to it, because it’s my roots. I just like to sing uptempo things. I’m very optimistic now.”
“Let’s Stay Together” was only the seventh top 40 hit of Turner’s career, which stretched back nearly 24 years to Ike & Tina Turner’s breakthrough hit “A Fool in Love.”
Asked about pop radio’s seeming reluctance over the years to add her records, Turner said, “I hate to talk about racism, but that has a lot to do with it. When I started my career, you had to hit R&B before you could make the crossover. I understand it’s still that way a lot. In foreign countries, they don’t put a label or color on music. They just program it.”
Of her smooth re-entry after a five-year absence from the recording scene, Turner said, “It wasn’t as if I was constantly putting out records that were losers. I just worked at doing good performances and holding on to my audience, so when I did come out with some material they were all there for it.”
And that stat about “Let’s Stay Together” being just her seventh top 40 hit in a 24-year career? Turner would collect her next seven top 40 hits – from “What’s Love Got to Do With It” to “It’s Only Love” (with Bryan Adams) — by the end of 1985.
The “optimistic” feelings Turner spoke of that day in February 1984 were fully justified.