The real story behind Tina Turner’s classic hit ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’

Tina Turner, Hamburg 1987. Image via YouTube

When “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was released in 1984, it soon got to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was there for three weeks. The song went on to earn three Grammys — Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Performance. Meanwhile, when Turner first heard the song, she hated it.

Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, Turner had a tough life growing up, picking cotton in the fields around Nutbush, Tennessee. Raised by her grandmother, she involved herself in St. Louis’ R&B music scene. While in her teens, she met Ike Turner at a local nightclub Club Manhattan. Ike was then the leader of Kings of Rhythm, hailed as one of the first groups to introduce rock and roll with their song “Rocket 88.”

Ike and Turner soon formed a musical bond after Ike heard her sing. Not too long after, they became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, producing their first R&B hit in 1960 with “A Fool in Love”. Turner, who had a child from a previous relationship, would have a son with Ike, and the two reportedly married in 1962 in Tijuana, Mexico. Ike had two other sons as well before marrying Turner.

The husband and wife duo went on to produce top 10 R&B hits with “I Idolize You,” “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” “Poor Fool” and “Tra La La La La” backed by a band and the singers/dancers known as the Ikettes, according to Biography. Their big break came in 1971 with their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” It earned the act a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group. Turner would later release “Nutbush City Limits” which hit both the pop and R&B charts.

While fans loved the music of the couple and their legendary performances with the Ikettes, Ike was abusing Turner without anyone knowing. According to Turner, she went through years of physical and emotional abuse from Ike, and would often have to force herself to sing and dance after being beaten. Ike, who was said to have survived deep trauma from his childhood, was into drinking, drugs and women. 

“There was violence because he had this fear that I was going to leave him,” Turner told The Times. “I had a lot of violence, houses burned, cars shot in to — the lowest you can think of in terms of abuse,” the singer and actress told Larry King in a 1997 interview.

Turner attempted to kill herself in 1968. When she recovered, she was more determined than ever to make it. After 14 years of marriage, she left Ike in 1976. She took no other assets apart from her performance name and two cars. Turner later signed with manager Roger Davies and joined Capitol/EMI Records, coming back bigger than ever as a solo artist with her 1984 Private Dancer album that included hits like “Let’s Stay Together,” “Better Be Good to Me,” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It” written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle.

But as already indicated, Turner initially did not like the song. “I was rock and roll. I was not … that was a pop song,” she said in the 2021 HBO Documentary about her life. Turner only recorded the song after her manager Davies made her meet one of the song’s producers/writers, Britten. At the meeting, they agreed to make some changes to the song to fit Turner’s style. 

Turner said in the documentary that she converted the song and made it her own, and it worked, giving the singer her first solo Grammy Award. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” also made Turner the oldest woman at the time to land a U.S. number one single at the age of 44, according to BBC.

The singer recently came out of retirement and announced that she was back with a remix of her classic hit. The Queen of Rock and Roll worked with Norwegian producer DJ Kygo on a remix of the song. Turner, who last officially toured in 2009, died on Wednesday at the age of 83 following a long illness in her home near Zurich, Switzerland. 

Her illustrious career includes record sales surpassing 200 million, earning 12 Grammy’s, and receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she also holds the Guinness World Record for selling more concert tickets than any other solo performer in history.

Besides having to leave an abusive relationship, Turner has also suffered health issues in recent times including a cancer diagnosis, a stroke and kidney failure, with her second husband Erwin Bach donating his own kidney for a transplant. In 2018, she lost her son Craig to suicide. The legendary artiste is survived by her husband Bach and two sons of her first husband whom she adopted.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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