In just five years, Tina Turner had turned it all around. The first signs of what lay ahead could be heard in her cover of Let’s Stay Together, which, released in 1983, not only rebooted her career, but claimed Al Green’s Southern soul classic as her own. By the time the Private Dancer album cemented her return to the mainstream the following year – consigning to history a string of late-70s albums on which she sought the style that would define her solo career – Turner was ready to take the crown as “Queen Of Rock And Roll”. And yet the best – quite literally – was yet to come. Released in 1989, as her final album of the 80s, Foreign Affair was a typically stylish rendezvous with fans who – unbeknownst to them at the time – wouldn’t hear from the singer again for another seven years.
Listen to ‘Foreign Affair’ here.
“I’ve never done that with any artist since”
If Let’s Stay Together announced Turner’s return, and What’s Love Got To Do It established her new rock-infused direction, songs such as Better Be Good To Me, from Private Dancer, and One Of The Living, from 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome soundtrack, helped her sustain it. Penned by Holly Knight, then fresh from East Coast rock group Spider, they helped give Turner the hard-edged sound she was looking for. So when the singer found her head turned by another Knight original, The Best – co-written with Mike Chapman and hitting the airwaves in its first incarnation, by Bonnie Tyler – the next logical step was to find out what other songs Knight could bring to the album that would become Foreign Affair.
“She had called me up about The Best, and we had a discussion about that,” Knight tells Dig! today. Invited to visit Turner at a hotel in Beverley Hills, the songwriter arrived with a selection of material she’d recently completed with a new writing partner, Albert Hammond. “I had about six songs, and she listened to them right then and there. That alone is unheard of,” Knight says. “Most people don’t want you to be anywhere near them when they’re listening to a tune, so they can reflect on it in an honest way. But the fact that she listened to them herself, and I was sitting right there, was incredibly generous of her. I’ve never done that with any artist since.”
On the spot, Turner picked three of the six: Be Tender With Me Baby, You Can’t Stop Me Loving You and Ask Me How I Feel, tracks which, along with The Best, would provide the centrepiece to her new record.
“She likes the provocative stuff, but she also likes just being badass”
Turner had cut her teeth in the 60s while fronting her abusive ex-husband’s high-octane soul/R&B outfit, The Ike And Tina Turner Revue. Going on to command funk, pop and rock music throughout the changing musical landscape of the 70s and 80s, by the time she recorded Foreign Affair, she could turn her voice to anything. In discussions with Knight, however, she was clear about what material she now wanted to sing.
“She was very vocal about a lot of things,” Knight recalls. “And one of them was that she didn’t want to sing the blues. She’d done all that with Ike, and this was a different part of her life where she wanted to be celebratory. The greatest revenge is to be happy and enjoy life.” The new material “had to be sophisticated”, Knight adds. “It had to be adult. It had to be sexy without being trashy. That’s a fine line she walks: it’s got to be classy and elegant, but can still be suggestive and a bit naughty. She likes the provocative stuff. But she also likes just being badass.”