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‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’: How A Soundtrack Album Became Tina Turner’s Strongest Statement of Self-Belief
Warner Music
In Depth

‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’: How A Soundtrack Album Became Tina Turner’s Strongest Statement of Self-Belief

With the ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ soundtrack album, Tina Turner broke with her abusive past and emerged as a true survivor.

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What’s Love Got To Do With It, the biopic of Tina Turner’s life, released in 1993, was accompanied by an unusual soundtrack album: the artist herself recreating her own life in music. It was part of a process for Turner of taking back the songs from her youth, whose brilliance is complicated by the abusive relationship she endured with her ex-husband, Ike Turner. The album, also named What’s Love Got To Do With It, brilliantly connects Turner’s past and present, going even further than the movie in asserting her as a survivor, an artist, an inspiration.

Listen to the ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ soundtrack album here.

The book: “But I have survived”

In 1986, Tina Turner published her story. Titled I, Tina, it sent shockwaves through the world. The book covered her upbringing in Tennessee and her early soul career in Ike Turner’s revue but, most explosively, it detailed the appalling abuse she experienced from Ike. “People look at me now and think what a hot life I must’ve lived – ha!”, she wrote. “I never found a real, lasting love. But I have survived.”

In the 80s, domestic abuse, controlling behaviour and violence in the home were finally being recognised as serious social issues. Refuges and helplines were available, and the problem was no longer seen as something to be hidden away. However, the complex interpersonal dynamics around domestic abuse still, even today, mean it is an underreported and veiled crime. For Turner, a woman perceived as having a “hot life”, to open up about her own experience was – and remains – an incredibly important act.

The film: “A very dramatic story of a woman’s journey”

I, Tina is a hard-hitting book. This is why it surprised many that the production company for What’s Love Got To Do With It, the 1993 film based on I, Tina, was Touchstone Pictures – the film-production imprint of Disney. “We never envisioned it as a biography,” Doug Chapin, the movie’s co-producer, has said. “[We saw it] as much as a very dramatic story of a woman’s journey, from being a bright young thing to being caught in a destructive situation and then getting out of it and standing on top of the mountain.”

Any concerns that Touchstone would blunt the darker edges of Turner’s story proved unfounded; bravura performances from Angela Bassett, as Tina, and Laurence Fishburne, as Ike, created a powerful portrayal of an abusive marriage. In a frank 1993 radio interview, Turner expressed her difficult feelings at the film’s release; she only had limited involvement in its making (though she did have a hand in picking Angela Bassett to play her), and talking about her past marriage as she promoted her new album was taking a toll. “It was something I hoped would be put to bed after the book,” she said. “To bring it all up again, it’s like a nightmare.”

There were also a number of inaccuracies and fictionalisations in the movie – and Turner herself did not watch the film until many years after its release (and then only in part). When she did, her feelings were still mixed, as she explained to Oprah Winfrey. “I watched a little bit of it,” Tina said in 2018, “but I didn’t finish it because that was not how things went. Oprah, I didn’t realise they would change the details so much.”

The album: “I’m thrilled about my achievements”

The film What’s Love Got To Do With It includes recreated performance footage, with Angela Bassett lip-synching to Tina Turner’s voice. Instead of using the original recordings, new versions were created of those dynamite Ike And Tina Tuner songs. Re-recordings on the What’s Love Got To Do With It soundtrack album include new takes on A Fool In Love, the very first single released by Ike And Tina Turner, in 1960, and Proud Mary, their Grammy-winning hit from 1971. These Ike and Tina songs have always been awesome, influential in the development of both soul and rock music, yet today they remain difficult to listen to in their original form; knowing the abuse that lay behind those recordings naturally colours the experience.

With these re-recordings, Turner was finally able to inhabit these songs with her true personality and reclaim the words for herself. “I’m thrilled about my achievements, and how people are respecting me for that horrible life, when I didn’t think I could encourage anyone – I was just living my life,” she said in 1993, speaking at the time of the album’s release.

The new songs: “Perfect for the movie… should have been written 20 years ago”

The album What’s Love Got To Do With It also includes new songs. There’s Why Must We Wait Until Tonight, co-written by Bryan Adams, and the languid Stay Awhile. Turner also recorded a version of The Trammps’ Disco Inferno, a song she had performed live in the late 70s, yet had never recorded in the studio before.

Particularly poignant is the first single from the album, and the theme song to the movie, I Don’t Wanna Fight. By the mid-70s, Turner knew that she could not take her situation any longer; her only reluctance to leave Ike was due to her children being in school, and the wrench it would mean to their lives.

In 1993, she recounted these final days of her marriage, and what she said to Ike. “‘I told you I will stay with you, and try to help you through this period, but no more licks,’” she has recounted. “And then the fights started because he hit me again. And that time I hit him back.” I Don’t Wanna Fight subtly evokes those final scenes: the sheer mental exhaustion of an abusive relationship with false starts, broken promises and the uncertainty of breaking free. Even though it’s not as bombastic as many of the best Tina Turner songs, it is one of her most powerful. “The song is perfect for the movie,” Tina said in 1993. “It should have been written back some 20 years ago.”

The legacy: “I embrace and accept every day”

Released on 15 June 1993, the What’s Love Got To Do With It soundtrack album marked a way for Turner to break with her abusive past while recapturing the brilliant records that were entwined with that time. As a woman in middle age who celebrated the confidence this time of life brought her, her legend as the “Queen Of Rock’n’Roll” grew in stature. Turner appreciated the healthy and happy position she enjoyed in the 90s; the decade would still yield two further studio albums (Wildest Dreams and Twenty Four Seven) and even a Bond theme (GoldenEye). However, the soundtrack to What’s Love Got To Do With It remains Tina’s strongest statement of self-belief.

Describing herself as “honest, feisty and fun”, Tina Turner remained an inspiration right up until her death, on 24 May 2023, at the age of 83. Asked earlier that year what she feared, Turner replied: “Nothing. This is life’s full adventure and I embrace and accept every day with what it brings.”

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