It’s Tina Turner’s 75th Birthday And She’s Still Simply The Best

There's never been a better time to do the Nutbush.

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No family party from my childhood — including my aunt’s fancy dress soiree or my scrawny cousin’s 10th birthday at McDonald’s — was complete without a round of Tina Turner’s Nutbush.

Within seconds of hearing the pulsating strums of that guitar, all my menopausal relatives would leap out of their seats and shove their nieces and nephews out of the way. Soon enough everyone would be boogying on the makeshift dancefloor outside (read: old patch of concrete). Amazingly, any attempt to coordinate a family photo would always be an exhausting and unachievable task. But getting every woman from 28 to 80 to march in line to ‘Nutbush City Limits’ was easily achieved.

Tina Turner, the inimitable Queen of Rock and Roll, turns 75 today and, after almost six decades on the international music scene, she still manages to make my relatives literally weak at the knees.

But, as just as Tina asks us to in the Nutbush, let’s take a step back. This most auspicious occasion is the perfect time to reflect on this enduring icon of the pop world.

Proud Tina

When Tina first emerged on the US music scene in the early 1960s, it was with then-husband Ike Turner. You’ve probably heard the rumours about their relationship or better yet seen the 1993 film about their checkered time together.

The pair popularly known “Ike and Tina Turner” began working in small nightclubs until they found mainstream success with songs like ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ then ‘Nutbush City Limits’ in the mid-’70s, which has now become a staple of many gatherings in Australian backyards and gaudy RSL dancefloors.

However, while power couples in the music business were in vogue during 1960s — think Sonny and Cher and The Carpenters — Ike and Tina’s relationship was strained under the pressure of fame and fortune. Not to mention Ike’s substance abuse problems. It was only years later in her autobiography I, Tina that the abusive realities of their relationship were made public. Tina wrote that she attempted suicide under the strain of Ike’s unbearable violence and his increasing dependence on illicit substances.

But the pair’s most memorable song has always proven to be ‘Proud Mary’, which Turner has performed with the likes of Cher, Beyoncé, and other luminaries in recent years.

The energetic powerballad, with its “easy” introduction and its “rough” end, has become a favourite from her repertoire. Many read the song as a autobiographical account: her humble upbringing in a poor working-class background, her migration to the glamour of the city, and her ascendence into fame and fortune, while still maintaining a sense of pride about her meagre beginnings.

What’s Tina Got To Do With It

After an intense fight broke out between the pair while on the road in 1976, Tina fled from Ike and spent the next six months hiding from her then husband until a divorce was finalised. She ended the relationship with some loose change in her pocket and a dream to be a musical icon. With the help of her old friends in the music business (namely the inimitable Cher), Tina was able to work her way back to the top.

She departed the US in the early 1980s and spent time in Europe, finding herself and exploring the other side of the Atlantic. In 1984, she recorded and released the album Private Dancer, which proved to be one of the greatest comebacks for a solo artist from a musical duo.

The album combined both pop and rock, featuring such international smash hits as ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It‘, the eponymous ‘Private Dancer‘, and ‘Better Be Good To Me‘. Private Dancer was a bold departure for Tina, with the iconic up-tempo ballad ‘What’s Love’ unapologetically speaking of a desire for erotic dalliances without the need for any romantic attachment.

The independence and self-reliance apparent in Private Dancer gave Tina a newfound appeal as a diva; it carved her a then-unique image in the music marketplace as bold and brave after her private battles and abuses from her former husband.

Tina’s The Best 

With her name back at the top of the charts, Turner migrated over to movies for a brief stint in the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Although her appearance in the film was mostly forgettable, it was the film’s theme song ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero‘ that cemented Turner’s place in the 1980s music scene and gave her another stellar hit.

After some minor success with other songs like ‘Typical Male’ working in line with 1980s second wave feminism, Turner concentrated more on the European market and found that she had an enormous following there. It also explains partly why she moved to Switzerland decades later.

But in 1989 Turner returned to the international music charts with ‘The Best‘, though it had originally been given to Bonnie Tyler, the other 1980s songbird of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. The hit ballad tells of a lover who is “simply the best” – whether in the bedroom or otherwise, that’s up for interpretation.

The accompanying music video showed Turner trotting around a warehouse while a wild and untamed horse galloped around her. It was implied that the lover in question was as virile and untamed as the stallion taken from the nearby equine stalls. Taken from the record Foreign Affair, the song was a smash hit in the UK and galvanised Turner’s status of as a Queen of Rock and Roll on an international scale and proved that she could continue to mount successful comebacks into the music industry.

No City Limits For Tina

Since the ’90s, Turner has continued to set new records not only for women in the music industry but also defy many of the familiar narratives for female pop stars — ‘What Ever Happened To…?’ etc. With a number of hits in the 1990s in the UK and Australia, Turner has continued to tour well into her mid-’70s — a feat few musicians can claim, except the Rolling Stones.

When she began her worldwide Tina! 50th Anniversary Tour, she began breaking box office records for a female performing artist. In total, the tour made over $100 million and introduced a new generation to the iconic ’60s hits like ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ and those from the ’80s like ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’. With an insatiable energy and an incredible vocal prowess, the tours of the 2000s have been some of Tina’s most successful and have cemented her placed as an icon of the industry.


Nothing to see here. Just your average woman in her seventies.

Most recently, Turner’s released a collection of love song covers and appeared on the European cover of Vogue — she was the oldest ever cover model at age 73 — while maintaining a quiet life in Switzerland with her new beau. Rumours continue that Tina may be launching a new world tour next year, after the huge success of her last one but for now they remain just that — rumours.

Tina Turner remains a trailblazer for women in the entertainment industry. Not only is she one of the few women well into her 70s that sells out packed stadiums (Cher ain’t quite there yet) but she also proves that she reject the narratives for women and aging into the music business. She’s still sexy, energetic, and, above all, relevant in our culture of increasingly short attention spans.

Happy birthday, Tina. You still got it.

Nathan Smith is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne. His writing has been published in Salon, The Advocate and Out. He tweets to Cher @nathansmithr and maintains a website at