Aug 302013

Driving home from dinner with my wife and oldest son the other night our local Oldies station played a fantastic run of (albeitly cheesy) mid-’70s songs that my wife and I probably too enthusiastically pointed out to our son captured the time when we were the age of his younger brother, who was not with us on this drive. I can’t remember the killer run of hits, but it kicked off with “Young Americans” and included “We’re an American Band” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”

“What a titan John Lennon was,” I marveled in my head, privately, “to be able to inject such a suspect disco-boogie romp with so much energy and cool!” I felt a tear building in my left eye as that song faded while memories of that era continued to blare, as I anticipated what the DJ computer would spin next…

My mid-’70s memory lane run came to an abrupt end as a shitty, processed ’80s rhythm track faded up with a sound I can only tolerate in Marvin Gaye‘s “Sexual Healing.” I already knew it wasn’t going to be “Sexual Healing,” but like Jimmy Carter witnessing a somewhat free election in a recently totalitarian state, I felt I had to stick with it until I could accurately report on the improprieties.

“What’s Love Got to Do With It” was the song emerging from that gated intro. I can’t stand that song. I can’t stand that it became some anthem of empowerment. It sounds like crap, thanks to its characteristically ’80s production. Tina Turner sings as if she’s not quite able to make out the backing track. Her vocal tone and rhythm have little relationship to the music. This is a common problem I have with Tina Turner, who never gets criticized for the complete lack of subtlety Janis Joplin made her trademark. My favorite Tina Turner performance is her hyperventilating take on “Proud Mary.” Again, she sings way ahead of the beat and shows little interest in the song’s backing track, but she’s so out there that she’s exciting and unintentionally funny. Her approach fails to excite or humor me on he giant comeback hit. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” is the musical equivalent of an unexpected, overconfident, attention-hogging party guest.

“Who dragged her along?”

Forcing myself to listen to this song again, in its entirety, while watching images of people with hairdos and clothing that annoy me as much as the song, I have to be honest: I really hate the ’80s. The song is better than a lot of other terrible hits from that era. Turner’s vocals still bug me, but maybe she was wise to sing her ass off and ignore the backing track.

I had wrongly wanted to punch Mark Knopfler all these years for the production, but it turns out English songwriters Terry Britten and Graham Lyle wrote and produced the track and deserved my scorn. The song had been offered to a number of other acts, including Cliff Richard and Donna Summer, before Turner struck gold with it. My research took me to this 1960s slice of pop-psych by The Twilights, for whom Britten was the lead guitarist. This song, “9.50,” is really good! I’ll cut Britten a break and let him enjoy his songwriting riches.

Co-writer Lyle came of musical age in a Scottish duo Gallagher and Lyle, which was first signed to write for Apple Records. They next took part in a 1970 band called McGuinness Flint. Here are Gallagher and Lyle performing one of their songs as part of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance. Pretty cool as well. May you, too, Mr. Lyle, enjoy your songwriting riches!


  11 Responses to “Bullshit On: “What’s Love Got to Do With It””

  1. Suburban kid

    1. If there was a post for every song we didn’t like, it would be a very active blog.

    2. Was anyone praising What’s Love Got to Do With It?

    3. Not a massive Tina Turner fan, but I remember thinking she was pretty exciting when I was about 10 watching live clips of her in TV commercials for greatest hits LPs.

    4. I also did not enjoy her 80s comeback, although I admired her very much for doing so.

    5. I do love this one track from the early 60s

  2. I was no big fan of Tina in ths 80s, but you’ve got to hand it to her and Britten and Lyle for royally cashing in and making a monster record.

    Watching that old video also makes me wonder: Was Tina the first “Cougar” in rock ‘n roll?

    This song pre-dates Bonnie Raitt’s comeback and peek-a-boo video with Dennis Quaid on “Thing Called Love.” I am trying to think of other 60s or early 70s female artists who played up a more mature sexuality before Tina, but I can’t think of any who had any success.

  3. diskojoe

    That was a great run of mid-70s top 40 cheese, Mr. Mod.My local oldies station mixes it up. I hear a great ’60s song like “You Baby” by the Turtles & the next song would be ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It” or something of that ilk.

    Also, I have that BBC In Concert show of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance that has that Gallager & Lyle performance on bootleg DVD which is great. Maybe we should have a thread of those performers who did cool things in the beginning before “selling out”.

    Finally, that Shane Victorino is really something!

  4. Re #2: You missed all that “What’s Love Got to Do With It” chatter that went on last week? 🙂

  5. Rock’ First Cougar. You may be onto something, funoka.

  6. It’s so good to read of reports of Shane’s heroics.

    It is interesting to find out what some successful people whose best-known works I don’t like did before they made any significant splash. I’m not saying the likes of Britten and Lyle “sold out”; maybe this is what they truly aspired to. However, their earlier stuff was further removed from their hit songs as disco Bee Gees was from early Bee Gees.

  7. I just remembered the other mid-’70s song that was part of this killer memory lane set: John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back,” the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter, which was especially appropriate because our dinner out was in large part motivated to relieve my wife’s disappointment with having to return to school the next day.

  8. Ronnie Spector did the “Take Me Home Tonight” duet with Eddie Money and looked fantastic in the video — but that was later — 1986. Private Dancer was ’84.

  9. cliff sovinsanity

    “Welcome Back” evokes a few different emotions at the same time. Musically it bounces happily and John Sebastian’s aw-shucks delivery makes the song easy to swallow. Yet, from the opening piano chords the song also evokes a lot of melancholy. Not only because of the lyrical content about returning home after failed success, but also from the scenes of Brooklyn depicted during the theme of the TV show. Every time I hear the song I can’t help but think of spray painted subway cars rolling down the track.
    Also, y’all are being too harsh on Tina for putting a decently written pop song that was unfortunately buffed and polish with 80s synth.

  10. Maybe Ann-Margret in “Tommy” gets it.

  11. Every time I hear that song I think of the time when John Sebastian played it on Saturday Night Live and was so baked that he started laughing and had to restart the song. Unfortunately, I can’t find the whole clip on youtube.

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