When Tina Turner died on Wednesday after a half-century career full of legendary anthems, many remembered her as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But the chart-topping hit for which she will perhaps be most remembered isn’t a rock song—and that fact almost got in the way of the song ever being released.
“What’s Love Got to Do With It,” which debuted in 1984, spent 28 weeks on the Billboard chart—including three at No. 1, making it one of just six top-10 hits from Turner’s solo career. The single went gold, and the album on which it appeared topped 5 million units sold; the song also provided the title for a Turner biopic of the same name, for which lead actress Angela Bassett was nominated for an Oscar.
But “What’s Love Got To Do With It” was different from Turner’s previous hits.
The singer, whose career launched in the 1960s and ’70s, first entered the limelight thanks to the success of her collaboration with then husband Ike Turner. The musical duo released songs like “River Deep-Mountain High,” “Nutbush City Limits,” and “Proud Mary,” which quickly became classics.
The end of their marriage, after years of domestic abuse that Turner went public about in the 1980s, followed closely on the heels of her having been dropped by her record label, Capitol Records. Turner credited David Bowie, who was also signed to Capitol, for helping her get re-signed in 1983. Turner then released her fifth solo album “Private Dancer,” which featured “What’s Love Got To Do With It” and launched a new, triumphant phase of her career.
But Turner originally had reservations about the song. “Did you know that when I first read the lyrics for ‘What’s love got to do with it,’ I rejected the song?,” Turner wrote in a 2021 Instagram post. The artist was wary about the fact that the single fit more into the pop genre instead of her typical R&B and rock and roll, even going so far as to call the song “terrible,” according to the 2021 HBO Documentary Tina.
“What’s Love Got To Do With It,” that documentary revealed, was only released after Turner’s manager, Roger Davies, pushed for Turner to meet music producer Terry Britten.
Britten collaborated with engineer John Hudson to rework the song to better fit Turner’s style, convincing her to sing it with a softer tone than the usual belt she was known for, the Washington Post reports. It worked: “What’s Love Got to Do With It” went on to win three Grammys—including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
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