Top Tina Turner Songs of the '80s

Despite her great success during the '60s and '70s with musical partner and then-husband Ike Turner, the indomitable Tina Turner did not appear poised at the start of the '80s to have continued success as a solo artist. However, in 1984 a brilliant combination of her powerhouse soul pipes with slick pop and rock production transformed Turner quickly into an '80s music icon and major hitmaker. Choosing songs shrewdly and carefully for a series of three highly popular albums during the decade's latter half, Turner emerged triumphantly from years of struggle for both personal and professional independence. Here's a chronological look at the best Tina Turner solo songs of the '80s.

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"What's Love Got to Do With It"

Tina Turner
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

For this '80s classic, Turner certainly retained the sultry rasp of her raucous soul singing past, but she also embraced a smooth pop approach that hit the mainstream music jackpot in the summer of 1984. The song itself (written by seasoned professional songwriters Terry Britten and Graham Lyle) boasts a nearly impeccable structure, lending itself well to versatile pop instrumentation. This kind of broad appeal helped push this deserving track to the top of the pop charts in North America and Australia and to at least a Top 10 position in practically every country in Europe. Ultimately, very little about this song doesn't reach for and very nearly capture multi-faceted music perfection. And this remains true despite years of radio saturation, no small feat there.

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"Better Be Good to Me"

TinaTurner Better
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Although this fine mid-tempo rocker failed to reach the pop music chart heights of its predecessor, it may serve as an even better showcase for Turner's collection of gifts. '80s songwriter-for-hire Holly Knight helped compose a number of mainstream rock classics of the era, but this one simply scorches even as its sultry, quiet moments build thick mood and tension. The lyrics certainly touch on themes of female empowerment that fit Turner perfectly, but without the artist's assured performance, the track would not come close to the sublime level it reaches. The music video features some delightfully theatrical pantomime interaction with collaborator Cy Curnin, frontman for The Fixx, who was one of several prime session men to play on.

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"Private Dancer"

Tina Turner Private Dancer
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Turner continued her trend of choosing songs composed by established, revered artists by taking on this jazzy tune written by Mark Knopfler and originally intended for his band, Dire Straits. Ultimately, however, Knopfler's belief that the song far better suited a female singer turned out to be utterly warranted, especially in light of the resulting classic single recorded by Turner. Her signature tough, sexy persona works perfectly here to communicate not only the bravado but also the vulnerability that distinguish the first-person title character. Once again, Turner dances nimbly around and through several genres to create, in the end, a polished and emotionally engaging performance. The song's music video tries vainly to suggest that the song's lyrics concern a ballroom dancer rather than a stripper, but listeners are smart enough to see through that nonsense.

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"We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)"

Tina Turner We Don't Need Another Hero
Soundtrack Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

As soundtrack music goes, this gentle, adult contemporary-inflected track from the 1985 Mel Gibson blockbuster sequel is certainly a curious one. Ultimately, the song's anthemic chorus reminds listeners clearly that this is a cinematic theme song, but otherwise, the Britten-Lyle composition remains remarkably composed and subtle. That doesn't mean it comes close to the level of quality found on Private Dancer, but Turner's vocal performance comes off earnest and passionate enough to help the tune hold up quite well three decades later. The presence of a children's chorus at song's end is almost as puzzling as Turner's presence in the film, but this is still pretty good mid-'80s movie rock.

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"Typical Male"

Tina Turner Typical Male
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Turner's massive LP chart success certainly continued with her 1986 release, Break Every Rule. This lead-off single peaked at No. 2 on the pop charts, even if it turned out to be Turner's final Top 10 single of the decade. The song's strong and confident groove proves that its mega-hit status was well-deserved, but the impact of Turner's sultry, defiant presence makes certain this track never loses momentum. Smooth production values occasionally sound dated and artificial here, but Turner's genuine soul integrity eventually wins out over excessive '80s music impulses.

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"Back Where You Started"

Tina Turner Break
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Despite her certified oldies music past, Turner always seemed to feel comfortable within the realm of mainstream rock. That's why her pair of '80s collaborations with Canadian pop/rock hitmaker Bryan Adams (the other being 1985's big hit "It's Only Love") work so effortlessly well. In the case of this single, also written by Adams and his songwriting partner, Jim Vallance, Turner veers almost into hard rock, drawing extra fuel and passion from muscular guitar riffs, squealing leads and big, bruising drum beats. Turner deftly sounds equally convincing as a rock singer as she does a vocalist well-matched with dance, pop or soul music. No wonder she enjoyed such a cross-genre period of consistent success during the '80s.

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"What You Get Is What You See"

Tina Turner What You Get
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Speaking of genre surprises, Turner manages to take this Britten-Lyle song into Juice Newton country-pop territory. That sounds like an outlandish experiment bound for failure until the song is actually heard in all its seamlessly earnest glory. Turner's vocals have always been endlessly sassy, and decades before modern country music followed suit by embracing women en masse, this song effectively creates a winning country-pop-rock formula. But that's not to suggest Turner here delivers anything resembling cynical, prefabricated fluff. Her performance sells completely the premise of an artist capable of transcending gender and race simultaneously.

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"The Best"

Tina Turner Foreign Affair
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Though embraced too often in the quarter-century since its release as celebratory fodder for sporting events or inspirational montages, this shimmering single from 1989's Foreign Affair undoubtedly deserves notice as a key mainstream rock anthem of its time. The song's chorus probably comes across as too catchy for its own good, as the central hook and keyboard power guitar template certainly lack any sense of subtlety. Still, the songwriting here from Holly Knight and Mike Chapman walks a treacherous line with aplomb, managing somehow to maintain highly listenable status despite years of excessive prominence on loudspeakers everywhere.