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The soul of Ike & Tina Turner

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The pop world has focused for so long on the remarkably sensual energy and excitement of Ike & Tina Turner's old live show that it is often easy to forget the duo also made some dynamic records. But even if you have wanted to go back and check up on the pair's records from the 1960s and 1970s, it was difficult to know just which "best of" collection to buy because the Turners recorded for so many labels.

Time Life has finally put together what it bills as Ike & Tina's "first-ever complete career retrospective." Released just weeks before Ike's death Dec. 12 at age 76, the three-disc boxed set includes tunes from each of the Turners' most noteworthy label affiliations.

The results are mixed, but the highlights, mostly taken from their early days on Sue Records, offer astonishingly raw slices of soul music; music often as frenetic as Tina's hip-shaking moves on stage.

Though she proved to be a stylish and controlled R&B-pop singer after leaving Ike in the mid-'70s, Tina's vocals in the Sue sessions reflected a desperate urgency reminiscent of Janis Joplin.

The team's first single was "A Fool in Love," which reached No. 2 on the R&B charts in 1960. Even today, Tina's sudden vocal outbursts on the record are startling.

The great misconception in the Ike & Tina story, however, is that Ike rode into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 on Tina's coattails. In truth, Ike was a highly regarded talent scout, guitarist, pianist and record producer long before he met Tina (real name: Anna Mae Bullock) in 1957.

He was a guiding force, for instance, behind the 1951 single "Rocket 88" that some pop observers point to as the first rock 'n' roll record. He not only gave Bullock the name Tina Turner (years before they were married in 1962), but he also is credited with developing Tina's sexy, larger-than-life stage persona.

Clad in dresses as skimpy as the law allowed in concert, Tina shook her hips with mesmerizing force to some of the most seductive beats this side of James Brown or Prince. The hips, of course, were Tina's; the beat was Ike's.

Ike & Tina Turner

"The Ike & Tina Turner Story 1960-1975"

Time Life

The back story: Tina's film biography, "What's Love Got to Do With It," was a huge success, partly because of the dramatic story of Tina reaching even greater stardom after rebelling against Ike's physical abuse and leaving the marriage and the Revue.

But Ike's own life could make an equally dramatic film. When the Mississippi native (real name: Izear Luster Turner) was 5, he saw white men drag his father from the family house and beat him so badly that he eventually died of the injuries. The dispute, Ike said, had something to do with a woman.

Ike found comfort and joy in music, and he formed the Kings of Rhythm band during high school. He was just 19 when "Rocket 88," an upbeat boogie-woogie number, went to No. 1 on the R&B charts. The musician realized early that he wasn't an especially strong frontman (he didn't even sing lead on "Rocket 88"), so he was always searching for singers for his band. That's where Anna Mae Bullock came in.

Though he wrote "A Fool for You" for someone else, Bullock talked Ike into letting her take a stab at it in the recording studio, Collin Escott writes in the set's liner notes. Her screams were so loud during the session that the studio owner was afraid she was going to ruin the microphone. But Ike was so impressed that he sent the recording to Sue Records in New York, which released it.

And why the name Tina?

According to the liner notes, Bullock was dating a saxophonist who had left the band and Ike was worried that the saxophonist might take Anna Mae for his own band if the record was a hit. So Ike released the record under the name Ike & Tina Turner, figuring he could just bring in another singer "as Tina" if Anna Mae jumped ship.

The music: The first disc is devoted largely to the Sue material, and that's where Tina's voice is the most striking. Unfortunately, the version of "River Deep-Mountain High" isn't the original 1966 Phil Spector-produced one that contained arguably Tina's most memorable vocal ever.

She still sings powerfully in the 1973 live version included in the set, but the band doesn't push her the way the Spector musicians did.

The second disc has several cover versions of R&B and rock songs, including John Fogerty's "Proud Mary," which was the duo's only Top 10 pop single. Other remakes include the Beatles' "Come Together" and the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women." Though creditable, the tracks are not as striking as the early Sue tunes.

The third disc is a live concert featuring several other cover tunes, including the Dusty Springfield hit "Son of a Preacher Man" and Otis Redding's "Respect." The music is taut, but the disc reflects little of the heat of the visual live show. Too bad the set didn't include a DVD from the period.

Further study: To hear Tina on her own, try "Tina Turner/Simply the Best" on Capitol. It features 18 songs, including the solo hit "What's Love Got to Do With It" and the Spector-produced version of "River Deep-Mountain High."

For Ike's solo work, there's "I Like Ike! The Best of Ike Turner" on Rhino Records. It starts with "Rocket 88" and goes through tracks recorded on several labels and featuring various vocalists. Even if he's not singing, you can still feel Ike's scorching R&B stamp on the tracks.

Backtracking, a biweekly feature, focuses on CD reissues and other pop culture items of historical interest.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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