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Tina Turner: Contextualizing Visionaries

Vintage magazines offer context and evidence to help commemorate Turner's legacy as an influential artist.

By OG Collection Published about a year ago 3 min read
Top Story - May 2023
Turner on the cover of Longevity, December 1993.

Vintage magazines from the catalog of General Media reveal that while our understanding of Tina Turner’s style and eventual impact deepened over her lifetime, her greatness was evident and influential immediately. While looking back we might assume there were infinite write ups about the splash made by Turner in the 1970s, instead her ubiquitous persona was referenced as an influence on other artists and pop culture itself.

In the March 1976 issue of Penthouse music critic Vernon Gibbs provided an introduction to Betty Davis, writing that “seeing Betty Davis for the first time is like seeing your first X-rated movie when you were expecting Walt Disney.” Gibbs draws a direct parallel to Turner, writing that “only Tina Turner and the Ikettes were daring enough to take sexuality one step closer to the ultimate wipe-out that Betty Davis provides.” Other mentions in the magazines cite Blair Sabol’s 1975 article “I Was an Ikette” for Esquire, where Sabol peeked behind the curtain of Tina and Ike’s turbulent revue, and reference Turner’s role in “Tommy” that same year.

Reading the cultural columns of these magazines reveal how visionary artists were received during their time and recognized for breaking the mold, not just with a hindsight bias applied where their success seems inevitable. Two reviews in the August 1974 issue of Viva exemplify this, as Barry Gewen and Timothy Ferris review new albums by Joni Mitchell and Lou Reed respectively with both uncertainty and ultimately admiration.

Viva, August 1974.

“Sad-Eyed Lady of the Canyon” by Barry Gewen

In this excerpt, Gewen reviews Joni Mitchell’s sixth album Court and Spark, which ultimately received widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. The album was ranked 110 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2020.

Quite simply, Court and Spark is the work of a woman and an artist at the end of her tether. The record is so grim and depressing, so devoid of the "entertainment" quality normally associated with pop music, that one is practically compelled to search outside the rock world for appropriate comparisons, perhaps to Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony – once accurately described, in a moment of acute critical insight, as sounding like the composer "wanted to take all his f*cking music and go jump in the f*cking lake." Those who professed to hear more both-sides-now, you-gotta-take-the-bad-with-the-good philosophy in Court and Spark's songs must have been playing John Denver by mistake.

But does all this mean Court and Spark is a depressing dud, a threnodic failure? Only if you're the kind of person who listens to nothing but upbeat music, in which case you'd probably be happier with an album of Doublemint commercials. Indeed, those critics who have called Court and Spark the record of the year may well be right. It undoubtedly stands beyond Planet Waves, the one other serious candidate so far. Without question, Dylan's album was more eagerly awaited; it has sold more copies, and God knows it has received more attention. Yet one measures pop music in terms of down-to-earth directness, immediacy, and relevance, and whatever virtues they do possess, the truth remains that the may-you-stay-forever-young benedictions from Bob have all the relevance of a Nixon State of the Union message. Court and Spark, with its honest if shattered emotions and authentic if bleak songs, wins the contest hands down.

Viva, August 1974.

“Lou Reed” by Timothy Ferris

Music critic Ferris moved Viva’s “Music” column from West to East coast in his review of Lou Reed’s live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal, which peaked at No. 45 on the Billboard 200.

People given to shouting, "Turn that damn thing down!" may not enjoy Lou Reed's live album. Neither may those who say, "I don't know how you can stand to live in New York." The subjects covered in Rock ’n’ Roll Animal, a concert record best played at painfully high volume levels, are drugs, polysexuality, desperation, alienation – all the things that lend color to life in the big city.

Listeners who are twisted and weird enough to get into all this, however, will be rewarded with one of the best rock albums of the year.

lt's only fair to add that enthusiasm for Reed may cost you friends. Some people have found it impossible to perceive why I keep destroying nice, quiet evenings of conversation by playing Rock 'n' Roll Animal so loud that the speaker fuses blow. Others to whom I sent copies of Berlin as Christmas presents assumed I intended to insult them or break up their marriages. And the guy who services my stereo system won't even return my calls anymore. So be warned.

Magazines and other historic materials help contextualize the real impact of artists widely revered today, helping to understand the boundary-pushing work of visionaries such as Tina Turner.

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  • Marygreatoabout a year ago

    Your beat , context is wonderful

  • Kendall Defoe about a year ago

    Thank you for this!

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  • D. ALEXANDRA PORTERabout a year ago

    Thank you for the context.

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