For my entire album-listening life I’ve struggled with interpretative records (i.e. albums where every song is a cover or, at least, not written by the performer) which didn’t explicitly market themselves as covers record. I think I have struggled with this kind of music so much because of the music I listened to in my teens, where songwriting was given so much weight (whether or not those songs had actually been partially lifted from another artist). Over the years I’ve become much more open to these records because I recognize that not every singer is a good songwriter (or even capable of it or wiling to do it) and not every songwriter should really sing their songs. But I still have this ingrained prejudice against performers who don’t write anything, and I have a hard time putting it aside.
If I rationalize I say one reason why I have a problem with these types of albums is I’m left with judging the interpretation, not necessarily the song itself. And it’s often the case that I’ve never heard another version of the song, especially when that song was written for the performer, or that performer is the first person to the record the song.
Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for Tina Turner, I’ve heard a bunch of these songs in other versions. And I gotta say that I don’t love her version of “Let’s Stay Together”, but I like it more than her version of “1984”. (About that: why?!?!?!) I’m listening to the international version of the record which also includes a rather crappy cover of Help!” So listen to the American version of the record. “Steel Claw” is actually alright and it’s on both. The one I haven’t heard before is “I Can’t Stand the Rain” so I cannot comment on her version except that I don’t think it’s anywhere near as mediocre as the covers of the songs I do know, excepting her version of “Steel Claw” which, again, is okay.
The remaining songs were written for this record, as far as I know. They all strike me as being better than the explicit covers if only because I don’t have superior versions to compare them to. Also, her versions of two of these songs are obviously the definitive ones. (Though I must say I am not a fan of the title track as a song, though I suspect that if a version by Knopfler exists, this is better than that.)
There’s nothing wrong with Turner’s performance throughout the record; it’s what sold this to millions of people. The whole thing is incredibly ’80s though, which makes it feel like she’s working against the music a lot of the time.
I just don’t get what the big deal is and I wonder to what extent the narrative (such as there was in 1984) helped. (Though everyone collectively losing their minds over primitive electronic instruments for 15 years or so definitely also played a part.)