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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Private Dancer"

Tina Turner - Private Dancer (1984)

Much has been written about Ms. Turner's legs, divorce, solo career and more. Let's try to focus on the song.

This is the full 7:11 length album cut. The radio edit is less than four minutes long. The song was written by Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler for his band. They recorded it in 1982, but he ultimately decided that the lyrics didn't work for a male vocalist. So it was shelved without a vocal added to it. The lyrics are about a high class prostitute; though Tina Turner claimed that she thought it was about performing for private parties for rich people as she had done in the past.

The song sat in the vault until Tina's manager and Knopfler's manager got together and decided Tina should sing the song. Legal obligations meant that the band had to record a new version for Tina to sing over; and in an odd twist of fate, Knopfler was unavailable to perform on the track. Mega star guitarist Jeff Beck was asked to play guitar instead. He provided a solo that Knopfler thought was rubbish. I like it, though I'm not sure if it goes with the rest of the tune.

So let's talk about the tune, it's a soulful song from the 80s, so you know we're going to get some sax. Sure enough, before the twenty second mark we've got a saxophone in the picture. Before the vocal comes in, the song sounds like a smooth jazz/quiet storm style lite jazz piece. The verses and choruses sound very different. In the verse, Tina's voice is low, stays in one small part of her range and the music is all in a minor key. The chorus gives us a much larger part of Tina's range, and it fluctuates between major and minor keys. The piano plays a major part in both sections. Louder than the guitar, holding together the chords and giving embellishment.

My favorite part is the bridge between the second and third chorus. The first part is a vocal part with funky fuzzy electric bass going on under it. Then we get a sax solo that is very reminiscent of the early sax bit, and every bit a "sexy 80s jazz sax solo". you could play just that part and ask people where it was from and they would name a dozen different TV shows or movies with slinky women, maybe a murder, a scene in the rain; and all of them would be from the 80s. The guitar solo that comes after it (with Hammond organ accompaniment) is slinky and sexy and I like it, but by this point in the song, I've forgotten it's a Tina Turner R+B song and have begun to feel like it's just a smooth jazz number from a forgotten album. It doesn't really sound "dancer" to me, though the "private" part shines.

The end is so repetitive. The verse is a repeat, then she sings parts of the chorus over and over again. I think the album version could have been cut short, but still left in the solos. The radio edit eliminates the sax but leaves in the guitar solo.

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