Tina Turner could turn a sweet whisper into a fiery roar, giving us heaven and hell in one powerful breath. From her early days stealing the spotlight from Ike Turner to her sensational solo career, she shined across a variety of stages, genres, and decades, more than earning her nickname, the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Along the way she also became a powerful symbol of resilience, escaping an abusive relationship, rebuilding her career from scratch, and overcoming industry skepticism. Multiple surgeries and a 2013 stroke temporarily slowed her down, but she returned to the stage with a renewed energy and the same defining, indomitable spirit.
Turner passed away May 24th at the age of 83, but her vocal innovations can be heard in every new generation of singer, even as her hits continue to enliven dance floors and pop off on playlists. Cutting her accomplishments down to a mere 10 songs was no easy feat, and Turner fans could easily come up with five or six different songs to round out the back-half of the list. But when it comes to the best of the best, we don’t anticipate too much debate, as they are locks to make just about any list of the best tracks of the 20th century. Check out out Tina Turner’s 10 best songs below.
— Wren Graves
10. “GoldenEye” (GoldenEye: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1995)
The best Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan also came with one of the all-time great theme songs, and that’s due less to the composition by Bono and The Edge than to Turner’s towering performance. She practically bites off the word “golden” and eases into “eye,” in the process adding just as much texture as those iconic horn blasts. Her conversational verses are a masterclass in restraint, and the haunting coo of “You’ll never know,” is like pulling back the hammer before she fires off, “Now I’ve got you in my sight!” Few people could claim, as Turner could, that she out-cooled Bond in his own movie. — W. Graves
09. “Typical Male” (Breaking Every Rule, 1986)
With Phil Collins on drums and the perfect red dress secured for the music video, Turner had a hit on her hands with “Typical Male,” a 1986 release that landed just shy of No. 1 on the charts, peaking at No. 2 for three consecutive weeks. Turner’s discography, and her story as a whole, is inextricably tied to themes of empowerment and liberation, and “Typical Male” hinges on a cheeky, self-assured admission: “I’m just using my female attraction on a typical male.” The fact that the song also leaves room for a saxophone solo is enough to earn its place on this list. — Mary Siroky
08. “The Best” (Foreign Affairs, 1989)
Bonnie Tyler may have sung it first, but Tina Turner’s version is the only one that lives up to the promise of the title. The lead single from 1989’s Foreign Affair is a blast of exultation, the kind of thing that church hymns strive for. Her vocal prowess can be heard in the little stutter she puts into “I’m stuck on your heart,” and the dizzy swirl on “I get washed away.” When she uncorks on the hook, it’s so thrilling that audiences for decades shouted those words, “You’re simply the best,” right back at her. — W. Graves
07. “Nutbush City Limits” (Nutbush City Limits, 1973)
Turner may have grown up in “a quiet, little old community/ A one-horse town,” but her ode to it is built for big-city stomping. Filled with horns and a squealing Moog, the track hit No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the kind of funk rock bop that bridged the gap between ’60s soul and ’70s disco. Turner would record multiple versions over her career, but it hit hardest when performed live, where it leaned deep into its Southern rock swagger. “Nutbush City Limits” remains a staple of Australian dance culture, with the “The Nutbush” line dance even making its way into a TikTok trend in recent years. — Ben Kaye
06. “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome)” (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, 1985)
Tracks like this are why people of a certain age really miss a good original soundtrack song. Does a post-apocalyptic desert actioner centered in a town run on pig feces and featuring a two-person character named MasterBlaster call for a power ballad? It sure as hell did in the ’80s, and Turner delivered a classic alongside her top-notch performance as Aunty Entity in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Sure, the lyrics don’t make a lick of sense outside the context of the film (a feat in and of itself to capture the thematic subtext of the movie in song), but that chorus always hits. — B. Kaye
05. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” (Private Dancer, 1984)
Few do a cover like Tina Turner did a cover. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” was originally written and recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973, going on to become the soul singer’s biggest hit. When Turner put her spin on it for Private Dancer in 1984, however, it became a new wave bop unlike any other. We all know that Turner’s voice is one of the most powerful instruments in music history, and the control she has over it on this track is one of the finest demonstrations of its range. Even if the beat wasn’t complete fire, Turner’s legato runs on the chorus alone would make this an easy Top 10 inclusion. — B. Kaye
04. “River Deep – Mountain High” (River Deep – Mountain High, 1966)
Among Turner’s great gifts — and, to be clear, there were many — the sheer emotion she was able to communicate in her voice is certainly one of the most memorable. While forever the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there’s so much Tennessee spirit woven into much of Turner’s music, including the imagery in the lyrics of this classic track. “When I was a little girl, I had a rag doll/ Only doll I’ve ever owned,” she sings, offering a fleeting window into her humble origins in the tiny town of Nutbush. While now considered a classic, “River Deep – Mountain High” initially didn’t perform well in the States, first taking hold in Europe before slowly earning recognition, and eventually, cementing itself as one of the most notable songs of its era. — M. Siroky
03. “Proud Mary” (Workin’ Together, 1971)
“We never ever do nothing nice and easy,” Turner promises at the start of “Proud Mary,” a statement she makes good on over the course of the following five minutes. “Proud Mary” offers one of the most thrilling builds to a song of all time, increasing momentum until it reaches a fever pitch only Turner could achieve onstage. While a cover of a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the track will forever be associated with the one and only Tina Turner; it’s a perfect showcase of her vocal ability, her musical sensibilities, and her unbelievably powerful energy that comes through even on the audio recording. — M. Siroky
02. “Private Dancer” (Private Dancer, 1984)
“Private Dancer,” is an epic seven-minute track that somehow still ends sooner than we’d like. Originally penned by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler for their 1982 album, Love over Gold, it was held for a female vocalist who could do it justice. Turner did more than that. “Private Dancer” demonstrates her dizzying vocal range as she sings in a lower register before the song builds up to an epic guitar solo and her powerhouse belting. — Sun Noor
01. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” (Private Dancer, 1984)
“What’s Love Got to Do with It,” is undoubtedly one of the greatest songs ever written, and for many, it’s the track that introduced them to Turner’s exhilarating discography. The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll made her big comeback with her chart topping solo album Private Dancer, which launched her back into the spotlight, bigger than ever. Turner expanded her sonic palette by exploring contemporary pop sounds and incorporating synth elements into the mix, and along with just about every other instrument ever created, it paired well with her soulful and emotive vocals. “What’s Love Got to Do with It” may have an ambivalent attitude towards love itself, but after one listen, the song will take your whole heart. — S. Noor