Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25: Ike & Tina Turner, "Proud Mary"

Artist: Ike & Tina Turner
Song: "Proud Mary"
Album: Workin' Together
Year: 1971

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Throughout the long history of recorded music, there are a handful of names that regardless of the generation or musical preference, stand as iconic.  Simply due to their massive impact on the world of music in general, these names have managed to transcend such boundaries, and they are almost more historical in nature than being strictly related to "only" the world of music.  While some of these names have faded a bit over the years, there is no question that the names of Ike and Tina Turner command as much respect and reverence today as they did during the peak of their popularity well over three decades ago.  Though both of them certainly made names for themselves as solo artists, it was much of the work that they did as a team that made them the legends that they remain to this day, and all across the 1960's and 1970's, one can find examples of their amazing energy and musical talents, and few artists from any era can even remotely compare to the sound they created.  However, it was after they had been established for a number of years that the duo went after what is one of their most memorable recordings, as they attempted to make a cover that would outshine the original.  Though this is without question one of the more difficult things one can attempt within the world of music, one would be hard pressed to say Ike and Tina Turner did not succeed with anything less than massive success with their 1971 take on the now-classic song, "Proud Mary."

In many ways, it is almost impossible to remember a time when this version of "Proud Mary" did not exist, and yet the reality is that the "original" take had been released only two years earlier by Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Truth be told, the Ike and Tina Turner version of this song is a pefect representation of everything that made them such a legendary pairing, as the song begins with one of the slowest, deepest grooves that has ever been recorded.  The way that "Proud Mary" seems to slowly bounce along enables an amazing amount of tension to be created, and it is the way that this tension gives way which pushed the track to truly a legendary status.  It is in fact the second half of the orchestration composed by Ike Turner almost completely buries the original version, as the energy and sonic arrangement is far beyond that of nearly every other recording in the entire history of music.  If there was ever a song that one could claim "explodes off of the record," then this is it, as the moment that the band kicks in (following the deep grooving first half), it is impossible to not be completely drawn into the excitement and all out feeling of a party.  The energy never lets up for even a moment, and it is the way that the horns combine with the bass and array of other sounds which almost instantly creates a sound and presence that defies description and to this day has not been equaled in any sense of the word.

When one combines this sensational sonic arrangement with the absolutely unmistakable voice of Tina Turner, it is almost impossible for the results to be anything less than stellar, and one can easily argue that it is this performance which defines her entire career.  Much like the musical arrangement shows both sides of the talent of Ike Turner, it is within the vocal performance which displays the equally impressive sides of Tina Turner's voice.  Throughout the first part of "Proud Mary," Tina shows the absolutely blissful, soul-styled growl that set her so far apart from her peers, and it is the soft beauty within this portion of the song which helps to heighten the mood, as well as appease the fans of much of her early work.  However, much like the music of the second half of "Proud Mary" is the highlight, the same can be said of Tina's vocal performance, as she removes any limits or apprehension and allows her voice to soar as it wishes, often reaching never before heard heights.  The power that comes through as she borders on shouting is in many ways everything that makes the "art" of singing so fantastic, as one can feel and hear the sheer joy within her performance, and this vitality and affirmation of life never loses any of its impact even after repeated listenings.  This ability to "never get old" is what cements the place of both the song and vocal performance as the finest in all of music history, and there is never any mistaking this extraordinary moment that has never been equaled.

In reality, one can count the number of cover songs that have out-done the original on a single hand.  This is without question one of the most rare occurrences in recorded music, and the fact that Ike and Tina Turner were able to succeed in this task, especially given the short time following the original, is a testament to their exceptional talents, as well as their unique musical style.  It is the reality that the song has such contrasting parts, yet manages to work perfectly as a single piece that makes "Proud Mary" all the more impressive, and though many other artists have attempted to copy this musical formula, none have come even remotely close to the sound and power found here.  Whether it is the way that the horns seem to create an intoxicating second vocal line, or the loose, walking bassline, the music that runs though manages to display everything that is great about rock and soul music, and there is simply no parallel from any other period in music history.  When one combines this with the iconic vocal performance from Tina Turner, the song is quickly vaulted to a level rarely achieved, and in many ways, this rendition of "Proud Mary" defies any sort of musical classification.  The fact of the matter is, regardless of ones' age or musical preference, the power and presence on this track are impossible to ignore, and it is this reality that has turned Ike and Tina Turner's 1971 cover of "Proud Mary" into one of the greatest songs in the entire history of recorded music.

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