Proud Mary - Ike and Tina Turner
Having spent the sixties releasing albums with an even mix of originals and soul covers, Ike and Turner, with their 1970 album, "Come Together", began to cover the songs of white rock artists such as (in this case) the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
I sometimes think that Tina Turner proclaimed herself a rock singer because there was less competition for the label "queen of rock 'n' roll" than the equivalent title in soul where Aretha Franklin reigned (and still reigns) supreme. Aretha, too, did the best covers of pop classics, transforming them into different songs, suffusing them with soul and gospel, making them so different from the originals as not to invite competitive comparison. Listen to her recordings of "Let it Be", "Bridge Over Troubled Water\" , "You're All I need to Get By" and "The Tracks of my Tears", to name just a few examples.
Ike and Tina did something different: they reclaimed the music, took it back to its roots, reminding us where where it came from, before bringing it right bang up to date in their own inimitable, barnstorming way, as is illustrated by their rendition of John Fogerty's "Proud Mary" from their 1970 album "Working Together".
Ike and Tina had worked with Phil Spector in 1966, producing their UK smash hit "River Deep - Mountain High" and accompanying album of the same name. Legend has it that perfectionist producer Spector banned Ike from the recording studio while cutting the vocal with Tina, making her record it literally hundreds of times before he was satisfied. The song was a flop in the US, with public and critics alike finding the merging of Tina's powerful vocal and Spector's "wall of sound" an overblown and cluttered mess, a battle where neither came out on top.
Three years' later, Spector produced the Checkmates' cover version of "Proud Mary" which was a US hit, so Ike was making a point when, just10 months on, they cut "Proud Mary" themselves. Where Spector tended to "overproduce", Ike did the opposite, often underselling Tina's voice with arrangements that were too spare. So he must have gloated when their "Proud Mary" outperformed the Checkmates' disc in the US chart, reaching number 4 to their topspot of 69 on the Hot 100.
The original narrative of the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit tells of a drifter who has eschewed the daily grind of regular work in the city and instead found home and happiness on a Mississippi riverboat. Ike, who was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, reaches further into his cultural past than just the passenger and freight roles of the steamboat era, evoking more particularly the cadences and harmonies of the showboats of the 19th and early 20th centuries, but rewriting them so that they bring out the gospel and bluesy influences that are now the heart of American music. In the first half of the record for once it is Ike himself and the Ikettes (Tina's backing singers) who steal the show, reminding us that although the audiences and performers on the showboats were exclusively white, the workers, the stevedores, waiters, porters and crew were usually black.
If we're in doubt as to whose music this originally was, and where it came from, Tina's thunderous finale leaves us in no doubt. You don't fight Tina's vocal, you don't imprison it in sound; you release it, let it run free. Eat your heart out Phil Spector. Even the controlling Ike could see that.