Tina Turner – Two People
In pop, there’s always a temptation to repeat a winning formula isn’t there? If something works once then there’s a strong business case for doing it over and over again until it stops working. We see this most obviously with samples: when Rob Bass and DJ E-Z Rock’s It Takes Two hit it big in 1988 with the “woo! yeah!” loop (a “woo” from Bobby Byrd and a “yeah” from James Brown, as originally heard on Lyn Collins’ Think (About It)), soon everyone was at it. But there comes a point when enough is enough, and that point came when Andrew Lloyd Webber teamed up with Timmy Mallett as Bombalurina for a cover of Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, which inexplicably reached no.1 in the UK in 1990. The fad was quickly over after that.
What is true of samples is also true of songwriting and production teams – when you’ve had your biggest ever hit with a particular combination then the obvious thing to do is to go back to source and do it all again. But as often as it works – see most of Belinda Carlisle’s career – it frequently doesn’t, as we’re about to see in this case of a huge star, re-teamed with the writers and producer responsible for her biggest ever hit, for an equally amazing song.
The resurgence of Tina Turner in the early 1980s is obviously one of pop’s greatest comeback stories, crowned by the achievement that is What’s Love Got to Do With It? Written by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle, and produced by Britten, it’s probably the best ever example of the right song for the right artist at the right time, and it helped propel the Private Dancer album to 30 million worldwide sales. So for the follow up LP, 1986’s Break Every Rule, the pair were drafted in again and occupied the whole of side one.
I suspect Private Dancer was – in Britain at least – viewed as a sort of ‘happy ending’ for Tina, and the emergence of Break Every Rule seemed to catch us rather on the back foot. Lead single, the ace but very poppy Typical Male peaked at a disappointing no.33 here. So for the follow-up it was back to the winning formula – a mid-tempo, world-weary ballad that played to every one of Tina’s strengths and ticked all the What’s Love boxes. It’s a tale of Two People.
I love this song – it’s a right old slow-burner. I always like Tina best when she’s in ‘woman of the world who’s seen it all’ mode and is slightly boxed in by a gentle production. With fewer opportunities to unleash the full rock potential of her voice, you end up with a measured, stately performance peppered with glimpses of power, all the more effective for their scarcity (see “looooove one another” at 1:56 and “shelter on a rainy day” at 3:05 to get an idea of what I mean). Two People is a song full of longing and hope in the face of adversity, and these moments are like a dam that’s just about to burst but never quite does. I think it’s hugely effective and absolutely one of her best moments.
I’m quite sure executives at EMI/Capitol were of the same opinion and assumed that the song, with its reassuringly familiar production and established theme would restore Tina to the top 10. But even with a lavish gatefold twelve inch release with two records in it for the price of one (oh for the days when you could do that and still be chart eligible), Two People struggled to no.43 in the UK. I suppose without the ‘good god she’s back!’ factor, another top quality Tina ballad just wasn’t interesting enough for radio DJs or record buyers. Tsk.
A third Britten/Lyle track, What You Get is What You See (basically Tina Turner at the rodeo, which is as ace as it sounds) did go on to scrape the top 30, but it wasn’t until 1989’s Foreign Affair album that she became a more consistent hit-making machine, starting a run of 22 consecutive top 40 hits – many of which didn’t stray far from the original formula. Love may not have much to do with it, but timing certainly does.
Entered chart: 08/11/1986
Chart peak: 43
Weeks on chart: 4
Who could sing this today and have a hit? If Sia ever runs out of songs (which admittedly is highly unlikely) and does a covers album, I would SO be there.