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All I Can Do Is Cry

It’s not as much fun listening to the tired-out Tina of the 1970s, so I’m going back to the early Ike and Tina shows for today’s song. “All I Can Do Is Cry” appeared on Live! The Ike and Tina Show, Volume 2, an album they released in 1965.

I don’t have this album, so I can’t refer to its songwriting credits. But if the Internet can be trusted, Etta James released “All I Can Do Is Cry” in 1963, and it was credited to Roquel Davis, Gwendolyn Fuqua and Barry Gordy, Jr.

“All I Can Do Is Cry” is written from the point of view of a woman who is watching the man she loves marry someone else. The Turners elaborate quite a bit on the Etta James song and Tina makes you feel the insane heights of her pain. She is truly magnificent on this recording. In a throaty, almost tear-choked spoken word delivery, Tina narrates the wedding for the audience. Once the vows are exchanged:

And I wanna tell you something, I wanna tell you that, that it was so HARD for me to sit there, and to hear the MAN THAT I LOVE SAY THOSE VERY WORDS when, people, I had waited so long, and I had struggled so hard, I had worked my fingers DOWN TO THE BONE TO PLEASE THE MAN WHETHER HE WAS RIGHT OR WRONG. But he was getting married to another girl. And when the wedding was coming to an end, and ALL OF THEIR FRIENDS was having so much fun, just laughin’ and talkin’ with one another, he had the nerve to walk up to me and, you know what he said? I’m gonna tell you what he said. He said, “Tina, Tina dahling,” he said, “even though we are apart, I’m gonna always reserve a certain little SPOT in the corner of my heart.” Now that was the corner of his heart, he didn’t even stop to the think what was in the corner of my heart. But it was a little too late for that because, people, the wedding was over with. They were marching out of the church. Their friends was throwing RICE ALL OVER their heads. BUT AS I SET THERE BY MYSELF. . .AAAAALLLL ALL I COULD DO, AAALLL I COULD DO WAS CRY. . .

That really knocks me out, that release at the end, when the band kicks it up and Tina just lets loose. What I wouldn’t give to go back to 1965 and catch one of these shows. Listen to it here:

All I Can Do Is Cry

Listening to this track, it seems impossible that the singer will end up as a Buddhist living quietly in Switzerland. I mean, what? When I listen to “All I Can Do Is Cry” it seems more likely that this woman is going to end up as the female version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, setting off pyrotechnics on stage and drinking whiskey while speeding down country roads with the band.

Ooh, now I wish that Ike and Tina would have covered “I Put a Spell on You.”

I Love Baby

“I Love Baby” is from the album ‘Nuff Said. This is one of the four albums they released in 1971. ‘Nuff Said didn’t produce any hit singles, but it must have sold OK because I always see this LP in used record stores.

In any case, I enjoy this album–it’s funky and features a good horn section. There’s a notice on the credits that “Ike & Tina Turner’s band formerly known as ‘The Kings of Rhythm’ has changed their name to ‘Family Vibs.'” I’ll venture a guess that they changed the name because they added Mary Reed as the tenor saxophone. (On later albums it’s spelled Family Vibes, so this may be a typo on the back cover.)

Anyway, the Family Vib[e]s impressed me on “I Love Baby.” Soko Richardson’s slow rolling drum beat first drew me to this song, then I started grooving to the horns and Ike’s organ playing. This is a cool rhythm track. Tina’s delivery rolls right along with the band.

The lyrics are basic stuff–Tina loves her Baby, he’s a good man, he doesn’t play around, he’s good in bed, etc. Her singing isn’t that great, perhaps because she’s about to drop down exhausted from the constant touring.

You can listen to it here.

Contact High

“Contact High” appeared on the album Come Together. I happen to have this on vinyl (thanks Willie!) and so I get the full experience of the trippy album cover design to complement the track.

As you may have guessed, this song was written by Ike, whose drug habit was still hip in 1970. It starts out with a “Secret Agent Man”-ish guitar part and gallops off on a fast beat. In fact, this song is rockin’. Tina sings in a fast, storytelling song style:

I was at this party, they had the doors all closed / All this funny smoke kept goin’ up my nose / They had this joint that they was passin’ around / But when they got to me, I turned it down / I was already contact high / Felt like I wanted to fly! / Everybody was going [inhaling sounds, on the beat] / I really didn’t know how much time had passed / But everybody got tired of blowin’ that grass / I told ’em at first that I didn’t want to smoke / But they reached in a sack, and pulled out some coke. . .

People who bought this album probably wanted a joint after listening to the track that immediately precedes “Contact High.” That song was “Why Can’t We Be Happy,” a very lame attempt at a civil rights let’s-all-get-along theme. Suffice to say that Ike is much, much more inspired when he’s writing about drugs.

In case you are interested: According to her autobiography, Tina smoked pot exactly once–she got really high with the Ikettes and decided to never do it again.

Stormy Weather

This version of an old standard appeared around 1973. The most familiar recordings of “Stormy Weather” are the jazzy renditions of Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and Frank Sinatra. But Ike and Tina were masters of song reinterpretation, and this is a great example of what they could do.

With a good beat and bluesy piano, this track has a lot of life in it. Tina is in full-fledged soul singer mode. She doesn’t really sound sad, this is a more rollicking, groovy version of “Stormy Weather.” In fact, Tina seems to be well on the road to recovery, to my ear.

Sure, it’s raining all the time, but when she sings “Now Lord I pray, won’t you please help me, HELP ME to walk in the sun, WALK IN THE SUN ONCE MOOORE,” the exuberance of her delivery speaks volumes. She’s struggling now but starting to get stronger. This chick has spirit to spare, and there’s no way the listener can believe that old rocking chair will get her.

I love this cover, it’s perfect for listening to turned up loud in your car.

Never Been to Spain

I don’t know a lot about this recording, but I’m going to make some guesses, based on how it sounds and stuff I read in “I, Tina.”

In the ’70s Ike and Tina revitalized their career by covering rock songs. “Never Been to Spain” was a hit for Three Dog Night in the early ’70s, and was later covered by Waylon Jennings and Elvis.

I think Ike and Tina probably started performing this song during their stints playing Vegas.

Well I ain’t never been to England / But I really do like the men there / But I did take a trip down to Las Vegas / Cuz I really do dig the bread there / I can’t refuse it, cuz I can’t stand to lose it, so I [???] on the music.

As you can see, the lyrics in Ike and Tina’s version diverge quite a bit from the original words, probably Ike’s changes. (I say that because they took out the line about liking the Beatles, which I think Tina would have left as is.) There’s some funky piano playing and semi-psychedelic guitars. The production is a bit fussy and has an annoying synth part in the middle. I read that Ike got all caught up in his fancy equipment once he built his own studio, so maybe that’s why.

I’ve been a big fan of “Never Been to Spain” ever since I first saw the movie Scotland, PA. The Ike and Tina version doesn’t do it for me as much as Three Dog Night’s, but I still like it. Tina actually gets to sing quite a bit on this track (as opposed to wailing, which she does here, too).

This song is from the waning days of Ike and Tina’s marriage, so when Tina sings, “I ain’t never ever been nowhere much/but I really really wanna go everywhere,” it gives me a twinge of happiness. You will, Tina, you will! Everything is going to turn around for you!

“Never Been to Spain” also makes me think of Tina’s affinity for Europe, and the fact that she’ll choose to live the rest of her life there. In this song Ike has her singing “take me on a trip on down to Mississippi,” but that’s the furthest thing from Tina’s real personality. Once she’s able, she hightails it away from all the “Cussin’, Cryin’, and Carryin’ On” to live in Switzerland. Who would have ever guessed?

Betcha Can’t Kiss Me (Just One Time)

Also sometimes called “Remember Baby”

This song is from 1968, when Ike and Tina were in a bit of slump, right before they started covering more rock songs. I am fascinated by “Betcha Can’t Kiss Me,” as it features a weird Chipmunks-esque guest vocal. What’s the deal? Well, I poked around the Internet a little bit and came up with an interview that Ike did with Offbeat. Apparently, Ike Turner had this alter ego named Little Bones, the World’s Greatest Singing Cricket. The relevant quote:

What happened is like before there was the Chipmunks, I did the Cricket. The Chipmunks is nothing but the Cricket really. I was the first one to do that and everybody was teasing me: “Hey man, you’re not going to mess up that record with that funny sound!” I was just ahead of myself again. You slow the tapes down and put the voice on it. First, you put the music at normal speed and then you slow the tape down and put your voice on it. Therefore, when the music comes back up to normal speed, the voice will be too fast. It’s hard singing like that when a record is slow. I did “What’d I Say,” “Ya Ya”—I did all that stuff way before the Chipmunks. A lot of things I missed my boat on.

Wow!! Anyway, Ike recorded those Little Bones singles mostly in the early ’60s, but brought him back for “Betcha Can’t Kiss Me.”

The lyrics of the song have Tina talking to a guy who rejected her in the past, but now she’s back on the scene looking fine and ready to make him beg for the kisses he shunned before. The Ikettes sing back up, and Little Bones helps on the chorus.

This is a really catchy R&B tune. On its own it’s nothing all that special, but the bizarre Little Bones cameo makes it perfect for crazy dancing. Careful not to throw out your hip doing the twist!

Letter from Tina

This is the Ike & Tina Turner version of the spoken-word pop song–a short ditty where Tina speaks over a simple piano-and-drums arrangement, and the Ikettes pipe in occasionally.

I’ve read that Ike was thrashing around for any old material to record to fulfill his contract with Sue Records, but even so this seems misguided. Tina’s singing is what makes their great songs shine, and keeps even their clunkers interesting. So why have Tina do spoken word? It’s pointless.

This song is a blip in their catalog, the B-side to “I Idolize You,” but I still like it. It’s interesting to hear Tina do such a Leslie Gore-ish song. Per their formula, it starts out with some Tina wails, and she sings “I’m almost crazy” before starting into the spoken word letter to “Dear My Man.” And she does seem almost crazy, using a bubblegum-and-rootbeer voice while describing this atrocious relationship:

First, first I want you tell help me to understand, understand the things you do that hurts me so. There should be no doubt whether or not I’ll understand. Because, because honey I love you. And my love for you hides all faults. You see, see honey, at times I get the feeling that you don’t care, and I believe that I am just another woman in your life. Then again I feel that I am, that I am all in this world that matters to you. Is it in my mind? If you would, if you would just tell me, I would understand. Because I am yours, YOU CONTROL EVERY MOVEMENT.

(In that last bit she unleashes a little of the passionate Tina we all know and love.) But I can’t blame her for going crazy, because this guy sounds like a jerk. In fact, the song this reminds me of is that country song “Psycho” that Elvis Costello covered on Almost Blue. Both songs’ lyrics are the ramblings of unstable minds.

I realize that lots of pop songs describe relationships that any sane person would describe as unhealthy. But “Letter to Tina” gives me pause. I don’t know whether Ike wrote this song, but even if he didn’t it shows an astounding lack of self-awareness that he would have Tina record this plea for love to a womanizing control freak.

Poor Fool

This was Ike & Tina’s second hit of 1961, after “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” “Poor Fool” is a pretty straightforward early-’60s song, with Tina singing about being in love and the Ikettes singing back up.

Of all their songs, this has my favorite opening. It begins with Tina yelling at the listener,

I want to tell ALL of you, that AIN’T doing nothing for me, and CAN’T do nothing for me, you should tend to YOUR business, and leave MINE alone!

No Supremes-style sweetie-pie singing here; Anna Mae Bullock does not mess around.

On second thought, that warning may be directed to the Ikettes, who serve as the Greek chorus of this little drama, telling Tina she’s been a fool too long. “Wake up and be strong!” They refuse to tend to their own business, but Tina’s not listening anyway.

Tina gives a great vocal performance on “Poor Fool”, even her “yeah yeah yeahs” are passionate (and extremely fun to sing along to). This song has a couple divinely weird lines within its standard “I’d do anything for love” formula. My favorites are “I’d give him Prussia [?!] if it could be bought” and “I’d ride a missile if he told me to.” Cold War-tastic!

These bizarre ramblings, coupled with the way Tina wails “HE’S MINE,” really make a strong case: You should not mess with Tina’s man. It also seems unwise to try to tell her about his infidelities. In my mind “poor fool” best describes any woman crazy enough to get friendly with this fellow.

It’s Gonna Work Out Fine

This is an early ’60s call-and-response number between Ike and Tina, with the Ikettes and Mickey & Sylvia chiming in on back-up vocals. Tina sings and Ike makes droll rejoinders in a honey-voiced tone. The overall sound is similar to Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange,” with the addition of Tina’s out-of-this-world vocals. She keeps it at least somewhat under control for the first minute or so, but then starts letting loose. “I’M SO GLAD THAT YOU’RE MINE!!”

I appreciate how this single presented an Ike & Tina creation story for fans to latch onto. To wit:

Tina: Remember. . .
Ike: Remember what?
Tina: They used to call you Dapper Dan
Ike: Yes, those were the good old days
Tina: The Thriller. . .
Ike: The Killer, honey
Tina: The ever-ready loving man
Ike: That’s me!
Tina: Oh yeah. . .A whole lotta girls used to be your speed/but now pretty daddy I’m all you need

But it also foreshadows the couple’s volatility. Tina’s constant repetition of “I think/know/feel it’s gonna work out fine” grows increasingly agitated as the song goes on. The listener compares Tina’s heated passion (“Your lips set my SOUL ON FIRE!”) with Ike’s bemused comments (“Oh really?”), and it doesn’t seem very likely at all that things will work out fine.

You can hear the song streaming here.

Edit:  According to several sources, the male voice on this track is actually Mickey Baker.  But the song definitely presents this as an exchange between Ike and Tina (she sings, “I wanna tell you something, Ike”), so I’m not revising any of the above thoughts.  See post on the sequel song, “Something Came Over Me” for more.

The Ike & Tina project

I’m adrift without the 19th-century reading project to organize my life, so I think I’ll start something new.

This past summer I celebrated a Summer of Ike & Tina, that is, I bought a bunch of Ike & Tina Turner albums and got obsessed with them. I’d been meaning to do that since I lived in St. Louis.

And then, as you know, Ike died last month.

So here’s the project: every other day I am going to listen to a song from Ike & Tina, really listen to it. Then I’ll write my thoughts about it here. Will this be of any interest to you? Probably not. But I really like their music, and this will be a reason for me to think more about it and parse out why I dig it so much.

Cover of Dynamite