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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Private Dancer

Have you ever had a moment in which you listen to a song on the radio, and you really enjoy it?  Well, of course you have.  Every single person who has ever been exposed to music has had that feeling at one time or another.

Let me rephrase the question.  Suppose you hear a song on the radio that has a great beat and smooth sound.  You might not really listen to the lyrics the first time around, or maybe you don't quite understand the lyrics.  All you care about is the music itself.  It's kind of like those teenagers from 1960s era "American Bandstand" rating the record.  As long as the song has a good beat and you can dance to it, that was really all that counted!

And suppose you hear this song months, or even years later, and you really listen to the lyrics closely, and you discover that the song is a little more...shall we say...seductive or adult in content than you initially believed.

Allow me to give you a perfect example of this in action.

Now, back when I was a young kid, AM radio music stations were beginning to slowly die out (only to be replaced with talk radio and weather broadcasts sometime in the 1990s), and FM radio was all the rage.  One of the favourite stations to listen to back in the mid-1980s was PAC-93, based out of Ogdensburg, New York.  The station has since changed its format to oldies music and has moved a few notches down the dial to the 98 region, but back in the mid-1980s, it was your generic Top 40 radio station with Billboard hits, new artists, and a dose of Casey Kasem every Sunday afternoon.

I think I was around four...maybe five when I first heard this song.  And weirdly enough, I am pretty sure that I was at a gas station when I first heard it.  Whether we were out to fill up our tank, or getting a car wash, or just wanted to grab a quick snack of Doritos and Bonkers fruit chews (anyone remember those?), I do remember being in a car at least when the song first played.  It was a smooth, jazzy like song, and when I was four, I think I really liked songs like that.  I grew up having a soft spot for R&B music, and certainly Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Kool and the Gang were big in the music scene in my preschool years.

This song was performed by a female artist who had become a huge star by teaming up with her husband.  They had a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s, but when this woman ended up on the receiving end of hits caused by her husband, the partnership and marriage ended and she tried to go it alone.

In 1984, you could say that this artist made a huge comeback and released one of the biggest albums of the year.  Seven of the nine singles were released, and many of them peaked within the Top 10.  One particular single, "What's Love Got To Do With It" topped the charts for several weeks!

Not bad for a 44-year-old woman with the legs of a nineteen year old, huh?



So, for today's edition of the Sunday Jukebox, let's take a look at the title track from this album - which unbeknownst to my then four-year-old self had a deeper, more adult subject attached to it.



ARTIST:  Tina Turner
SONG:  Private Dancer
ALBUM:  Private Dancer
DATE RELEASED:  October 28, 1984
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS:  #7

She's your private dancer, dancing for money, do what you want her to do.



Well, not really.  At this stage in her life, I doubt that ANYONE could ever tell Tina Turner what to do with herself.  But boy did she have a great 1984!  Not only did this song peak at #7 on the Billboard Charts, but the "Private Dancer" album charted multi-platinum in several different countries, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany.  And the album earned Turner a total of four Grammy Awards, including the awards for "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year" for "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

But for this entry, we're going to talk about "Private Dancer".  That's the song I remember hearing at that gas station when I was four.  The song that I absolutely loved.  The song that I couldn't stop dancing along to.



(Well, okay, the only part I danced to was the part where she sings about deutsch marks, and dollars, and American Express will do nicely, thank you.  That part was always my favourite of the whole song.  Still is.)

Of course, little did I know that when Tina was singing about different kinds of currencies and credit cards, she was really singing from the perspective of a call girl, a hooker, a lady of the night.



Yes, one of the main interpretations of the song lyrics do seem to make a huge reference to the world's oldest profession.  Prostitution.  And admittedly, I had no idea what prostitution was.  Which is good, considering that I was four.  If asked at four, I probably would have guessed that it had something to do with milk.

(Which, of course, is pasteurization.)

But a quick examination of the lyrical content seems to prove this to be the case.  Dancing for money in front of strange men whose names she isn't supposed to know, or faces they aren't supposed to look at, all the while dreaming of a better life for herself.  Come on, the symbolism is obvious here!  I can totally picture it.

Problem is, if Tina Turner offered up a music video that depicted her as a prostitute or a stripper, MTV would likely not have aired it, and "Private Dancer" might have been buried underneath a sea of controversy and Parental Advisory stickers, courtesy of Tipper Gore and the PMRC.  So a safer music video was made where Tina portrays a bitter ballroom dancer.

I suppose you could say that Tina was doing "Dancing With The Stars" a good 20 years before the show debuted on television!

Either way, both interpretations do have merit, and I suppose the safer explanation allowed the song to be played on radio and MTV.  Good thing too.  I personally think the song is one of Tina's best.  It would have been cruel to have not released it.

But did you know that "Private Dancer" wasn't intended for Tina to record?  At least, not at first.  Believe it or not, the song was supposed to be for this group!



Can you seriously picture Dire Straits singing "Private Dancer"?  Apparently, neither could they.  According to Dire Straits lead singer Mark Knopfler, the track was supposed to go on their 1982 album "Love Over Gold", but just before the album was being edited, Knopfler decided that "Private Dancer" was one of those songs that sounded much better coming from a female singer, so the track was cut.

I often wonder if the band ever regretted the decision to let Tina have the song.  After all, it was a Top 10 hit for her.  Though, given that the group would have a #1 hit months later with "Money For Nothing", I don't think they were too disappointed.  

Oh, and one final thing.  This is the blog's 1,500th post!  So...hooray!

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