Meaning Behind Tina Turner’s Sexy Hit “Private Dancer”

Originally written by Mark Knopfler for his band Dire Straits, “Private Dancer” called for a woman’s voice, so he pitched it to Tina Turner.

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At the time, Turner already released two solo albums, Rough, in 1978 and its follow-up, Love Explosion, in 1979, following her divorce from Ike Turner. Both albums were not commercial successes, and Love Explosion resulted in Turner losing her recording contract.

Turner needed a strong comeback and after connecting with Capitol Records A&R exec John Carter, who helped her relaunch her career, she began working on her fifth album, which she ended up titling after Knopfler’s song.

The Meaning: Reflections of a Hooker

“Private Dancer” is pretty straightforward. The lyrics follow the reflections of a prostitute, who calls herself a “private dancer,” and her hopes for a better life.

I’m your private dancer, a dancer for money
I’ll do what you want me to do
I’m your private dancer, a dancer for money
And any old music will do

I want to make a million dollars
I want to live out by the sea
Have a husband and some children
Yeah, I guess I want a family

“Mark said this song is not for a man, it’s a girl’s song,” said Turner in 2004. “He recorded it but won’t use it so when he put the demo on, he sung, ‘I’m a private dancer, dancer for money, do what you want me to do.'”

Turner added, “I told him, ‘I think you’re right, it’s not a song for a guy. I liked it a lot. I wasn’t sure whether the girl was a hooker or a very classical private dancer, but I thought I’d take it.”

All the men come in these places
And the men are all the same
You don’t look at their faces
And you don’t ask their names
You don’t think of them as human
You don’t think of them at all
You keep your mind on the money
Keeping your eyes on the wall

Title Track

Turner chose “Private Dancer” as the title of the album after her photo shoot with British photographer Peter Ashworth. The album cover shot of Turner had the singer sitting in a chair, glammed up and wearing a classy little black dress. 

She felt the photo complemented the song “Private Dancer” better and was less of a tongue tie for people to read off than a song like “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”

Backing Band: Jeff Beck and Dire Straits

On the recorded track, members of Dire Straits are featured musicians, including bassist John Illsley and drummer Terry Williams. 

Along with Dire Straits, Turner’s “studio band” on “Private Dancer” was rounded out by Jeff Beck on guitar.

The Legacy of ‘Private Dancer’

Released when Turner was 44 years old, Private Dancer was the comeback she needed.

Private Dancer transformed her into a solo superstar overnight with the 1984 No. 1 hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and Top 10 tracks “Better Be Good to Me,” and, of course, its title track. “Private Dancer” was produced by Carter and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 3 on the R&B chart. 

The album went to No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and topped the R&B albums chart and remains Turner’s best-selling album in the U.S.

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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