Behind the Song Lyrics: “The Best,” Tina Turner

Photo by Alberto Venzago

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Written by Holly Knight and Mike Chapman
Performed by Tina Turner

In 1988, Bonnie Tyler released her seventh album Hide Your Heart with the song “Don’t Turn Around,” a cover of the track originally released as a B-side Tina Turner’s 1986 single “Typical Male.” Reviving the Diane Warren and Albert Hammond-penned cut—later featured in the Tina Turner Broadway show in 2018—Tyler’s version jumped to the number one spot on the UK charts. The song also reached No. 45 on the U.S. charts. Another single off Hide Your Heart, “The Best,” didn’t fare as well, yet left an impression on one artist. A year later, as Turner was assembling her seventh album Foreign Affair, “The Best” found its way to her.

Instantly drawn to the track, Turner wanted to record it and requested some key changes to the song. “Someone got it to Tina, and she said, ‘I love this song, and I’m gonna cut it, but I need a bridge, and I need the key to go up at the end.’ So we had to rewrite it, which was weird after it had already been released,” says songwriter Holly Knight who originally co-wrote the song. Knight first wrote the track with Mike Chapman for another artist, who passed on it before producer Desmond Child eventually recorded it with Bonnie Tyler.

“When I originally wrote it with Mike Chapman it was a great song,” adds Knight, “but I don’t think it was quite a hit song yet.”

Keeping its chorus intact—You’re simply the best / Better than all the rest / Better than anyone / Anyone I ever met / I’m stuck on your heart / I hang on every word you say / Tear us apart / Baby, I would rather be dead—Knight reworked the song and some lyrics. One change included the subtle switch of the opening lines from Tyler’s You come to me, come to me, wild and wired to the latter wild and wild.

Tina Turner (Photo: HBO)

Re-writing and re-registering the track, Turner then took the song to another dimension. She even added saxophonist Edgar Winter, who had previously worked with Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band, and Todd Rundgren. “She was right because what it did for that song was it turned it into a hit,” says Knight. “There were a lot of other things that came into play—the production, the players, and of course, Tina herself—but that’s why every little part has to mean something.”

Though “The Best,” often incorrectly referred to as “Simply the Best,” only peaked at No. 15 on the charts, it remains a Turner classic, still reemerging more than 30 years later.

“When I wrote ‘The Best,’ I had no idea how big it was going to end up being—and it’s been used for so many things,” says Knight. She’s still surprised by the evolution of the song which is used in multiple advertising campaigns for Pepsi and T-Mobile, and three episodes of the Amazon series Schitt’s Creek. “The Best” is first introduced on the show when Dan Levy’s character, David Rose, lip-syncing Turner’s version to his boyfriend. “The Best” later reappeared on the series finale during the couple’s wedding with an a cappella version.

“It’s interesting because it shows the evolution of a song,” says Knight. “It shows how a great song could be done any number of ways and still be great.”

Long after the “The Best,” Knight continued working with Turner, penning several more songs for the artist, including “Better Be Good to Me,” “Be Tender with Me Baby,” “Ask Me How I Feel,” “Love Thing,” “Do Something,” “In Your Wildest Dreams,” and “One of the Living.”

“I always liked edgier artists,” reveals Knight. “Tina’s an edgy artist because she’s got such a uniquely raspy voice—not your typical technically proficient singer. She’s just got so much personality and character, so it’s fun writing for her.”

For Knight, who has written dozens of hits—Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield,” Scandal’s “The Warrior,” “Rag Doll” for Aerosmith— and worked with artists including Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, Hall & Oates, Kiss, and Meat Loaf throughout her 40-year career, “The Best” remains simply one of the best songs she says she’s ever written.

“It’s a big part of being a songwriter,” says Knight. “When you’re writing the song, it belongs to you. It’s your baby. You raise it. You feed it. You nurture it, and it’s like putting it up for adoption, waiting as they take your baby away, and you hope that they don’t fuck the kid up.”

She adds, “Very often I’ve given someone what I think could be a hit song, and they turn it into an album track and take away all the things that were great about it, that made it a hit. It could be just a few tweaks here and there that make the difference, but there’s a fine line between something being a great song and being a hit.”

Photo Credit: Alberto Venzago.

Leave a Reply

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band Return on Tour in 2022

alt-J

alt-J Flies Like a Jet Engine on New LP ‘The Dream’