This is the 39th post in a weekly, yearlong series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song will be posted each Monday throughout 2016. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
Diane Warren has written some of the most recognizable pop songs of the last 30 years, including “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” “Because You Loved Me,” and “How Do I Live.” Her hits have been so numerous that Billboard was able to make a list of her best top-charting songs and cut the list at 40.
Her first hit was Laura Branigan’s “Solitaire,” which peaked at Number 7 in the US in 1983. In 1985, DeBarge had a hit with Warren’s song “Rhythm of the Night,” which charted in almost a dozen countries.
The following year, her song “Don’t Turn Around, which she co-wrote with Albert Hammond, was recorded by Tina Turner as the B-side to her single “Typical Male.” Only “Typical Male” was featured on Turner’s 1986 album, “Break Every Rule.”
In Jon Kutner’s and Spencer Leigh’s 2005 book, “1000 UK Number One Hits,” Warren was quoted as having said, “I remember being so depressed because it wasn’t on her album and I remember hearing her album and thinking that my song is better than anything on the album.”
Warren said she wrote the song as a “rock ballad.” Today, the track sounds very much of the ’80s, but around here, that’s not viewed as a bad thing. The song visited the familiar theme of a narrator trying to keep it together during a breakup (and failing):
If you want to leave I won’t beg you to stay
And if you gotta go darling maybe it’s better that way
I’m gonna be strong, I’m gonna do fine
Don’t worry about this heart of mine
Just walk out that door, see if I care
Go on and go now but
Don’t turn around
Cause you’re gonna see my heart breaking
Don’t turn around
I don’t want you seeing me cry
Just walk away
It’s tearing me apart that you’re leaving
I’m letting you go
But I won’t let you know
We’ve seen that in previous songs we’ve discussed, namely “Tears Of A Clown” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
R&B and soul singer-songwriter Luther Ingram, maybe best known for “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right,” also released a version of “Don’t Turn Around” in 1986 for his self-titled album. Released the following year as single, Ingram’s “Don’t Turn Around” peaked on Billboard’s R&B chart at Number 55. Ingram’s cover was poppier than its predecessor, as it had more keyboard and less guitar than Turner’s.
British group Aswad released a sunny reggae version of “Don’t Turn Around” in 1988. “When Aswad heard it and did it reggae style, you could say they screwed around with it,” Warren said, “but my God, what they did with it was great. I love it when someone can take a song and make it something else.” Charting in 10 countries, it reached Number 1 in the UK and New Zealand.
That same year, Bonnie Tyler covered “Don’t Turn Around” for her album “Hide Your Heart,” which was called “Notes From America” in the US. If Warren had intended the song to be a “rock ballad,” then this cover fulfilled that mission more than any of the previous versions.
That is, until co-writer Albert Hammond released his own version on his 1989 album, “Best Of Me.” Hammond’s version didn’t sound drastically different from Tyler’s or Turner’s, though he added a neat effect: when singing “I won’t miss your arms around me/Holding me tight,” he repeated “holding me tight” a few times, which have the effect of an echo.
Rock guitarist Jeff Scott Soto was the frontman of the band Talisman, had stints singing lead vocals for Yngwie Malmsteen and Journey, and has also performed with Lita Ford, Stryper, Brian May, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The dude’s a rocker, and one would expect that the version of “Don’t Turn Around” he recorded with the band Eyes in 1990 would sound like it. But it took half the song to get there, with Soto singing softly over airy synths like he was David Coverdale singing the beginning of “Here I Go Again.” About two minutes in, the guitar kicked it and it became the epic production we would expect.
British a capella act The Flying Pickets covered “Don’t Turn Around” for its 1991 album, “Blue Money,” which also had covers of Prince and Van Morrison songs (including the title track). Of all the previous versions, the one that seems to have influenced The Flying Pickets the most was the one by Aswad, as the Pickets had the same reggae-tinged vocal style. The two versions might be the happiest, peppiest songs about being devastated and heartbroken.
Also in 1991, Neil Diamond covered “Don’t Turn Around” for his album “Lovescape.” Over a backing track that sounded like it was meant for Heart ballad, Diamond sang as if he had been tortured, giving the song the heartache that The Flying Pickets had taken out of it.
Swedish pop singer Tone Norum — the younger sisters of John Norum, guitarist of the band Europe — covered the song for her fourth album, 1992’s appropriately-named “Don’t Turn Around.” Norum sang with a smokey style not unlike Bonnie Tyler’s over a soft keyboard track that, like Soto’s version with Eyes, didn’t pick up till about halfway through the song.
But it was another Swedish version that became the song’s new standard-bearer in 1993. Pop group Ace of Base recorded a minor key version of “Don’t Turn Around” for “The Sign,” the group’s debut album in the US. The single reached Number 1 in the Us and in Canada, Number 5 in the UK, and the top 10 in almost a dozen other a countries. The success of the song led the band to include it on a repackaging of its first album, “Happy Nation.”
It’s hard to listen to the Ace of Base cover and not hear the influence of Aswad’s reggae version. That minor key change gives it a sadder vibe than the sunny way Brinsley Forde sang it, of course, but Ace of Base’s keyboards sounded reminiscent of Aswad’s arrangement.
In 1998, Argentinian dance-pop group El Simbolo recorded a Spanish version called “No Llores Más.” This version laid on the horns and the keyboards, sounding like a distant cousin of “The Electric Slide.”
Lou Bega, best known for 1999’s “Mambo No. 5” from his album “A Little Bit of Mambo,” included “Don’t Turn Around” on his 2013 covers album, “A Little Bit of 80s.” The album was all over the map, featuring covers of Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon, and even Righeira’s “Vamos A La Playa.” His “Don’t Turn Around” had some of the same reggae stylings as the Aswad version, but it had more of a Latin influence, with brighter horns.
“Don’t Turn Around” has many of the hallmarks of songs that obsessive cover songs fans look for:
- The most successful or most widely known version is not the original.
- The original version is by someone more famous (or exalted) than the artist(s) who had a hit with it.
- There are a good number of versions by other people you’ve heard of before.
Those are some of the key reasons that nerds like me — and let’s be honest, a good chunk of you who read this site — enjoy looking up covers. It helps if the source material (or subsequent cover versions) are something you’d want to listen to, but enthusiasts such as myself would geek out on it anyway.
Part of why there are so many versions of “Don’t Turn Around,” I think, is that it isn’t dependent on its style. That Warren and Hammond wrote a song that could be sung in a few languages and be a hit in multiple countries is a testimony to their talents as songwriters who can tap into relatable emotions.
Any heartbreak Warren had over the fact that Tina Turner didn’t include this on her album should has probably subsided. Turner eventually did release it on an album: her 1994 compilation “The Collected Recordings: Sixties to Nineties.”
And as for Warren, “Don’t Turn Around” is not even her biggest hit. She’s get many bigger songs, including Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” Taylor Dayne’s “Love Will Lead You Back,” Milli Vanilli’s “Blame It On The Rain,” and Toni Braxton’s “Un-Break My Heart.”
What, you didn’t know that these songs were all written by the same person?
See, I told you the rabbit-hole of covers songs runs deep with fun surprises.