By the time Tina Arena departed YTT in 1985 she was firmly embedded in the national consciousness as an ever-smiling, wide-eyed, poppet, who had turned sixteen, but would always be “Tiny Tina” to the public at large. Her heady days as a child star would become a cruel double-edged sword as she sought to navigate a path toward a more mature adult image from which she could launch the next stage of her career.The YTT floor manager Greg Petherick, encouraged her to begin demoing sings and broadening her repertoire, he had masterminded the Kylie Minogue breakout hit The Loco-Motion, and he introduced Tina to local industry stalwart Brian Cadd. She was signed to a record deal with Graffiti Records, who issued her 1985 debut single Turn Up The Beat, which was a slice of up tempo 80’s synth pop from LA songwriters Steve Werfel and Pam Reswick, a couple with whom Tina would collaborate in the future. Recorded at Armstrong’s Studios (Melb) and produced by Brian Cadd, Tina did her best to channel her inner Madonna, who was dominating the charts in ’85, the promo clip was of a live performance and Tina gave it all she had, but the record flopped, and she went onto the pub circuit and started to perform with a nine piece ensemble called Network, until she picked up the support act spot on Lionel Ritchie’s Australian tour in 1987.
The following year Arena would emerge as a more raunchy disco diva with the release of her single and video for I Need Your Body, it was not hard to see that “Tiny Tina” had disappeared, and been replaced by a curvy, buxom, pouting, sassy, rock starlet with bouncy cleavage, and attitude to burn, she also had a hit record as well, written by local songwriter Ross Inglis, who was also lead guitarist with her band Network. The song was a feisty slice of electropop with a driving synth riff, classic 80’s drums, a raunchy hook line, a catchy in-your-face chorus, and a club and radio-friendly ambience, that exuded a Taylor Dane/ Paula Abdul dance vibe.
The release of the single preceded Tina’s debut album Strong As Steel, and was accompanied by a video made by local director Salik Silverstein which set tongues wagging, Tina wore a revealing bustier and the camera captured every angle of her bouncy cleavage, as she cavorted around the Italianate interiors of a freezing Regent Theatre (Melb), in company with a male dancer who strangely kept his distance from the diva. Gina Riley parodied the video on Fast Forward in 1990 (see below) and Tina distanced herself from the song for a long time, warehousing it for 24 years and only returning it to her live set in 2014.The single was a #2 hit locally and the album Strong As Steel climbed to #22 and charted for 13 weeks, in 1994 she would produce her defining album of original songs with Don’t Ask, and the dramatic global hit single Chains, which 4TR will revisit later this week.