I remember Amy Winehouse coming onto my radar with her first album, Frank. I don’t think I ever heard any songs from that album – or at least I don’t remember them If I did – but I definitely read a few interviews with her when she was promoting it. The music press was touting her at the time – together with the initially promising, but consequently disappointing Joss Stone (ugh) – as the saviour of British soul music.
From the sounds of it, Frank didn’t set the world on fire, but some time later I heard Rehab, prior to its release and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I even remember being so enamoured with it – just the sheer Etta James-ness of it – that I emailed friends and told them they had to listen to it.
Rehab makes the list of my top 5 favourite songs of the 2000s. You could say that if Amy is just doing an Etta James impression, then why don’t I just listen to an Etta James record? Okay, I will. But I’ll still listen to Amy Winehouse. You can’t trademark a vocal style, and Amy brings a whole load of other things to the table. Mark Ronson also needs a lot of credit, I think, for producing her and managing to make her sound not only retro and contemporary, but more importantly relevant, without falling into the ‘easy listening’ trap that other ‘retro’ sounding female vocalists fall into. I’m talking to you, Anastacia and Gin Wigmore…
It’s always sad when an addict dies, and it always feels sadder when said addict is young and talented. I recently read a quote from one of Amy’s pre-fame friends who was saying that when she was a struggling musician, Amy was always going on about the classic soul album that she was going to make one day, and even though she didn’t make many albums (two studio albums only), Back To Black is pretty close to what she used to describe, in terms of sound and feel. I’m happy about that.
I was fortunate enough to see Amy Winehouse play at Glastonbury when she was promoting Back To Black. She had a crack band of musicians including Blues Brother Tom “Bones” Malone on trumpet, but the one thing that I first noticed about her when she walked on stage was how tiny she was – and we’re talking Prince Rogers Nelson-tiny here – but with a remarkable beehive that was almost equal to her body length.
My friend Shelley has a great joke on that subject: Where is Amy Winehouse’s favourite London Underground station? High Barnet!
Hidden Gem: Back To Black