Amy Jade Winehouse was that artist who refused to compromise her art for anybody. Despite the rebellious persona that we often saw, the British singer was a master of creating intimate music, effortlessly interwoven with pop, R&B, hip-hop and jazz influences. The enigmatic Amy Winehouse never failed to draw listeners in with her unique voice and meaningful lyrics. At the peak of her career, she sadly left us on July 23rd, 2011 at only 27 years old due to alcohol poisoning. The world mourned for the loss of an incredible talent in music.
Since the release of her debut album Frank in 2003, Amy Winehouse had always been honest with her music, which is why she resonates so well (even until today) with the world through songs like “Stronger Than Me”, “Take the Box”, “In My Bed”, and “F**k Me Pumps.” It was her sophomore album Back to Black (2006), based on her intense relationship with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, that gained her global recognition. The album, produced by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, helped Winehouse garner major hits like “Rehab”, “You Know I’m No Good”, “Back to Black”, “Tears Dry on Their Own”, and “Love Is a Losing Game”.
Though unfortunate tragedies marked her life, we must not forget the incredible music she has blessed the world with. This month marks the eighth year of her passing, and we want to celebrate Amy Winehouse’s legacy by taking a look at some of her deepest cuts.
“What Is It About Men” (2003)
This underrated track from her debut album Frank sees the singer sharing her emotions about her father. The gut-spilling song talks about Amy’s fear that fate will repeat itself, and how she might end up being a mistress to a married man, mirroring her father’s behaviour. With lines like “History repeats itself, it fails to die / And animal aggression is my downfall”, you can feel the emotions that Amy feels on this subject of men. Amidst talk about the true subject of this song, she later confirmed that it was about her father at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2004.
This song is said to be written for Amy’s brother, Alex Winehouse, as a message to look after their mother. It is apparent when she sings, “How do I find words that do not condescend / When she bore you before me / Cause she doesn't need a child she needs a friend / A son, not a sob story”. Strong lyrics that many of us can relate to, especially when it comes to a complicated parent-child dynamic, and it shows that Amy is always honest and has her family in mind despite her busy lifestyle.
“Some Unholy War” (2006)
“If my man was fighting / Some unholy war / I would be behind him / Straight shook up beside him / With strength he didn't know”, sings Amy on this song about her then-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. Producer Salaam Remi said in the 2018 documentary Amy Winehouse: Back to Black, “This is a Blake record. This is about watching the guy go through something, and not knowing how to really figure out what to do to save him.” In this soul-baring song, the essence of what the Back to Black album was about became clear: Amy is a woman who will stand by her man through thick and thin.
“Round Midnight” (2008)
“Round Midnight” is a groovy tune taken off Frank (B-Sides) about Amy’s feelings towards the man she loves, who keeps resurfacing on days when he’s not supposed to, making her feel melancholy. The jazzy tune takes us on a lighthearted lament: “Our hearts take wing, 'round midnight, 'round midnight / Let the angels sing for your returning”.
“Wake Up Alone (Original Recording)” (2011)
The posthumous Lionness: Hidden Treasures album was released in 2011 and it presented us with this beautiful slower version of “Wake Up Alone” from the Back to Black album, this time accompanied by the prominent strums of a guitar. This has to be one of the most heartbreaking songs that Amy has ever released, with lyrics like “This face in my dreams seizes my guts / He floods me with dread / Soaked in soul / He swims in my eyes by the bed / Pour myself over him / Moon spilling in / And I wake up alone”. Amy Winehouse is truly a genius when it comes to creating imagery to draw us into the message of her songs.
“Body and Soul” (2011)
From legendary jazz singer Tony Bennett’s Duets II: The Great Performances album, this collaboration was Amy’s last recording. This beautiful single is accompanied simply by a piano and their amazing vocals. It is very refreshing to know that Amy’s farewell song would be as peaceful as this one, despite how burnt out she was in real life. “Body and Soul” went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2011. Talking to host Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, Bennett reflected on their relationship, saying: “I didn't even know it when we were making the record, and now looking at the whole thing; she knew that she was in a lot of trouble; that she wasn't going to live.”
“Like Smoke (Demo)” (2015)
Taken off the AMY soundtrack released in 2015, this version of “Like Smoke” is the 2008 demo, which was released as part of the Lioness: Hidden Treasures album in 2011, featuring rapper Nas. This was not the first time Amy had collaborated with Nas; she also contributed vocals for his song “Cherry Wine”, and more recently, her producer Salaam Remi shared a new track, “Find My Love”, which brings together Amy’s vocals with Nas’s smooth beats once again. It’s beautiful to hear how a song came together. Stripped of the glossy rendering and production, the rawness of this demo version is a reminder that Amy Winehouse is a true artist whose soul will never be forgotten.
You are truly missed, Amy!
Love Amy Winehouse?Pay homage to her statue in Camden, North London and tour the town on foot to see her favourite hangout spots.