Sunday, July 24, 2011

She Told Ya She Was Trouble

When news broke yesterday that Amy Winehouse had died at the age of 27, the news was less shocking than it was just sad. After all, Amy was a singer who burst on the scene in 2007 and created an immediate buzz with "Rehab," a song that would later go on to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year (she won four other awards that year). And that song seemed to tell you everything you needed to know about Amy, a troubled singer who had problems with drugs, drinking, and the law. "They tried to make me go to rehab," she sang, "and I said 'No, no, no.'" Ultimately, that's what derailed her career and now seems to have ended her life as well.

But while Amy was best known (and often mocked) for that song, she was much more than a one-hit wonder, and deserves to be remembered less for her troubles than for her awesome music. In fact, the entire album "Rehab" came from, Back to Black, was brilliant. And it wasn't even her debut album, as many people think. That would be the 2003 release Frank, an album less well known in the U.S., but still notable for tracks like "Fuck Me Pumps," "Stronger Than Me," "Cherry," and "I Heard Love Is Blind."

When I first discovered Amy's music, in December of 2006, it made an immediate impression. Over the next year, I would go on to write nine blog posts about her. More than four years later, my appreciation for Amy's music has not subsided. Back to Black is simply one of my favorite albums of all time. It's on the desert island top 3. There's hardly a bad track on it: "Rehab," "Me and Mr. Jones," "Tears Dry on Their Own," "Wake Up Alone," "You Know I'm No Good," and the title track are just the ones I've played most often.

On Back to Black, Amy (with the help of producer Mark Ronson) perfected a blend of Motown soul and hip hop, with a sound that was a cross between Lauryn Hill and Ronnie Spector. Amy fueled heartbreak and pain into songs with hooks and melodies that were anything but painful. There's attitude — so much attitude — and self-confidence, coupled with an awareness of her own failings. "I told you I was trouble. You know that I'm no good," she sang on one track. It's an incredible album — one that should be in every music fan's library. No wonder she won those five Grammies for it (and I still say she should have won Album of the year too).

So many times in recent years I've hoped that Amy's troubles were behind her, and that she'd return to making music. Instead, those two albums (and one-off tracks like "Valerie") will be her legacy. And that's a damned good legacy, if you ask me. It's great to hear that in the wake of Amy's death, Back to Black has shot to number one on iTunes. I hope more people will check out her music, and will realize just what a talented singer/songwriter we've lost.

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