A Makeshift Amy Winehouse ‘Best Of’ To Remember All The Good She Gave To The World
Wow. I woke up to the news this morning of The Winehouse’s untimely passing and it’s taken until now to really get an sort of semblance of thought together about it. There’s a lot of things you can write in times like these – admonishments, eulogies, hypocritically glowing tributes.. But, in the end, all that I think deserves to be remembered right now is the music. Because, in all fairness, HOW FUCKING GOOD WAS IT?
Seriously, besides Twitter, Gaga and Kate Middleton, my generation hasn’t contributed a lot of things to history just yet. But I can be safe in the knowledge that the musical canon of Amy Winehouse is something to be cherished, enjoyed and remembered forever, both for her works as a singer AND a songwriter of amazing depth and brilliance.
I’ve been lucky to not lose a lot of my creative heroes yet at this point in my life and I genuinely don’t even know how I feel about todays events. All I can remember is randomly mail-ordering some CD of amazon in 2003 because Q Magazine described some unknown as having the ‘voice of a jazz great, the soul of a singer-songwriter and the beats of the Beastie Boys’. Or the young songstress who could knock back a bottle of wine and still perform a flawless set at The Brixton in 2004. Or the charmingly bedraggled woman who tried to bum a cigarette off me whilst waiting in line for her own secret showcase to start in 2006, right before Rehab came out and blew her out of the stratosphere.
Say what you want about the life of Amy Winehouse, but you can’t listen to the following makeshift Best Of and deny that she didn’t bring something so impossibly special into a lot of people’s lives…
In happier times :-
STRONGER THAN ME
The first single off 2003’s landmark debut Frank, Amy admonishes a weak-willed suitor with a dismissive kiss off ‘you should be stronger than me’ over what would become her trademarks ‘trumpets and hip-hop beats’ sound.
Key Lyric – “Feel like a Lady, and you my Lady Boy..”
The song that turned one of the most exciting singer-songwriters of the decade into a worldwide Grammy-hoarding juggernaut. Whilst this will now be forever doomed as a piece of musical prophecy, the thrillingly honest lyrics and joyous instrumentation help cement what would become a voice of a generation.
Key Lyric – “I don’t never wanna drink again. I just need a friend. And I don’t wanna spend ten weeks – have everyone think I’m on the mend..”
I HEARD LOVE IS BLIND
If Stronger Than Me is her introduction and Rehab is her legacy then this, a simple and unadorned confessional from her debut, is the first sign that the barely 18 year old Winehouse was a songwriter on the rise. A starkly brutal but tender confessional to a cheated upon boyfriend, it showed the agony of love in a way so few twice her age have managed to articulate. For our money, this is the best song she’s ever done.
Key Lyric – “Why’re you so upset? Baby, you weren’t there and I was thinking of you when I came..”
IN MY BED
While I Heard Love Is Blind showed the soul of a songwriter wiser than her years, In My Bed showcased a musician with just as much grasp on the physicality and brutality of all that went with it. With a keen eye for a Nas sample, Winehouse unleashed the sexiest song of her career to date.
Key Lyric – “Now the only time you held my hand, is to get the angle right..”
BACK TO BLACK
The soul of her breakthrough follow up album, the titular track is perhaps the single biggest summation of everything she’s ever done. Rehab may have been the commercial breakthrough but this, which is literally heartbreak on vinyl, charts a level of pain so deep that almost makes you almost understand how someone could never come back from..
Key Lyric – “We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times. You go back to her and I go back to black.”
YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD
Back To Black wasn’t all admonishments of awful men, some were tales of Winehouse’s own shortcomings, like this, a candid account of her own cheating heart. Sounding like a 60’s record without the lyrical censorship, cheating never sounded so timeless or so brokenly fresh.
Key Lyric – “You said ‘what did you do with him today’ and sniffed me out like I was Tanqueray”
TAKE THE BOX
A heartbreaking account of the immediate aftermath of a break up, this stark jazz ballad highlighted Winehouse’s acute ability to tell stories with an eye for almost photographic detail. Simply beautiful.
Key Lyric – “The Moschino Bra you bought me last Christmas? Put it in the box, put it in the box. Frank’s in there – I don’t care. Put it in the box, put it in the box..”
Winehouse wasn’t just a songwriter of extraordinary ability, but a singer who could truly bring to life the work of others. Mostly, this was shown in her myriad of interpretations of jazz standards, but commercially, she struck a chord with this Motown-heavy remake of The Zuton’s rock classic Valerie recorded for Producer Ronson’s debut album. The hoard of Amy clones was a last minute substitute for a singer well on the road to ruin, but there is no denying the joyousness and sheer life she injects into this track, taking a modern British classic and making it undeniably her own.
FUCK ME PUMPS
A cheeky takedown of modern celebrity culture. While the latter stages of her career were consumed with her ability to write tales of heartbreak and pain like nobody’s business, tunes like this reminded the public of her ability to wryly observe the human condition and belied an irreverent sense of humor often overlooked.
Key Lyric – “He could be your whole life if you got past one night, but that part never goes right.”
TEARS DRY ON THEIR OWN
A modern pop masterpiece. Nothing more to say.
Key Lyric – “I shouldn’t play myself again. Should be my own best friend, not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.”
LOVE IS A LOSING GAME
The song most likely to play over all the loving youtube tributes that will inevitably flood the interwebs in the next 24 hours. Modern soul at it’s most heart breaking, could have closed it out on this if it weren’t such a goddamned depressingly beautiful moment to have as ones swansong.
Key Lyric – “Love is a losing game, one I wish I never played. Oh what a mess we made..”
WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW?
The single most vunerable and honest moment Winehouse has ever committed to record. It only seems fitting it came from the pen of one of the few songwriters even more gifted than herself. Can’t help but hope there is a parallel universe out there somewhere where a 40 year old Amy is penning tracks as delicate, relaxed and universel as this..
AMY AMY AMY
Lastly, the closing track of her breakthrough debut. While her career was built on tales of broken hearts and darkness, she never sounded more alive than on upbeat slabs of modern jazz such as this, a electrically carnal tale of infatuation and helplessness. The ballads may have captured fragments of her soul, but it’s numbers like this where she will never sound more playfully alive.
“Hope you all enjoyed your time at the Amy Winehouse Show. Feel free to come back whenever you like but, for now, you can exit to the left and the rear. Take your time and slowly, but quickly, get out, get out..”
Thanks Amy, both for all the good times, and all the comfort you provided in the bad. You are missed already and always.