Last Wednesday was Amy Winehouse’s birthday — she would be 39 years old, and one can only imagine the music we’ve missed out on in the last 11 years.
Winehouse was only able to release two albums in her lifetime. In her first album, “Frank,” named for Frank Sinatra, Winehouse proved herself a great jazz vocalist. Included in the album are classic jazz covers like “Moody’s Mood For Love / Teo Licks,” where Winehouse puts her own spin on through different riffs and distinct background drums, and “(There Is) No Greater Love.” “In My Bed” is one of the songs on the album that takes inspiration from R&B, sampling the beat of Nas’ “Made You Look.” Winehouse’s sense of humor and banter comes through in the lyrics of “Fuck Me Pumps,” with lyrics like “You don’t like players / That’s what you say / But you really wouldn’t mind a millionaire.”
“What Is It About Men” and “I Heard Love is Blind” are precursors to the witty heartbreak soul ballads of Winehouse’s second album, “Back to Black.” “Back to Black” catapulted Winehouse to fame and won her Best Pop Vocal Album, with “Rehab” winning Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Many themes on the album are quite dark, addressing fights with friends, Winehouse’s substance abuse issues and her breakup with boyfriend Blake Fielder-Civil. However, Winehouse brings wonderful humor and sassiness to each song, and underlying strength and optimism shine through on the darkest songs. In a 2004 interview with Hot Press, Winehouse commented on this duality.
“I love lyrics that twist things,” Winehouse said. “When I write a song, it’s usually because I’ve got to a point where I go, ‘What am I going to do, I’m fucked, I got to write a song.’ I always try and put a kick into them because when I listen back to those songs when I’m 60, I don’t ever want to think that I was a depressed and fucked up 17-year-old.”
Winehouse experimented with reggae through her cover of “Monkey Man” and ska in her cover of “Hey Little Rich Girl” and “You’re Wondering Now” — both feature catchy drum beats and Winehouse’s voice is light and jumpy. “Me & Mr. Jones,” “Tears Dry on Their Own” and “Just Friends” are a few of my favorite songs on the album.
Although Winehouse’s style is wonderfully versatile — even “Back to Black” strayed more into R&B, hip-hop, reggae and ska, and presented a more polished sound — her voice is that of a true jazz vocalist, inspired also by gospel, soul and Motown. Although the media was brutal to Winehouse at times, in interviews and in her live shows, Winehouse’s authenticity, wit and charm shone through. In her lyrics, too, she was unafraid in expressing her feelings, a musical authenticity that has paved the way for other female artists like Adele, Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey. Winehouse spoke more about her music in the Hot Press interview.
“I was just writing songs from my heart like I always have and always will,” Winehouse said. “I didn’t think about people hearing them, I just wrote what I would like to hear a girl singer sing. I’m a real girly girl but when it comes to music I’m a real serious person, it’s the most important thing in my life. I’m proud and strong-willed. There is no point in compromising yourself.”
Amy was wonderfully unique in her style, too. Her fashion taste took inspiration from 1950s pin-up as well as vintage stores on Camden’s nearby High Street, where her good friend Catriona Gourlay worked. Her style started as more casual, and she frequently sported low-waisted jeans, polo shirts and ballet slippers, but she gradually transitioned to her staple look of a big beehive, heavy black winged eyeliner and more fitted silhouettes. Her 14 tattoos, too, were in her vintage style.
Winehouse lives on larger than life through her honest lyrics, unique style and attitude. Her music has provided many with endless uplift, comfort and inspiration.