It may be a decade old, but Winehouse's 2006 masterpiece remains a tremendously important album.
I remember buying Amy Winehouse‘s ‘Back To Black’ the day it came out, though it’s strange to think that was 10 years ago today. I’d finished uni the previous summer and knew I wanted to be a music journalist, but, well, it hadn’t quite happened yet. All the pre-release reviews had been amazing so I was certain this was an album I had to hear. I bought the CD on my temp job lunch break and put it on as soon as I got back to my flat in west London, a place that was much cheaper than it should have been because it looked like someone’s nan had decorated it in about 1957.
Anyway, I distinctly remember thinking that first time I listened to ‘Back To Black’ that sooner or later, the quality control would have to drop. Surely towards the end Amy would write a shit song, or at least one that was just OK. But she didn’t. ‘Back To Black’ is a tidy 35 minutes long and there’s no filler at all. Obviously in time certain tracks began to stand out as they were played on the radio and used in TV montages and rightly became adopted as modern classics. ‘Back To Black’ went on to sell over 3.5 million copies in the UK alone and all of those people probably have their own favourite moment. For me it’s verse two of the title track, specifically the lines: “And life is like a pipe / And I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside.” It’s perfect, it’s poetry, and it’s just completely devastating.
It’s only human to want to honour an artist after she’s gone, but ‘Back To Black’ would be recognised as a tremendously important album even if poor Amy Winehouse had managed to defeat her demons. The fact an album this honest, fearless and unique became a huge hit opened the door for so many artists who were a little bit different. Lana Del Rey, Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, Emeli Sandé and Florence Welch have all hailed Amy as an influence. “Because of her, I picked up a guitar, and because of her, I write my own songs,” Adele told Rolling Stone last year. “The songs that I got signed with are the songs I wrote completely on my own. If it wasn’t for her, that wouldn’t have happened. I owe 90 percent of my career to her.” When I interviewed rising star Alessia Cara at her mum and dad’s house in Toronto earlier this year, she showed me the framed picture of Amy she’d hung on her bedroom wall as a kid.
Amy Winehouse’s legacy doesn’t begin and end with ‘Back To Black’, but it’s the album that made her a superstar and the moment that captures her incredible songwriting gifts at its peak. I put it on again last night to mark the 10-year anniversary and it took me back to my nan-flat in west London in 2006. But at the same, I was struck with how bright and vital and vivid it still sounds. When you listen to ‘Back To Black’, you know exactly who Amy Winehouse is, even if you never met her. How many albums can you say that about?