Eight-and-a-half years after her tragic death at age 27, Amy Winehouse remains a highly revered figure who’s been hailed as an influence by everyone from Lady Gaga to Lana Del Rey. Adele has said that she owes “90 percent of her career” to her fellow Londoner, telling a crowd in 2016: “Because of her, I picked up a guitar and because of her, I wrote my own songs. The songs I got signed on were the songs that I wrote completely on my own – if it wasn’t for her, that wouldn’t have happened.”
Winehouse’s seismic musical impact stands in direct contrast to her slender back catalogue, which comprises just two studio albums: 2003’s ‘Frank’ and 2006’s incendiary ‘Back To Black’. Since she died in 2011, the Winehouse vaults haven’t exactly been milked dry – perhaps because there’s actually very little in them – so a new box set called ‘The Collection’ feels like an event. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
It doesn’t include any new music
When the posthumous album ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’ dropped in 2011, Winehouse producer Salaam Remi reassured fans this wasn’t the start of a “Tupac situation”. It turns out he wasn’t being disingenuous: ‘Lioness’ remains Winehouse’s only odds-and-sods posthumous release, though a few extra rarities were included on 2015’s Amy documentary soundtrack. There’s no previously unreleased material here, though, suggesting the vaults might now have been locked up for good.
It feels pretty comprehensive, but by no means definitive
Alongside Winehouse’s still-slightly-underrated debut album ‘Frank’, her flawless modern classic ‘Back To Black’ and the ‘Lioness’ compilation, the box set includes a full live show recorded in 2007. It’s the same gig that was taped for that year’s ‘I Told You I Was Trouble: Live in London’ DVD, but this is the first time it’s been released on CD and vinyl. ‘The Collection’ also features 15 previously released remixes by the likes of Hot Chip, Mylo and MJ Cole: collectors will already have them, but more casual fans should find the reworked tidbits interesting.
That said, this doesn’t mean the box set brings together everything Winehouse ever recorded. If you want to own her B-sides, you’ll have to buy ‘The Singles Collection’ – yet another box set, which dropped just a week ago. Her various BBC sessions don’t appear here either, and have already been compiled into a couple of previous posthumous releases.
Other notable omissions include Winehouse’s suitably wracked rendition of ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’, which will be appearing on all the classiest Christmas playlists this year. Still, at least that one’s easy to find on Spotify.
The remixes are actually well worth a listen
As you’d expect, the various remixes on offer here are mostly pretty restrained and respectful – even when she was alive, who’d have dared to mess with Winehouse’s once-in-a-generation voice? Thankfully, this doesn’t mean they’re dull instead: Mylo’s industrial revamp of ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ is satisfyingly chunky, while 2000s indie scamps Rumble Strips give ‘Back To Black’ a dramatic ska-tinged makeover.
And 13 years after it helped Winehouse crack America, a ‘Rehab’ remix featuring Jay-Z now sounds kind of macabre: he name-checks Britney, Whitney and Bobby [Brown] before delivering the deeply questionable line: “I’m-a OD ’til I’m in peace like Anna Nicole.”
The live album is worth revisiting, too
Recorded live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in May 2007, the live album doesn’t capture Winehouse at her electrifying peak – though she sounds terrific and her band is tack-sharp, her energy levels are already beginning to slip. Crucially, through, it was recorded a few months before fatigue really set in. Later that year, she embarked on a disastrous UK tour that was marred by audience walk-outs and reports of Winehouse being too intoxicated to perform. Promoters Live Nation eventually cut it short, blaming “the rigours involved in touring and the intense emotional strain that Amy has been under in recent weeks”.
The two proper albums are still incredible
Even the greatest artists see their legacy boiled down to a few iconic songs. In Winehouse’s case, it’s ‘Valerie’ at wedding discos, ‘Rehab’ if a TV producer wants to highlight her spiky side and ‘Back To Black’ when it’s time to ponder her tragic demise. Though her jazzy debut album ‘Frank’ saw her chucked in a studio with professional songwriters she didn’t really need, the quality of her voice and vision still shine through. Who else could write a song as subtly damning as ‘I Heard Love Is Blind’, on which she admits to cheating on her partner just because the opportunity presented itself. “Baby, you weren’t there,” she sings with a shrug, “and I was thinking of you when I came.”
‘Back To Black’, the UK’s 12th best-selling album of all time, should be dimmed by overfamiliarity by now but somehow it retains an almost shocking piquancy. When Winehouse delivers a killer couplet on ‘Me & Mr. Jones’ – “What kind of fuckery is this? / You made me miss the Slick Rick gig” – it’s a reminder that she was that rare artist who could stop you in your tracks. This box set doesn’t add anything new to the Amy Winehouse story, but it definitely makes you appreciate her genius all over again.
– ‘Amy Winehouse – The Collection’ is out now, priced £115.00