She burned fast and bright, and sadly only ever had the chance to release two albums. But within 2003’s ‘Frank’ and 2006’s ‘Back To Black’ lay a wealth of genius.
Ten years ago today (July 23) Amy Winehouse tragically died aged just 27. Here, we look back on the Camden singer’s greatest tracks, and celebrate the legacy of a once-in-a-generation voice.
‘Fuck Me Pumps’
Amy Winehouse is best known for singing about her tumultuous love life, but this highlight from debut album ‘Frank’ shows her knack for social commentary. The deliciously-titled ‘Fuck Me Pumps’ finds her sending up the wannabe footballers’ wives of the early 2000s in a series of cutting couplets. “Don’t be mad at me,” she sings, “‘Cause you’re pushing 30… and your old tricks no longer work.”
‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’
Winehouse covered this Carole King classic for 2004’s Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason soundtrack, investing it with a typically emotional vocal performance. After her death, Mark Ronson took her devastating original vocal and gave it a new, fuller production with backing from the late Sharon Jones’ band the Dap-Kings (who also played on ‘Back to Black’). The result, grand and dramatic, is a highlight from her posthumous compilation ‘Lioness’.
‘Tears Dry On Their Own’
Built around a sample from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s 1967 classic ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, this mid-tempo gem from Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ album is a deceptively breezy Motown-influenced pop song. Though the chorus is gently uplifting, her lyrics are filled with lashings of romantic regret. “I’ll be some next man’s other woman soon,” Winehouse sighs on the second verse.
‘In My Bed’
This brassy ballad from ‘Frank’ shows off a different side to Amy Winehouse – one that’s not heartbroken at all. “Yours is a familiar face,” she warns an ex-boyfriend that she’s about to hook up with. “But that don’t make your place safe in my bed.” Some nifty scat-singing at the climax completes what is surely one of Winehouse’s most empowered and self-confident songs.
‘You Know I’m No Good’
Like so many songs from ‘Back To Black’, it’s now impossible to listen to ‘You Know I’m No Good’ without projecting your own interpretation of late-period Amy Winehouse onto the lyrics. A song about self-loathing after cheating, this stand-out track hides darkness within its bright, brassy exterior. “I told you I was trouble,” she warns in the chorus.
Sure, it’s a cover version –and a Mark Ronson cover version at that (technically, Winehouse is simply the featured vocalist). But she doesn’t so much steal ‘Valerie’ from The Zutons as tempt her away to the jazz bar with a sly wink. It’s a brilliant example of Winehouse’s ability to get properly under the skin of a song, and deliver a cracking pop hit to boot.
‘Stronger Than Me’
Though Winehouse’s debut single stalled at Number 71 when it was first released in October 2003, it later won the singer-songwriter her first Ivor Novello award. Eighteen years on, it remains a first-rate example of her fierce songwriting gift – here, a young Amy chides an older lover for failing to ‘man up’ in their relationship over classic jazz-stained melodies and shuffling hip-hop beats.
‘Love Is A Losing Game’
This sublime soul ballad was the final single released in Winehouse’s lifetime, and later won her a third Ivor Novello award. ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ is so classic-sounding, it could almost be mistaken for a cover of an old ’60s tune, if the lyrics weren’t so quintessentially Amy Winehouse. “Though I battle blind / Love is a fate resigned,” is one of many elegantly economical couplets.
‘Back To Black’
When Winehouse died, Mark Ronson described her as his “musical soulmate”, and a song like ‘Back To Black’ makes it difficult to disagree. When Ronson played her the opening piano chords, she apparently went away and wrote this 1960s girl-group tribute in an hour. The result is a truly gut-wrenching break-up song on which Winehouse dissects a toxic relationship with brutal honesty.
Its lyrics would become cruelly ironic when Winehouse was eventually forced to check into several different rehab facilities, but her 2006 breakthrough single is still total genius. It somehow manages to sound utterly timeless and completely modern at the same time as Winehouse namechecks Ray (Charles) and Mr (Donny) Hathaway.
This article was originally published in July 2015