Ten years ago today, Amy Winehouse lost her fight. Addiction won. She joined The 27 Club. If she was shown more love, taken better care of, if the pressures weren’t the same, you could even say if she was stronger – that might, after all, be someone’s read on it – she could still be with us today. She would only be 37. What music might she have given us? Where would she be in this world?
We of course can never know and shouldn’t speculate.
But I have always felt bad about writing something very shortly after Amy Winehouse died.
I realise now I didn’t process my feelings well at all, wasn’t able to. So instead, I was the kid with the pin pricking the balloons at the party. The Amy Winehouse I loved was the musician that made the debut album Frank at the age of 19. It arrived in my hand one day on a routine stroll up to the newspaper office to get a stack of review CDs. I couldn’t believe what I heard as soon as the disc hit the tray. This was jazz and hip-hop and R’n’B all at once. This had sass swagger and musical chops. She was Anita O’Day all over again and Billie Holiday too. She was her own thing entirely. And the songs were what I really loved. Fresh and funky and smart-arse as. Funny and rude and so utterly compelling. Sure, she had a voice and such musicality. But it was the songs that told the story.
By the time she got to Rehab – the tune that is– I had moved on a tad. The playing on the record was great, sure, some of the songs were heartbreaking and beautiful. But the industry had its hooks right in. And I had mostly checked out.
I see and hear Back To Black now as so much more than a gimmick – but at the time it felt a little too pantomime. That can happen when you’re writing about music every day, publishing each week in the paper, trying to spot trends and trying a little too hard to bust myths.
But I truly believe that I was grieving Amy Winehouse when she was still alive. The Amy Winehouse I wanted to keep was the one that made Frank. I had no right to expect her to stay in that mode. And there are songs on Back To Black that are better than some of what’s on Frank anyway. They go deeper. They mean more. I bet some of them are songs Amy wished she didn’t have to write.
I’ve watched the documentary and loads of concert footage, I winced to hear the new 3CD version of Live at the BBC which collects up more than we ever needed to hear; some ropey performances are in there along with the magical ones. And it’s far too much and yet it’s not enough of her true talent.
The first posthumous set of recordings, Lioness, didn’t feel right either. I mean, look, there was some lovely stuff collected – I want to hear anyone with a heart and a decent voice sing Leon Russell’s A Song For You. But I didn’t need to hear the ghost of Amy Winehouse. Not then. And sometimes not now.
Still feel pretty strange about her loss. It hits me when I hear those first two, those only two albums. When I hear a run of songs – or see the photos or watch any of the clips that tell parts of the story…
And Amy, like Billie Holiday, like Janis Joplin, like Mama Cass, like Karen Carpenter, had one of those voices. And the sad story that frames it will live on now with the songs.
Feel free to share your Amy Winehouse story below. Your favourite songs. Your points of connection.
And of course, as always, I offer something musical up on a Friday even if you don’t like the main subject. So another Something For The Weekend playlist in the ongoing series. Twenty songs in some order that I chose for you. I hope you like at least some of them. And happy weekend to you all.