You may have noticed that music is my passion, and I’m passionate about the music I like. I’m always on the hunt for new music. Usually I discover new acts from listening to satellite radio or from reading music blogs.
In late 2006 two tracks performed by a woman named Amy Winehouse appeared on UK music blogs. Both “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” blew me away. The music sounded like nothing else out at that time, and that voice was distinctive and sublime. The album on which these songs appeared, Back to Black, was released in the UK in October of 2006. The US release was months away. I couldn’t wait. I called a friend who worked at Universal Music, the album’s distributor, in the UK. She sent me Back to Black and Winehouse’s prior album, Frank.
Frank was very good, but Back to Black was the best album I’d heard in years. The songs came from a dark place – Winehouse’s break-up with her boyfriend (with whom she later reconciled and married), but I didn’t find it a depressing listen, as the singing and production thrilled me. She sang how love is a losing game, how after their break-up she wanted to die, how despite feeling that way she knew they had to break up, and I smiled all through it.
Not every song is about a gloomy subject. In “Me and Mr. Jones” Winehouse asks “What kind of fuckery is this?” and takes her “best black Jew” to task for making her miss the Slick Rick concert, among other things. The Mr. Jones of the title is rapper Nas, with whom Winehouse later collaborated and who shares a birthday with the songstress.
Back to Black was released in the US on March 13, 2007, entering the Billboard album chart at #7, at that time the highest debut ever for a British woman. Six days later I saw her perform at the 500 person capacity Roxy on Sunset Boulevard, where the majority of the audience already seemed to know the album backwards and forwards.
One song from the UK edition was left off the US version of the album – the wonderful “Addicted.” What kind of fuckery is that? Was her US label trying to hide a truth about the artist? We already knew they tried to make her go to rehab but she said no no no. We knew she went back to black. I think we could take her berating someone for smoking all her weed and not buying more. Did they not want the US public to know she was an addict? We knew. We knew very well.
Back to Black is #31 on my top albums of all-time list. In honor of what would have been Amy Winehouse’s 31st birthday, today’s playlist consists of ten of her finest performances, with a focus on that classic album.
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