It’s been ten years tomorrow since Amy Winehouse passed and I remember the day well. I was at home preparing my radio show, like I always do on a Saturday afternoon, and when the news broke, it was not a major shock. It wasn’t like the death of Aaliyah or many of the other artists who died suddenly so young, but despite her much-publicised troubles, Amy’s death still made a massive impact on music fans everywhere. I was very numb and that night barely spoke on air but instead played three hours of her music back to back on air. I will never forget that sad evening.
Amy Winehouse had about three hours of music at that stage. Two great albums were supplemented by lots of cover versions and b-sides and despite some well-intentioned post-humous work, this was pretty much it really. Amy was gone forever and an artist who should have been just hitting her musical stride left us with only two real albums. Thankfully they are both pretty much classics, and thankfully she’s not an artist whose legacy is being treated with vulgar re-issues every five minutes. By the time of her death, most of us knew a comeback was unlikely, but the hope was finally extinguished on that sad July day ten years ago.
It was obvious at the time that her legacy would be significant. That legacy has not diminished in any way since, and she remains one of the great singers of her the modern era.
Her debut albumwas at the time still undervalued but those of us on it from the get-go will always be quick to remind the world that it was criminally ignored when it came out. It didn’t do too bad and it was reviewed favourably, but it was a strong debut produced mainly by Salaam Remi that showcased her songwriting ability as well as her amazing voice. Despite all of this, anything too jazzy was always hard to market and Amy really should have become a bigger star at this stage.
was a different story and this time Remi was joined by Mark Ronson who together split production on an album which became an instant classic. The Dap-kings, who had backed New York singer Sharon Jones throughout her amazing career, provided the backbone to many of the tracks, which harked back to a more Motown/Ronettes/girl group/60s sound. The album sounded amazing and this time it was a lot easier to sell too. It was a massive pop success and Amy Winehouse was suddenly being rightfully regarded as one of the greatest artists on the planet.
The years before her death were very sad really, and the same tabloids who were mourning her with crocodile tears in 2011, were pretty unrelenting in their harassment as her problems escalated. I’ve no interest here in speculating about her personal life, but mental health and addiction were treated insensitively by a lot of people back even only ten to fifteen years ago. Let’s face it, even now, the world can do a lot better.
Amy Winehouse died young, like lots of other great artists, and she will be remembered forever as an icon. She was always quick to pay homage to those who walked before her, and she was at her heart just an ordinary girl who loved soul and jazz. The songs she sung have now become as powerful as the jazz and soul standards she covered, and the quality of her song-writing will ensure they will be performed forever. The two great albums and various deluxe editions mean that ultimately it wasn’t a huge output, but it’s more classics than most artists will muster and it’s a powerful bunch of songs too.
The horrible coverage of her descent into a bad place will always be remembered, but most of us will remember that voice and those songs and those early interviews, full of innocence. Amy was a beautiful soul who never really wanted fame and fortune, and it’s a shame that she is no longer with us. Many great artists really only get going in their 30’s so we can only imagine what Amy would have done with her pen and with her voice. For now, we have the memories and the music and the songs. Songs that will last forever.