The Courier Classics: Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black"

Bonya Kleyman flashes back to Amy Winehouse's 'Back to Black' for this week's Courier Classics.

Bonya Kleyman
11th November 2019
Image: Wikipedia

Although Amy Winehouse’s short career only spanned seven years, she changed the sound of contemporary music forever. Today, more than eight years after her tragic passing, many musicians continue to emulate her vocal technique and musical style.

Her most recognised and acclaimed album is the 2007 “Back to Black.” The preceding 2003 debut album, “Frank,” was largely a jazz record, in which a much younger-sounding Winehouse scatted vocals over airy instrumentals. “Back to Black,” however, exhibited an immense personal and musical transformation. The new beehive-donning, heavily tattooed Winehouse’s vocals became incredibly raw and poignant, showcasing a notably deeper tone, heavier lyrics, and impactful percussion. Furthermore, this album amalgamated several genres into one beautiful package. 

To label this record as belonging to one particular genre is challenging - and this is precisely what makes it a classic. In 2007, when mainstream music was filled with sickly-sweet pop tunes and primitive lyrics, Winehouse stepped out with a jazz-hip hop-reggae hybrid that took the music world by storm. Amy is able to maintain the same deep, intense vocals while delving into several different styles. ‘Rehab,’ ‘Me & Mr Jones,’ and ‘He Can Only Hold Her,’ are upbeat, 1960s-style tracks, while songs like ‘You Know I’m No Good,’ ‘Back to Black,’ and ‘Some Unholy War’ are a 180-degree turn - songs in a minor key that deal with profoundly dark subject-matter. As if that wasn’t enough, Winehouse even experimented with reggae in this album, in songs such as ‘Just Friends’ and ‘Monkey Man.’ 

Even more astonishing is that Winehouse personally penned most of these songs, showing the depth of her creative genius. Beyond the diversity of musical styles that she is able to express, this album also contains some of my favourite lyrics that continue to resonate with me even as I grow older. “Life is like a pipe, and I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside,” from the title track ‘Back to Black’ is an example of the rich imagery she was capable of, even in the young age of twenty-three, which is how old she was when this album came out. 

In this album, Winehouse takes us through an eleven-track adventure. Containing some of her most infamous songs, such as ‘Rehab,’ ‘You Know I’m No Good,’ ‘Tears Dry On Their Own,’ and ‘Love Is a Losing Game,’ this album is truly a gem. I believe that this album will continue to be prominent for decades to come, as it has been for the last twelve years.

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