Amy Winehouse’s July 23 death was tragic but unsurprising. I adored the 27-year-old singer’s penchant for vintage soul, but I only needed one look at her dingy ballet flats and off kilter beehive to know she was one long-suffering drug addict who wasn’t getting any healthier. When I heard that she had passed, I played her Back to Black album and thought about how sad it was that her talent went to waste.
Winehouse’s entire body of work consists of one pretty good album and one phenomenal one. That’s it. (Rumors of a third album have been circulating for several years, though how much the singer managed to record before her death is currently unknown.) Her 2006 effort Back to Black combined elements of 1940s jazz and 1960s Motown to create one of the best albums in recent memory. At a time when musicians tend to be explained by the decade in which they recorded—and when songs only a few years old already sound dated—Winehouse offered something that felt timless.
Mark Ronson co-produced Back to Black and is the person we can thank for its stand-out single, “Rehab.” He also included a remixed version of Winehouse’s cover of “Valerie” (originally by a band called the Zutons) on his 2007 album Version.
Ronson’s blown-out remix:
(Note: Ronson never fully explained the use of an Amy look-alike in the video, but the soul siren was struggling with addiction and in the middle of a tumultuous relationship with her then-husband Blake Fielder-Civil at the time. So she was probably, y’know, unavailable for filming)
Of course, Winehouse’s most arresting talent was her voice. For those too young to be familiar with the music of the past, her chewed words and mournful croons sounded novel. To others, she seemed a superb imitator. But she was more than that. After all, there are very few people who can cover a Sam Cooke song and not find themselves immediately humbled by the original.
Sam Cooke, “Cupid”
Amy Winehouse, “Cupid”
Her vocal style has always reminded me of Dinah Washington’s. Both women had an effortless way of singing that sounded as if the words just tumbled out of their mouths.
Dinah Washington, “Cry Me a River”
Amy Winehouse, “Love Is a Losing Game”
Amy Winehouse left behind a small but solid catalog of music that will likely be appreciated for many years to come. It’s just a shame she didn’t stick around to see it happen.
(PHOTOS: The Life and Times of Amy Winehouse)