“Back To Black” by Amy Winehouse (2007)

I’m going to get a lot of chances to talk about Amy Winehouse since every song on Back To Black-save two-has a five-star rating in my library. The only albums I can think of with similar quantities of perfect songs would be the two that I quoted a couple of posts ago (Thriller and Purple Rain) and Stevie’s Innervisions, an album for which I’m fairly certain every song has a 5-star rating.

Back To Black is my favorite album of the 21st century. My former boss (who I affectionately called Uncle Paulie, not least because he had a tough Noo Yawka voice (even though he was from New Jersey) that reminded you of an Italian ball buster named Paulie) came into the office at some point in the early winter of 2007. He was raving about this British singer that reminded him of the artists that he loved in the ‘60s. Actually, if memory serves, he played me a song and asked me what year I thought it came from and what the artist may have looked like. I’m pretty sure I was wrong on both counts, but I also fell under the spell of the music. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, because being ahead of the curve is awesome), it was another four or five months before Back To Black became available in the states. I made do with a burned copy of Paulie’s CD and, as much as I was tempted to go to the Virgin Megastore a couple blocks away and plunk down a 20 for the import, my instincts told me to wait. And I waited.

-Amy doesn’t sound so much like a ‘60s throwback artist as she does an artist who somehow existed for a moment in the ‘60s, soaked that sound up; then got deposited in the mid ‘90s Nas/Wu NYC rap era briefly, then got re-deposited into the 21st century. Her sound isn’t pastiche the way, say, Chromeo’s is. Or Mayer Hawthorne’s. Or (groan) Duffy’s.

-I was talking to a co-worker last night about how the best music makes you feel something in your insides, and also how almost all of the best music comes from a place of pain. Listening to this song (and the rest of the album) felt like you were hearing Amy reach inside her body, rip her guts out, and throw them on the floor in front of you. It’s an intensely personal performance, and obviously comes from a place of profound heartbreak. The emotion displayed in this song is unique to Amy. Which is why Beyonce’s cover of this song makes me grimace. And no one else should go near it, either.

“I’m a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside”-ugh, I can’t. Something about that line feels like such a gut shot.

-Also, this video has been added to my “unwatchable” list primarily because of the cut to the gravestone at the end. In light of Amy’s eventual demise, it’s too eerily prescient for my taste.

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