#10) Amy Winehouse: Back to Black, 2007
Why yes, this is my most embarrassing album on the list, thanks for asking! But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to leave it off. Even though I don’t think we will ever hear anything remotely interesting or intelligent from her again. Even though I think in many ways, the album is a humongous fluke, and should not have gained the popularity it did. Even though Amy Winehouse herself really does not deserve to be on anyone’s top list of anything. Here she is, paving the way for the end of this decade, for white girls from Britain making good soulful music, like Adele and Duffy – who I enjoy far more – but must recognize that they probably would not have made it into the mainstream without Ms. Winehouse
I have decided to not spend a great deal of time in defense of why any particular album is on my list. However, there are two specific things that I must draw your attention to that also act as points of defense. The first is the quality of production. Back to Black gives us an old Motown sound and feel that works, even with Amy’s foul-mouth and bad attitude. Other than Mark Ronson for production, I would give nearly all the credit to the backing band. The Dap-Kings are hands down the number one reason that your body can’t not groove out when you hear nearly any track on this album. Just listen to You Know I’m No Good, and its phat beats layered with down and dirty saxophone and cutting trumpet tones. If it were up to me, I think I would have started the album with this track, but it’s Rehab that actually kicks it off.
In a way, the album mirrors the way Winehouse effectively walked into the mainstream brashly and unapologetically. Rehab begins as if we’re already in the middle of a conversation, as if we’ve already accused Amy, without having any introduction to her.
It takes a couple tracks before completely blowing me away though. What it takes is Me and Mr. Jones, and a brand new use of the f-word: “f—ery”. Only she could get away with making up a word and working it into nearly every verse. It has made it’s way up to my all time favorite use of an obscenity in pop music, based on its originality alone!
A few minutes later as Just Friends is blaring on my stereo with that its super groovy offbeat Bari Sax and horn shots, I recognize that this is a rather appropriate album for the Christmas season, considering the stereotypical plethora of alcoholic beverages and mood lighting. This calls for a Hot Chocolate. Spiked of course. And I return to listen to the rest of the CD while I stare in vain at our house’s 2000 piece puzzle. I don’t think the drink will help with the puzzle, but it sure makes Amy sound even better. No wonder she doesn’t want to go back to rehab!
The title track, Back to Black is so wonderfully bitter, it’s hard not to seethe at any old fling that went wrong. A sample of inspiring lyrics: “We only said goodbye with words… you go back to her, and I go back to black”. Oh the glory of dramatic sexual tension.
And how else could she follow up that song but with Love is a Losing Game. Here Amy puts aside some of her rage, and sunk slightly into a classy depression. You know, the kind where a very sad woman sits alone in her apartment wearing a red party dress? Well, that’s what I imagine. And unless I get up and do something, I’m going to begin melancholing with the best of them. Why yes, I did just use that as a verb! Amy’s inspiring to expand my vocabulary through the art of BS. Thanks Amy!
Luckily I don’t need to get up after all, since Tears Dry on Their Own strikes up. It sort of reminds me of a really ironic TV show theme song. But in a good way… and before I know it, emotions shift again with Wake Up Alone. At this point the album starts to feel somewhat manic-depressive. Still, I can’t help but love the old-school vocal harmonies on this track.
Finally, her ending with He Can Only Hold Her works similarly to Rehab in beginning the album. I can’t help but think that the album isn’t trying to be an entire separate entity, but instead is just a continuation of the great R&B that already exists. I don’t want to move on to something new; I want to keep listening to good music all evening: I’m jumping all over my funk and soul playlists. Amy (and her crew) inspires me to return to that classic Motown sound I haven’t listened to for a long time, and that deserves a great many thanks.