Back To Black – Amy Winehouse (2006)


Amy Winehouse released her 2nd and sadly final album in October 2006. Considering she only released two albums it is testament to how much of an impact they made on mainstream popular music and how her success opened the doors for many UK female artists.

Before Winehouse had hit the big time with this album it is difficult to think of another successful UK Female solo artist. I can’t only think of Dido since the turn of the century and before that maybe Gabrielle or Beverly Knight.

This is why Amy Winehouse is praised so highly. It is not just because of her music (which is very good) but the legacy she created which was to open the doors for the likes of Adele and Lily Allen.

Her first album “Frank” lent more towards her Jazz influences but this project is more an ode to Motown and 60’s girl groups.

Salaam Remi returns on the production side and he is joined by Mark Ronson who helps produce many of the albums biggest hits.

And there was no bigger hit than the first track “Rehab”. This was never a song I particularly loved and whilst I was impressed with the honesty and humour in the lyrics the tune itself felt stuffy.

Winehouse talks about the true story of having been told by her record company that she needs to go to rehab due to her excessive drinking and substance abuse. She explains why she doesn’t want to go and that her Father agrees with her. As we find out a few years later her refusal to sort her problems out would lead to her demise.

“You Know I’m No Good” is everything that made Amy Winehouse a compelling artist. The mixture of a hip hop beat, a blues element to the production and the Jazz tinged vocal merge together beautifully, resulting in a fine track.

Lyrically Winehouse tells a story about her behavior in this particular relationship and also serves as response to the media who at this point were focusing in on her lifestyle.

“Me & Mr Jones” is just superb. It’s straight out of 1960’s soul music. The production sounds so delightful I can’t help but love it. Winehouse sounds fantastic on what is one of her best vocal performances on this set.

With the 4th track “Just Friends” things don’t work as well as the watered down reggae tune isn’t particularly engaging. The melody isn’t memorable either but vocally she remains on point as she has a exceptional voice.

The title track “Back To Black” remains one of the most played Amy Winehouse songs. I think this is because it encompasses a lot of what she was about. The lyrics are so raw and personal you are taken aback that she would put it all out for everyone to hear. The song is no doubt depressing and even in the video she has a scene where she is at her own funeral.

The heartbreak and complete desolation is conveyed expertly.

We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to
We only said goodbye with words
I died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to


Arguably the best song on the album is next with “Love Is A Losing Game”. When an artist like Prince is performing this song at his own gigs that surely tells you something about what a magnificent song this is. I sometimes think that this is surely the best song Amy Winehouse ever penned.

The song is universal, no matter what race, sexuality or walk of life. She sounds so beautiful that upon her untimely death I found this song the hardest to listen to without being extremely sad about a girl who just couldn’t handle her demons.

Over futile odds
And laughed at by the gods
And now the final frame
Love is a losing game

“Tears Dry On Their Own” is a much more upbeat tune which uses a sample from Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s classic track “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. When I first listened to this album a decade ago this track was one of the obvious stand outs. The production is so slick that you can’t help but feel a bit happy when listening to it.

Usually with albums I find myself liking a song that no one really talks about and is often overshadowed by other more popular tracks. In this case on this album it is “Wake Up Alone”. 

Again maybe I have loved it more since her death because the song seems to take on a little bit more importance. Amy Winehouse found a number of things difficult in her life but none more so than dealing with her relationship. She is so honest on this track that you don’t need a music video to imagine how she would have been when writing this song.

The emotion that pours out of “Wake Up Alone” will surely have you pausing for a moment when it finishes. There is no resolution to her loneliness as the song ends and it leaves you knowing that it is these feelings that would drive her to the addiction that would eventually lead to her death.

It’s okay in the day
I’m staying busy
Tied up enough so I don’t have to wonder where is he
Got so sick of crying
So just lately
When I catch myself, I do a one-eighty
I stay up, clean the house
At least I’m not drinking
Run around just so I don’t have to think about thinking
That silent sense of content
That everyone gets
Just disappears ‘soon as the sun sets

“Some Unholy War” sees Winehouse drift more into the style of Lauryn Hill with a more R&B tinged track. The track is about her husband and her willingness to stick with him throughout thick and thin. It’s not the strongest track on the album but this is probably because there are just bigger and better tracks.

The vocal and melody on this song don’t seem to match to me and it is the only song I could describe as ‘filler’ on the entire set.

“He Can Only Hold Her” is a much more standard song melodically. It really is out of the 60’s in the way it is structured with the use of the male backing singers giving it that full retro song. This is a pretty song about a girl who is with a man who she is not entirely sure of.

The final track on “Back To Black” is “Addicted”. An apt title for someone whose life is defined by her lost battle with addiction.

But this song is a lot funnier than it first may appear. Winehouse is talking to her friend about the said friend’s boyfriend coming to their flat and smoking Amy’s weed. She is sarcastic and a little angry as she tells her friend straight that this will not continue and that she would rather her leave her boyfriend than give him any of her weed.

The overall feel of “Back To Black” is one of honesty. Amy Winehouse has lyrics that go through a range of emotions and you tend to feel them all on each track. She was clearly a troubled soul but this made her music all the more compelling.

The production from Remi and Ronson is another thing that makes this album timeless. Yes it is ‘retro’ in its composition but yet it all sounds very fresh and no one has been able to capture the same essence of this album since it was released.

Amy Winehouse did in two albums what most artists fail to do in ten – or maybe never at all. This is why her music will be played in 10,20, and even 30 years time.


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