Amy Winehouse hadn’t released a studio album in five years, and no new tracks seemed to be coming any time soon. Her one song on Quincy Jones’s all-star album “Q: Soul Bossa Nostra,” a slurry cover of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party,” was a disappointment, and Mitch Winehouse, her jazz-singing taxi-driving father, released a new album before she did.
She’d been on indefinite hiatus since she swept the 2008 Grammys. During her absence — and then some, because of her success — rebel-divas such as Britain’s similarly soulful Duffy, FlorenceWelch, M.I.A., Jessie J, and especially Adele, and the similarly sassy Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry, came along and stole her thunder. Snooki from “The Jersey Shore” practically stole her hairstyle. Sadly, by 2011, Winehouse was mostly known — and searched online — for her tabloid marriage, tabloid divorce, bar brawls, drug arrests, court appearances, rehab stints, and failed comeback attempts.
Nothing testified to the staying power of her music than the heartbroken worldwide reaction to her sudden death from accidental alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011.
What could have been
Lesser singers would have been barely a blip on music fans’ radar, relegated to a three-second spot in the Grammys’ “In Memoriam” reel. Despite Winehouse’s struggles and failures (one of her last public performances, in Serbia only a couple of weeks before her passing, was such a drunken disaster that the press dubbed it “the worst [concert] in the history of Belgrade“), many fans fiercely believed she had it in her to record a Grammy-worthy “Back to Black” follow-up and reclaim her old glory. The tragedy was what could have been. Instead, she joined the so-called “27 Club,” that sad society of gone-too-soon, 27-year-old music legends such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Janis Joplin — just as her own family had predicted and feared.
Her death instantly renewed appreciation for her exquisitely pained voice and timeless music. Touching eulogies and tributes by Adele, Ronnie Spector, Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars, and even Russell Brand — plus massive posthumous sales spikes for “Back to Black” — proved what a rare and magnificent talent she truly was. No one, though, would ever listen to her music the same way again, not without the tiniest tinge of guilt. At one time, “Rehab,” with its defiant “no, no, no” refrain, had seemed like a fist-pumping anthem — a fun, tongue-in-rouged-cheek party song, hardly a desperate cry for an intervention. After her death, no one would hear it without wondering what might have been if Winehouse had just said “yes, yes, yes” and got some real help. Instead, she succumbed to “death by misadventure,” according to toxicology test results, with a blood-alcohol level five times the legal limit. The lifestyle that inspired some of her finest music was what silenced her for good.
As is the case with all late, great artists, her music will live on forever. Along with her albums “Frank” and “Back to Black,” which somehow just get better with every listen, there’s her recently released “Body and Soul” duet with Tony Bennett, in which she sounds in surprisingly fine form, and posthumous compilation “Lioness: Hidden Treasures,” which will hopefully enhance rather than cannibalize her legacy. And of course, Winehouse’s influence will likely be heard in the music of nearly every young, aspiring, female vocalist who ever owned a well-worn copy of”Back to Black.” These vocalists will be the ones to pick up this fallen torch-singer’s torch.
When not serving as managing editor for Yahoo! Music or penning L.A. Woman, a column on Los Angeles nightlife for NME.com, veteran music journalist Lyndsey Parker spends much of her free time compulsively watching reality television. Her Yahoo! column, “Reality Rocks,” is one of the most popular “American Idol” blogs on the Web. A die-hard music and pop-culture freak, former fanzine editor, “Rock & Roll Jeopardy” contestant, ex-child actress, and voracious pop-culture vulture, Lyndsey lives in Hollywood with her pet snake, piles of records, and a ’70s-model television set that is always, always on.