The world is spinning constantly, ushering one event in as it shows the last event the door at breakneck speed. Despite knowing this fact, I was struck this afternoon about all of the events that have occurred in the world and in my life since I heard that Amy Winehouse died ten days ago. Let’s be honest right upfront: while I was a fan, I wasn’t a die-hard follower. Back to Black got some serious rotation in my mixes when it came out, but I had not revisited the album recently. As for Frank, that one passed me by on its original release, and I only gave it a passing glance upon finding out that Back to Black was not Amy’s debut.
With all of that said, I can say with a clear conscience that even with my less-than-obsessive following I knew that Amy Winehouse was a force to be reckoned with. In the hands of almost any other vocalist, Back to Black would have sounded like a tribute at best or karaoke at worst, but Amy Winehouse owned those lyrics with her passionate and world-weary vocals from start to finish. Many of the ladies that have followed in her footsteps have already stumbled badly (Duffy, anyone?), but if you can say anything positive about Amy, it is that not rushing out a third album would have helped her immensely when that disc finally hit the stores and the Internet. Sadly, it is now guaranteed that if the disc sees the light of day, it will be an instant best seller.
The saddest part of all the media coverage has been the people empowered to say “she got what she deserved.” Granted, she set herself up by writing, recording and releasing a song like “Rehab,” but some of the things that have been said show just how cold the anonymous posters can be when emboldened to do so. That may be a topic for another day, but it still deserves mention because in my opinion she doesn’t deserve it.
So what do we have to show for having had Amy Winehouse in this world for 27 years? For one, we have a renewed interest in 60s girl groups, which is never a bad thing. Beehives, for better or worse, made a brief comeback. Ghostface Killer got played on the radio via the “You Know I’m No Good” remix, and I’ll never complain about that. Sadly, we now have some brilliant music being released in tribute to Amy. While some of these are simply covers that are meant to memorialize a talented performer, at least one reinterprets one of Amy’s greatest songs in an unexpected way.
Ronnie Spector wrote for Rolling Stone magazine one of the most personal tributes to Amy Winehouse that I read in the aftermath of Amy’s death, but it was the musical tribute that truly moved me. Spector, who performed “Back to Black” live with Amy in the audience, recorded a cover of the song that reinterprets it from a dark and moody girl group ballad to a smoky dancefloor anthem that is begging remixes while standing on its own as an unexpected revelation. According to Rolling Stone, the cover will be released as a charity single, but for the time being I’m playing the song over and over as a reminder of both Amy Winehouse’s writing talent and as a testament to the vocal power of Ronnie Spector. If there is any silver lining to Amy’s passing, may it be the exposure she directed toward the originators of the sound that made her popular, and the respect those pioneers are showing her in return.