Neo-noir: Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’

We look back on one of the most influential and enduring albums of modern times.

On 26 October 2006 one of the most influential and enduring albums of modern times was released. The album, ‘Back to Black’, was the highly anticipated release by Amy Winehouse who was as infamous for her private life, as she was for her amazing musicianship.

Her previous (and first) album ‘Frank’ which was released in 2003, had made a reasonable impact on the British music scene. It earned several notable accolades including an Ivor Novello award and, selling over a million copies in the UK, officially went platinum. The album was named so, due to both its frank lyrical content, and was also a tribute to Amy’s hero, Frank Sinatra.

The more rhythm and blues-centric ‘Back to Black’ was written on the back foot of her doomed relationship with Blake Civil Fielder, and the struggles she experienced with her very public difficulties with drug and alcohol use.  Lyrically, it was no less frank than her previous album and it certainly pulled no punches.  What emerged musically, was a modern day classic album with a bluesy feel, in tribute to the female ‘Wall of Sound’ artistes from the 1960s who influenced Winehouse in her formative years. It’s an album that is as enduring as Amy’s unique and striking image and was universally positively critiqued by the music press, not only for Amy’s emotive singing voice, but also for her lyrical content, and the overwhelming clever production methods by Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson.

The album spawned five singles: Rehab, You Know I’m no Good, Back to Black, Tears Dry on their Own and Love is a Losing Game.  Surprisingly though, none of the singles attained the coveted No 1 chart position.  However, four of them were Top 20 hits in the UK during 2007, and all are now implanted in our collective everyday psyche.  We hear them as backing tracks on TV programmes, in the supermarkets, and they’re still constantly played on the radio, all over the world.

During 2007 ‘Back to Black’ was the most celebrated album release winning Winehouse five Grammys (a record shared with just five other recording artists as the second-most awarded female in a single ceremony). It was awarded Album of the Year at the BRITS and was shortlisted for a Mercury prize. It sold 43k copies in the first weeks of its release and up to 2013, the album sales totalled 12 million worldwide. Following the incredible success of its initial release, a deluxe edition of Back to Black was released in November 2007, containing a bonus disc of B-sides, rare, and live tracks.

Then suddenly, one day in July in 2011, Amy was found dead in her bed.  She sadly died just four short years after the release of her most famous piece of work.  The studio album was only her second in her own lifetime. Since her passing, a further album of songs was released, entitled ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’.

The public mourning for the loss of Amy was immense. Not only for the loss of a 27-year old woman, a sister, a daughter.  But also for the loss of the incredible talent she possessed. The fans wept for the unmade albums and the loss of what could have been.

David Bowie once said that he hoped some of his work would outlive him.  In ‘Back to Black’ Amy’s legacy will live on for decades to come.

❉ Ange Chan is a poet and novelist.  Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016.  Her third novel will be published in 2017.

❉ A deluxe edition of ‘Back to Black’ was released in 2015, containing a bonus disc of B-sides, rarities, and live tracks. The Deluxe Edition was also released on vinyl.

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