Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Well, It Ain't The Cover of the Rolling Stone

You are forewarned that this entry has nothing to do with motorcycles.  It does have to do with sex, drugs, and rock & roll.  Okay, not rock & roll per se, more like the blues but that doesn't roll off the tongue as well.

Before you read this, I have to tell you that I have never been a fan of Rolling Stone magazine.  When I was in high school, my friends tried to get me to read some of its reviews but I never could understand why they wanted to dissect the music to talk about it.  It just isn't how I think about music.  I'm proud to say that to date I've never paid for a single copy of Rolling Stone.  With that in mind, you are going to get the kind of talk about music that I think is appropriate – and for much less than the Rolling Stone cover price.

A few weeks ago, Amy Winehouse was found dead.  I was not surprised when she joined Club 27, and even though the cause of her death has not been determined, I feel confident that it will end up in some way being caused by substance abuse.  After she died, there was much talk on TV about her music and the depth of it.  Since I'd only ever heard one song, Rehab, I thought that I should take a listen to what else she was about.

I got her Back to Black and Frank albums, and also found several bootleg live performances on the internet and gave them a listen.  Part of what I found enjoyable about her music is the choice of songs.  Both albums featured songs that were original as well as some covers.

The first thing that strikes you about Amy Winehouse's music is her voice.  It has some of the same qualities that Nina Simone and other torch singers of that era possess.  An emptiness that seems to float on top of great passion.  Amy's voice has a smoky quality that never seems to have any effect on her range or the clear quality of her singing.  It is unique and I appreciate that uniqueness not only for the voice but also for what she has chosen to sing.

I like the song Rehab for the music that it is, simple and fun.  It is also one of only two songs I know of that have repeated "No's" in the lyrics.  The other song also deals with substance abuse, Ringo Starr's No-No Song, but in that, the singer has already completed rehab.   

I do like the fact that Amy recorded some songs that show dark humor and biting commentary.  To my way of thinking, Rehab is meant to be a fun song.  However, Amy's song Fuck Me Pumps is actually a better and much deeper song with dark humor.  It never received any airplay, to my knowledge, but given the title, I can see why not.  The song deals with a 30 something woman who was still hanging out at the bar looking for Mr. Right but settling for one night stands.  The song is almost cruel and mean.  It uses snide commentary but if you've ever met or seen one of those types of women, there is also great truth there.

As I mentioned before, Amy did several covers of other torch songs and ballads.  Her cover of Cupid is excellent. She took a very basic bubblegum song and turned it into something totally her own and at the same time kept it uplifting and fun.  I Heard It Through the Grapevine, a soulful duet with Paul Weller-- recording I heard was live and you could almost smell the stale beer and see the smoky haze.  Awesome.

Also,  Amy’s covers of To Know Him Is to Love Him, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and Someone to Watch Over Me are each a work of art in their own right.  Not only has she captured the deeper meaning of each of the songs in her own unique style, but also because of the way, she attacks them she has created a perfect trio of songs that were made for dim candlelight and terrific sex.  Warning: since all three together come to just a little over 10 minutes -- you will need to pair them with something else.
Where Amy's voice, style, and personal passion really shine is when she is singing the blues.  Back to Black, one of the title tracks, is what torch songs are supposed to be.  He was fooling around with someone else, treats her like crap, and then dumps her to go back to his woman – in the end she finds herself seeking the numbness of going back to black.  There is much discussion online about what is meant by this – – Was it drugs?  Was it just depression?  Was it loneliness?  My response to all of that is:  Who cares? – – here is a woman in deep pain who is seeking an escape.  I feel like Amy's voice through the whole song should echo because it sounds so empty and alone -- so full of pain it is impossible not listen.

So much the opposite of your typical torch song: In My Bed.  An ex-boyfriend she still sleeps with must be hinting that he wants to get back together.  All she wants is to sleep with him.  So many great lines in the song "Oh it's you again, listen this isn't a reunion", ""the only time I hold your hand is to get the angle right", and "want the same thing where we lay, otherwise minds a different way".  What terrific writing – the lyrics could stand alone as poetry.

Of course, Amy tells it the way she sees it in Stronger Than Me.  Her older man doesn't act manly enough for her; she says exactly how she feels about it.  For a little variety, her song Hey Little Rich Girl has a light reggae feel that there is no mistaking the distinctiveness of her voice in the duet with Zalon and Ade.

The bottom line of all of this is that I have enjoyed everything of hers that I've heard.  Amy Winehouse has a unique voice that makes you want to listen to what the lyrics are saying -- she has a way of twisting the blues on its head.  To me the blues is not only about the music itself but also about the lyrics.  Amy had a great way with lyrics.

When I was done listening to all the music and listening to such an abundance of talent that is no longer with us, I was left with only one comment: Damn, Amy. Why?


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