Amy Winehouse is a household name for both music connoisseurs and radio listeners. October 20th marked the 20th anniversary of the celebrated artist’s debut album, ‘Frank’.
Plectrums and Pin-up’s
Before the eyeliner and pin-up girl tattoo, Amy was born in Southgate, London. Luckily for us, she has always had a desire to share her musical abilities with the world. After messing around with her older brother, Alex’s guitar, she brought her own. Further proving her love for all things music, she became the featured female artist for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Funnily enough, the successful singer had her own dabble in journalism. The singer had a small gig for a while working as an entertainment journalist for World Entertainment News Network. I can’t help but see this as a full-circle moment.
On the contrary to Amy’s distinguishable jazz sound, she had her own go at making it onto the rap scene. Alongside her best friend, Juliette Ashby, they were the duo ‘Sweet N Sour’. Ultimately all of these varying genres helped the musician find her feet in the music world. However, the biggest inspiration was her grandmother. Cynthia Winehouse was a jazz singer herself, who not only helped Amy find her iconic style and knack for Tarot card reading but also introduced her granddaughter to the world of jazz. In fact, that previously mentioned pin-up tattoo was of Cynthia herself.
To be frank…
It is no surprise to fans of Amy that Frank Sinatra is not only the namesake of the triumphant album, but he was also a big part of her upbringing. After all, the unapologetic singer said it best herself, “Frank as a title for the album is a good word, it is frank… Dunno. Maybe with more time, I would have come up with a better title.” The unforgettable debut LP was straight to the point. It portrayed the singer perfectly in all her bumbling-scrappy teenage ways.
Nineteen-year-old Amy Winehouse had started showing the world exactly who she was, a deviant and quite frankly gobby artist who had something to say. In addition to signing with Simon Fuller’s 19 Management, she continued to work on many different tracks before she signed a publishing deal with EMI. Even so, ‘Frank’ was released through Island Records. The fierce musician worked with many different producers on the plucky project. This included Commissioner Gordon, Jimmy Hogarth, Salaam Remi, and Matt Rowe, who helped capture her distinctive sound.
Some of Amy’s most unapologetic and imperfect tracks lie within this album. ‘I Hear Love Is Blind’ is a personal favourite of mine. The singer is at her best when she lays out all her feelings and experiences on the table, something that this daring tune illustrates so well. As a result, you hear Winehouse try and convince herself that her infidelity doesn’t count. On the other hand, the personal song ‘What Is It About Men’ follows Amy as she comes to terms with her dad’s disloyalty. She spoke openly throughout about how it is her fate to become the mistress of a married man. This was similar to the women her father would see behind her mother’s back. Consequently, this tune immediately puts you in the centre of Winehouse’s world. It shows an unabashed vulnerability that became a staple of her style.
Furthermore, she would go on to win an Ivor Novello award for Best Contemporary Song Musically and Lyrically in 2004 for the controversial ‘Stronger Than Me’ produced by Remi.
In contrast, she respectfully covered tracks such as ‘There Is No Greater Love’ composed by Isham Jones with lyrics by Marty Symes. The track was famously covered by Billie Holiday, an artist that Amy is widely compared to. In ‘Moody’s Mood for Love’, originally by James Moody, we see Winehouse’s direct inspiration come from the artists she grew up admiring. After all, the Camden icon is praised highly for her ability to cover songs but make them completely her own.
To Know Her Is to Love Her
To me ‘Frank‘ encapsulates everything it means to be imperfect and experimental when growing up. This idea is portrayed perfectly on the album cover. Charles Moriarty captured the iconic picture of Amy with the aim of keeping it as true to her as possible. It was a far cry from the guitar-posed, forced album covers of the time. In short, this was so true to all of her work, especially in the rawness of ‘Frank’.
“I would say that lack of experience allowed us to create freely.”Charles Moriarty
Her ability to create such thought-provoking music through incomparable guitar sounds, a unique bold voice, and the talent for finding the nitty gritty is at its best on ‘Frank’. Winehouse stands for shining a light on all things ordinary. However, she showcases them in a way that carries her radiance throughout every track she makes. My fondest memories of Amy’s music come with my mum’s love for her and listening to ‘F*** Me Pumps’ in an old friend’s mum’s car with the stereo as loud as it could go.
It is easy to imagine Amy in the corner of a jazz club with her famous beehive sticking out from the smoke. I’d like to think that she is doing that somewhere now.