Amy Winehouse’s most arresting talent was her voice, her songs and her style of singing. Amy Winehouse’s upbringing was surrounded by jazz; many of her uncles on her mother’s side were professional jazz musicians, and her grandmother Cynthia was once romantically involved with British jazz legend Ronnie Scott.
In this report from Digital Spy, Amy’s Dad Mitch, chooses the key songs in Amy’s life.
Amy Winehouse playlist: Mitch chooses the key songs in Amy’s life
July 23 this year will mark the first anniversary of the sad death of Amy Winehouse.
Her father Mitch this month released a memoir titled Amy, My Daughter to tell the story of her life’ with all author proceeds being donated to the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
To accompany the book, Mitch has compiled a 15-track Spotify playlist which you can listen to here, and has also given Digital Spy the background for each song’s inclusion.
‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra – Amy’s favorite song as a child
“This was a very special song for Amy because she and I used to sing it together or ‘duet’ it when she was a child – although we never really managed to get it off pat.
“When she was around two years old, and was first beginning to talk, I’d sing ‘Fly me to the…’, and I’d leave the word ‘moon’ out, and then she’d sing ‘MOON’ in the gap. She loved that song.
“Whenever she got chastised at school, she would always sing ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ – before she went up to the headmistress to be told off, she’d be singing the song because it cheered her up. It was a very special song for her.”
‘Whatta Man’ by Salt-n-Pepa – The inspiration for Amy’s childhood girl group, Sweet ‘n’ Sour
“Amy used to sing along with everything. Although she liked big band and jazz songs, she used to love R&B and hip-hop bands like TLC and Salt-n-Pepa, who were one of Amy’s favorite bands growing up.
“When Amy was about ten, she and her best friend Juliette formed a rap group called Sweet ‘n’ Sour – Juliette was Sweet and Amy was Sour. I’d always hear them rehearsing together, but unfortunately they never put on a performance.”
‘Midnight Sun’, Ella Fitzgerald – The power of Ella Fitzgerald
“Ella Fitzgerald was very important to Amy; she used to listen to my Ella Fitzgerald collection a lot. One particular song of Ella’s that stands out is ‘Midnight Sun’. Amy and I often listened to it together; ‘How can somebody write a song like that?’ she’d ask.
“Your lips are like a red and ruby chalice,’ it starts, ‘Warmer than the summer night. Your eyes are like an alabaster palace rising to a snowy height.’ Very poetic and beautiful. Amy would listen to that song, look at its construction and say, ‘It’s just too beautiful for words’.”
‘Misty’ by Sarah Vaughan – Play Misty for me
“Sarah Vaughan was similar to Ella Fitzgerald in many ways, but Sarah Vaughan was a trained opera singer, as well as being a wonderful jazz singer. So where Ella was sheer natural talent, Sarah Vaughan was a little bit more constructed. I think Amy kind of slipped comfortably in between the two of them.
“Amy loved ‘Misty’, and she used to like me singing it, too. There was a film starring Clint Eastwood called Play Misty for Me, which Amy loved; she used to giggle and say, ‘Sing ‘Misty’ for me! She used to love me singing it. It’s a great song.”
‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morissette – The song that made me realize what a wonderful voice Amy had
“It was after hearing Amy sing this song that I realized she had real singing talent. I had been to see her perform at school before, but the song must have been in the wrong key or something because it hadn’t come across well. I don’t remember what the song was but I remember saying to myself, ‘Thank God she can dance and act because she’s not a great singer!”
“Then the following year she said, ‘Dad, Dad, I’m singing at school again.’ I thought back to what had happened the previous year, but we went along, of course, and that was when she sang Alanis Morissette’s ‘Ironic’ and it was ironic because this time she was singing beautifully.
“The performance was fantastic, it was beautiful – everyone sat up and took notice; the whole room was just blown away. I remember it so clearly – it was a wonderful performance of a wonderful song.”
‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’ – The song that earned Amy her scholarship to the Sylvia Young Theatre School
“Amy applied for a scholarship at Sylvia Young without telling anyone. When she announced she had been accepted for auditions everyone was very excited. ”ou should sing ‘Sunny Side of the Street’, my mom said to Amy, and that’s what she did.
“Amy had never even had a singing lesson before that audition, so we practised it together and worked on her breathing. Her wonderful performance of that song got her into the school.
“To me, Amy was just my 12-year-old daughter who danced and sang a little bit; we didn’t even know she’d applied. Being her dad, I obviously thought she was great, but it was starting to become clear that other people thought she was brilliant, too.”
‘The Nearness of You’ – The first song Amy recorded
‘The Nearness of You’ is a wonderful song; it’s been covered by everybody. Sinatra covered it, Ella Fitzgerald covered it, Sarah Vaughan covered it, Billie Holiday covered it, Dinah Washington covered it. But let me tell you, nobody sang the song like Amy sang it, and she was just 17 years old at the time! It was incredible… absolutely incredible.
“We still have a copy of the recording and hopefully one day we will share it with everybody. It’s not in great condition, so we need to improve it, but it was a very important track for Amy because it was the first professional recording on which we heard her singing with a band. It was quite wonderful, and a beautiful song.”
‘What a Difference a Day Makes’ by Dinah Washington – Amy loved this classic song
“This is a great song. I used to play a lot of Dinah Washington’s music around the house when Amy was growing up; she really, really loved it.
“You can kind of hear a similarity between Amy and Dinah Washington. And ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’ is a beautiful song. Dinah was a great lady, too; she also died tragically young.
‘Take the Box’ by Amy Winehouse – Amy’s lyrics were inspired by real life
‘Take the Box’ is a great song that really demonstrates Amy’s ability to take her experiences and put them into her songs. In the first lines of the song Amy sings, ‘Your neighbours were screaming, I don’t have a key for downstairs, So I punched all the buzzers hoping you wouldn’t be there.’
“That relates specifically to something that happened when she was a little girl, an incident at my mom’ flat at Bramford Court. We were trying to get into the block but I had lost the key to the flat. My mom wasn’t in, so I pressed all the buzzers to all the other flats until someone let us in.
“Of course, the song wasn’t about us being locked out, but the neighbours were screaming that day. It was amazing how she could take a childhood event and turn it into a brilliant lyric.”
‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-Las; ‘Chapel of Love’ by The Dixie Cups; ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes; ‘Then He Kissed Me’ by The Crystals; ‘Rehab’ by Amy Winehouse – The inspiration for the sound of Back to Black
“Amy was very much into Sixties girl groups. She would go out to Camden, way before the beehive look came in, and buy lots of vinyl. She loved the girl-band sound, the raw sound of it; she loved the songs: ‘Chapel of Love’, the vroom-vroom-vroom of ‘Leader of the Pack’, Ronnie Spector, and all that stuff. But most of all she loved the look.
“If you look at the Ronnie Spector albums, the Ronettes from the early Sixties, it’s like you’re looking at Amy. That’s where she got the influence from. She loved the look. She thought it was very glamorous and she carried it off very well.
“When she recorded Back to Black with Mark Ronson, he wasn’t very familiar with that genre of music – it wasn’t what he’d been brought up with. So Amy had to give him a sort of two-day crash course in Sixties girl-group music.
“‘Rehab’ was a consequence of Amy’s long-held – and Mark’s new-found – love of Sixties girl groups. If you listen to Back to Black, it’s like listening to the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes from the early Sixties. That was exactly what Amy intended.”
‘Body and Soul’ by Tony Bennett and Amy Winehouse – Amy’s last recording
“I don’t really know what to say about this one. Tony Bennett, my favorite singer; Amy, my daughter, and ‘Body and Soul’, my favorite song. It’s all too good to be true.
“It’s a song that I always sang when Amy was a child. When it was mooted that Amy would be doing a duet with Tony, she came back with six possible songs they could record. ‘I’ve chosen ‘Body and Soul’, Amy told me. ‘Do you know that’s my favorite song?’ I asked. ‘Of course I do, Dad.’ ‘Do you even know the words?’ ‘Dad, you’ve been singing it to me for 25 years, of course I know the words.’
“Tony gave her six songs to choose from – he would have done any one with her – and she chose ‘Body and Soul’ because it was my favorite. It was her choice.
“So you’ve got my favorite song, you’ve got Amy, and you’ve got Tony Bennett – what could be better than that? It’s a great song and their version of it is absolutely superb; they won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2012 for that recording. Unfortunately, Janis and I went up with Tony Bennett to receive it instead of Amy.”
Amy, My Daughter by Mitch Winehouse is out now at Amazon. All author proceeds go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation.
The musical influences and the key songs in Amy’s life shaped Amy’s musical direction. Amy Winehouse left behind a small but solid catalog of music that will likely be appreciated for many years to come. It’s just a shame Amy isn’t around to see it happen.
The author proceeds from Amy, My Daughter go to the Amy Winehouse Fundation.