Monday, July 25, 2011

Missing Amy

Every once in a very long while there comes along a recording artist who really makes a difference. Amy Winehouse released only two albums in her brief lifetime. But the music industry reverberates with references to her brilliance as an artist who made a significant contribution.

Even though my radio career lasted only about 20 minutes, I’ve followed the music industry most of my life. It seems like most pop music seems to be mass-produced crap. The industry is notorious for making crap sausage. If something sells big, then let’s recreate it – even if it’s crap – many times over until an entire generation is mesmerized by moronic, Auto-Tuned garbage. The dumber, the better. If the singer can’t really sing, just use more Auto-Tune. Why was Amy such a big deal? She came along at a time when pop music was stagnant, not so much like a breath of fresh air, but like cigarette smoke-infused lounge air escaping from a just-opened sixties time capsule. It’s no wonder AMC used her “You Know I’m No Good” for the Mad Men promos that first season.

It’s ironic that someone who was referred to as a sixties retro artist was actually a real groundbreaker.Don’t like the “retro” sound? I don’t care. If you grew up at any time before Brittany Spears, you were familiar with the Motown sound, the Muscle Shoals sound, and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound.” Her sound, enabled by a band called The Deptones (how cool is that?) took you back to Ray Charles and Dusty in Memphis, then took you forward at the same time.

In “Tears Dry on Their Own” you hear, very distinctly, that Motown influence – Starting out with an arrangement that instantly brings to mind Marvin and Tammi singing “Aint no Mountain High Enough.” That baritone sax really takes you back. But it’s more than just nostalgia. It’s talent. It’s good music with a timeless quality that is hard to describe and even harder to get out of your head.

Jenny Eliscu really nailed it in her piece: “Winehouse was already an icon: a badass little Jewish girl with a cartoonishly massive beehive and exaggerated swooshes of eyeliner who found room between all the tattoos and scars from cutting to wear her heart on her sleeve. Moreover, there was just an undeniable power in her voice -- husky and sultry and sad, like a broken heart marinating in whiskey and cigarette smoke. It was a voice that sounded like it came from another time, echoing Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin.”

I’m not so sure about the Janis Joplin comparison, but I get it. She was a real badass. And I’m really going to miss her talent.