The loss of Amy Winehouse has startled and saddened music lovers all across the world. As the renegade of rock and soul her influence permeates into every genre and her brazen vulnerability into everyone’s hearts. Never has a singer sung with such admittance and transparency. In each song Amy confessed to what was so obviously on her sleeve. Addiction, heartbreak, self-inflicted abuse, and the resistance to rehab.
Of course she is not the only artist to run into these issues and her damages are reflected in one artist in particular. If you can’t guess the connection just from the trauma, look to the hair. The beehive is the dead giveaway. That hairstyle was originated by Ronnie Spector, the lead singer of the legendary Ronettes. Amy Winehouse trickled down from Ronnie Spector. She was Ronnie’s shadow and Amy’s interest in girl groups was the foundation of her sound. From girl groups grew jazz and soul, but it was Ronnie’s influence that stood center stage in Winehouse’s music.
Ronnie always saw herself in Winehouse and channeled that connection into her own slightly more modern version of “Back to Black.” Though unreleased until now, the cover predated Amy’s death by two years, making clear that Ronnie was endeared to Amy long before grieving sympathies kicked in, and was overseen and orchestrated by hip-hop producer Phenom. The elements that are added include a driving synth-bass, which makes the song a total departure from both Ronnie’s original sound and Winehouse’s jazzy style. Despite the disco undertones of this version, the song still works. The gloom that is imbued in the original remains present in Ronnie’s version, and the striking similarities between their mutual contralto voices is almost equally haunting.
These two women are woven from the same threads and mirror each other’s style, struggles, and contributions to music. It is utterly tragic that Amy’s life was cut short, but in Ronnie a bit of Amy lives, and we have to be thankful to both women for ushering soul and doo wop into the spotlight of popular music where they rightfully deserve to be.
Listen to Spector’s “Back to Black” at RollingStone.com.