Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Last night, to the surprise of no one, that Academy Award for Best Documentary went to the Amy Winehouse movie Amy. The movie, as is typical for these things, is more about the personality than the music; producers seem to think public breakdowns make for better visuals than the nitty gritty of work in the studio (a premise with which we strongly disagree). But still, if it gets some young Adele fan who wasn’t around for Adele’s predecessor to give Back to Black a listen, another exhaustive look at Winehouse’s demons was perhaps worth it.
We, however, are all about the music, which we celebrate today with the latest in our series of Full Album cover sets. Though as is always the case the big hits have way more covers than the deep cuts, it’s a testament to how deep the album’s bench is that every song has been given at least one cover worthy of Amy’s talent.
One theme that emerges is how many of her influences turned into her fans. People like Prince, Wanda Jackson, and even Ronnie Spector have all covered her songs over the years. We didn’t include them all – in general, we avoided covers that didn’t stray too far from their original soul templates – but they serve as a tribute to how ably she incorporated her influences. And she in turn has passed her influence forwards, with tributes from acolytes like Sam Smith (who’s covered two songs) and Adele (who hasn’t, but has spoken about how much Amy’s music meant to her).
So with the eleven songs below, we remember Amy just as those musicians all did: through the music.
The Jolly Boys – Rehab
Many covers to choose from for this song, needless to say. Should we go with Hot Hot Heat’s angular post-punk? Pablo Nutini’s emotive folk-rock? The Ping Pong Orchestra’s organ and flute groove? All worth seeking out, but perhaps the most unusual is this mento cover by the Jolly Boys. In addition to being a brand of breath mint, mento is a Jamaican folk tradition that predates reggae, making it only a couple degrees removed from Amy herself.
Arctic Monkeys – You Know I’m No Good
Since we passed over Hot Hot Heat, we’ll pick Arctic Monkeys’ similarly rocking approach on another oft-covered song. What puts this above your typical rock-cover-of-pop-radio-hit genre exercise is Alex Turner’s committed vocals. A lot of times at these BBC Radio 1 “Live Lounge” cover sessions you see the singer reciting from a lyric sheet, not having practiced the song much. That’s clearly not the case here.
Dry the River – Me and Mr Jones
When Winehouse died, the UK music magazine Q contacted their favorite artists to compile their own full-album tribute, titled Back to Back to Black. For a mish-mash of artists, the covers are surprisingly effective across the board, giving us wonderful renditions of rarely-covered songs like this one.
Sarah Robinson – Just Friends
Given the lush production Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi gave Back to Black, it can be refreshing to hear how well the songs work stripped down this far. DC singer Sarah Robinson sings the song with no ornamentation, just her voice and a few spare ukulele chords. When the songwriting is this good, that’s all it needs.
Banjo or Freakout – Back to Black
Elbow’s Live Lounge version would probably be the consensus choice here (you could fill a whole CD of Live Lounge covers of this album in fact), but I prefer this weirder take. It’s so slow and washed out it’s barely recognizable. You know that scene in Eraserhead where the lady in the radiator sings “In Heaven”? It could just as easily have been this song instead.
Prince – Love Is a Losing Game
Before she passed, Winehouse had reportedly been approached by Prince to record together. Sadly we’ll never know what might have come from that, but they did play live together once, performing “Love Is a Losing Game.” Prince has since returned to the song periodically, first as an acoustic number the day after Amy passed, then occasionally in his live shows since. Sometimes his bandmate Shelby J sings, but this is an instrumental version from 2011 (read: lots of Prince guitar wailing).
Sam Smith – Tears Dry on Their Own
Winehouse superfan Sam Smith regularly covered this on his world tour last year, mashing it up with his backup-singers showcase “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” There are a million fan recordings, but this is the only professional one we could find (though what real professional would mix Sam’s voice so low, I ask you). He also covered “Love Is a Losing Game” on – you guessed it – the BBC Live Lounge.
Nana – Wake Up Alone
One of the many tragedies about Amy Winehouse’s death was that she never got to do a James Bond theme. This song was as close as she got, as she wrote it with Paul O’Duffy, close collaborator with Bond composer James Barry (though “Wake Up Alone” would be a terrible title for a Bond film). This quiet cover by Berlin artist Nana features tender vocals and some unexpected production touches.
Shi Wisdom – Some Unholy War
A full year before the Meek Mill debacle, Drake was accused of using another ghostwriter: Toronto singer Shi Wisdom. She denied it, making the logical argument that she was credited as a co-writer with him on a song, so why would she be doing others in secret? Well one thing’s for sure, she didn’t write this song, but she gives it a hip-hop beat Amy would have appreciated.
The Balearic Folk Orchestra ft. Olivia Chaney – He Can Only Hold Her
Another one off the Q magazine tribute, this song introduced us to the Balearic Folk Orchestra, a wonderful collective who covered classic dance-music hits with harp and acoustic guitar. They don’t seem to have ever recorded anything besides this – and it’s not, after all, a club track – but there are some wonderful videos of them doing other songs.
Ariel Carpenter – Addicted
There are a million quiet acoustic covers of Amy Winehouse online, but they mostly feature people trying to sing like Amy (and failing) without the production value. This undersung take is far more haunting. Recorded on cassette as part of a brilliant lo-fi covers album, it shows the right singer can do a lot with a little.
Buy the original ‘Back to Black’ on Amazon.