With her tumultuous career coming to its tragic end in 2011, Amy Winehouse has undoubtedly left an imprint on music. A blueprint for 21st-century jazz and neo-soul, the singer’s vocal talent arguably became overlooked in the swarm of paparazzi and destruction that followed her throughout her ‘noughties reign as England’s individualist diva. It’s unfortunate that Amy’s image remains tainted by the publicised battles of her personal life, the smoke and mirrors of the media allegorically clouding her talent through a smoke-induced haze. Despite maintaining her posthumous status as a cultural icon of British popular music, her live performances are often regarded as synonymous with a slew of missed or disappointing gigs, a slurred catalog of hits in a relentless struggle against drug and alcohol addiction. Past the commercial success of career-defining songs such as ‘Rehab,’ the true extent of her live vocal capability arguably remains under the radar to the average listener.
With a knack for innate emotional conviction, jazzy flair, and soulful vulnerability, her vocals in the earlier Frank years of her career had a few discernible differences to the vocal style of the Back to Black era. Perhaps due to her later substance abuse, Winehouse’s earlier performances were characterised by a richer tone characteristic of the jazzy influence of Frank. Scatting and growls accompanied an easy transition from the expressive, soulful contralto that became her Back to Black signature, to a distinctive mezzo-soprano that showed off the higher range of her vocal register. Yet within the media frenzy lambasting her tragic cry for help, exercised through bizarre behaviour and on-stage antics, an arsenal of incredible live performances now exist as a tribute to her artistry. With that being said, here are a few of Amy Winehouse’s best performances throughout the tragic lows and momentous highs of a short-lived, whirlwind career.
‘I’ll Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’
A cover of Donny Hathaway’s classic song, Winehouse was known to have been inspired by the late legend. As referenced in ‘Rehab’; “I’d rather be at home with Ray, I ain’t got seventy days, ‘Cause there’s nothing, there’s nothing you can teach me, That I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway.” Dedicated to her husband Blake Fielder-Civil, incarcerated at the time, this moving tribute to her destructive, obsessive relationship has 23 million views for a reason.
‘Valerie’ live and acoustic on The DL Show (2007)
Despite originally written by The Zutons in 2006, Amy’s vocal cover of ‘Valerie’ in Mark Ronson’s 2007 rendition has the song often mistaken for her own. One of her defining popular hits, this acoustic version strips back any on-stage pretense, allowing her raw, inherent vulnerability to come to the forefront.
‘Take the Box’ and ‘In My Bed’ at the Fender Strat Pack 50th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster (2004)
Accompanied by nothing but her own guitar plucking during ‘Take the Box,’ and the more proficient playing of regular guitarist Femi Temowo in ‘In My Bed,’ this set lets her vocals take centre stage. The acoustic rendition of the Salaam Remi-produced and Nas-sampling ‘In My Bed’ maintains its sexy, cheeky streak with jazzy growls and sex-kitten purrs. What’s most enjoyable about this performance is, however, how much she appears to be enjoying herself.
‘Love is a Losing Game’ live at the Mercury Awards (2007)
Emotional conviction and raw authenticity at its best.
‘Back to Black’ live on Silver Bullet TV (2007)
‘He Can Only Hold Her/Doo-Wop (That Thing)’ live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (2007)
The personification of Ronson’s retro, 1960s soul-inspired production of Back to Black, the old-school vintage charm of ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ seamlessly transitions into Lauryn Hill’s ‘Doo-Wop (That Thing),’ aided by Motown-reminiscent backup singers and an infectious groove.
‘Wake Up Alone’ live at Shepherd’s Bush Empire (2007)
The imperceptibly-mouthed “I love you” to Fielder-Civil sets the sentiment for the rest of the captivatingly wobbly performance of “Wake Up Alone.” While Winehouse wavers through the paining expose of her devastating relationship, the juxtaposition between her diminutive figure, insecurity, and idiosyncratic stage presence to her powerfully assured vocal embodies the parallel between waking up alone, yet being irrevocably in love.
‘You Sent Me Flying’ at AOL Sessions (2004)
‘Stronger Than Me’ at Glastonbury (2004)
The strength and sass of Frank classic ‘Stronger Than Me’ is mixed with the groove of Femi Temowo’s upbeat guitar and a more syncopated singing style. A wistful throwback to the days when Winehouse berated the male ego; “Don’t you know you supposed to be the man? Not pale in comparison to who you think I am.”