Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #21: Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

I was burdened with horrendous pop music during my formative years. Popular music had swung all over the place in the 1980s, eventually settling in with two genres: Mullet-Metal and dance-beat R&B. The year I turned 14, the top four selling albums were Bobby Brown, New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and Bon Jovi. And things were trending worse with MC Hammer and Mr. Big lurking around the corner. What's a boy to do when pop radio gives you nothing but absolute crap and the internet has yet to be invented? I went with the only feasible options: Classic Rock and Oldies. I've lauded Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder in this space before, but it's important to note that my adoration for real R&B was founded in those preteen days, as framed by Dick Biondi and Magic 104.3.

Contrary to what you may believe, pop music hasn't always been terrible, and I have always known it with those FM radio years serving as evidence. Since that time, I have been forever longing for an R&B singer who "gets it." If someone with pipes like R Kelly could only find the resolve to rediscover the roots of the genre, I knew I could be won back over in a New York minute. It's the reason I dug Ryan Shaw so much when he played Lollapalooza a few years go.

But the only place we tend to see even remote reverence for those pre-autotune days is American Idol (and let's not get into that subject). And then suddenly, along comes Amy Winehouse.

After hearing the first two tracks on her breakthrough album, Back to Black, I dismissed her as a Shirley Bassey wannabe. It took me several months to dig in farther, and I still regret the time lost. In that third song, "Me and Mr. Jones," with its bold language and scene-setting directness, we learn that Amy Winehouse doesn't merely have pipes, but reservoirs of soul we haven't heard in decades. And the more I learned the more I liked. Winehouse not only reveres the classic R&B records that meant so much to so many, she's trying to bring them back. Heck, she even covers Toots and the Maytals at her live shows.

This reverence is never more apparent than in the album's high point, "The Tears Dry on Their Own." It's certainly a new song, but is supported by the bedrock that is Marvin and Tami's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." I can't imagine anything that would make James Jamerson more proud. Sure, these are new tunes, but they're founded in classic themes. Amy's voice has it all, and the whole album has a heart that is so rare these days in R&B. So far the trend hasn't set in with anyone else, but if she puts out another hit record, perhaps more will get on the real retro bandwagon.

In sum, Amy, you had me at "fuckery."

Previous Entries:
#22 - Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
#23 - Don Caballero - World Class Listening Problem
#24 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
#25 - Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
#26 - Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak
#27 - Idlewild - 100 Broken Windows
#28 - Common - Be
#29 - The Futureheads - News and Tributes
#30 - The Black Keys - Rubber Factory
#31 - Wolfmother - Wolfmother

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