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Seven Years On: The music that inspired Amy Winehouse


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"Life's short. Anything could happen, and it usually does, so there is no point in sitting around thinking about all the ifs, ands and buts." - Amy Winehouse 

Amy Winehouse would have been 35 today. She was the riotous, outspoken voice of a generation with a catalogue that will live on far longer than any of us. We've spoken time and time again about how her music has changed our lives, so, 7 years after the singer's tragic death, we look into some of the songs and musicians that inspired her. As she told Q in 2004"Music's a thing you have with yourself"

Amy Winehouse - Happy Birthday 

Chosen to open the documentary 'Amy'this rough home video clip leaves viewers in awe. Amy Winehouse was at her friend Lauren Gilbert's birthday in 1997 when she decided to serenade her pal. At just 14 years old, it was clear she had something special. The resulting performance seems inspired by Marilyn Monroe's birthday singalong for JFK, but surpasses it by a long shot. Winehouse's incredible voice can be heard even here and shows her incredible talent from such a young age. 

Frank Sinatra - Fly Me To The Moon

One of the first musicians that Amy ever fell in love with, Frank Sinatra was synonymous in the Winehouse household. Her father Mitchell, in a 2012 Digital Spy article, describes duets of 'Fly Me To The Moon' when his daughter was just 2 years old. She would often sing the song at school when she got in to trouble to cheer herself up as well. And of course, in 2003, her first album was named for Ol' Blue Eyes. 

Dinah Washington - The Swingin' Miss D' 

Amy's mum Janis described in her memoir, 'Loving Amy', how her nan Cynthia and father Mitchell being "jazz nuts" influenced Winehouse's musical development. She was surrounded by Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk from early on, but it was Dinah Washington who made the most impact, and 'The Swingin' Miss D' was by far her favourite record. Speaking at the 2006 Other Voices festival in Dingle, Amy herself described how she "learned to sing from Dinah Washington".

Madonna - Like a Prayer 

Madonna's influence on Winehouse's life was significant, but changed over time...In a 2004 unpublished Huffington Post interview with John Marrs, shortly after Frank's release, she talked of Madonna being her hero as a child. Later that year, however, in The Evening Standard, she added that "liked her when was about eight. She was cute and that was about it really". Talking of the then-current incarnation of the 'Material Girl' she wasn't so kind, saying she was "an old lady" who couldn't shock people anymore and should just "f**king sing".

Salt-N-Pepa - Push It

Amy fell in love with the female rap duo, Salt-N-Pepa, as a child and as she got older, they turned out to be one of her biggest inspirations. Discovering Salt-N-Pepa, she said at Dingle, made her feel like she'd found her music, and the passion didn't stop there. Together with best friend Juliet Ashby, Amy formed a duo called Sweet-N-Sour when they were nine, she told Marrs. Amy was Sour, of course, and reminisced about how they made "funny songs" like 'Boys...Who Needs Them?' which involved two boys listing girls names while they dissed them. The duo's performances at school assemblies had a mixed reception, but a few years down the line, the teen best friends got the chance to record 3 tracks through Ashby's producer stepfather. Nothing came of the recordings, but it gave Winehouse that first taste of studio life. 

Michael Jackson - Bad 

Amy was a lifelong fan of Michael Jackson. Her mother Janis noted, Amy was "Jackson crazy-the songs; the dancing; everything about him" impressed her. Janis notes that they both saw 'Moonwalker' when she was five, and afterwards, baby Amy wrote in her diary, "I love him. I love Michael's Songs. All the kids love Michael. I do too". In the same 2004 Huffington Post interview, Amy said she wanted to marry Jackson or be just like him as "He was God to me". Later, during a brief stint as a showbiz writer, she enjoyed knocking down celebs a peg or two, but told Marrs that people calling Jackson names would piss her off so she'd tell them "Don't write it again".

Carole King - Tapestry 

Released in 1971, Carole King's album proved a favourite of both Amy and Janis. They'd listen to it at home and in the car driving. Amy adored and looked up to the female songwriter and Janis believes King "inspired Amy to learn her craft". The intimate, deep and honest vocal performances of Carole King likely did play a part in Amy's musical growth, particularly noting songs such as 'I feel the Earth Move', 'Beautiful', Shirelle cover 'Will You Love Me Tomorrow?' and Aretha Franklin cover '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman'. 

Alanis Morissette - Ironic 

Amy's father, Mitchell, bought the Jagged Little Pill record for Amy for Christmas one year, and as Janis recorded, Amy became obsessed by it. The school concert at Ashmole Academy was graced by her version of the popular single 'Ironic', and it was this performance that Janis really saw her daughter possessed something absolutely extraordinary. "I knew Amy could sing," she says, "but that was something else. Whoaa, this girl's good, I kept thing". The audience? Janis noted in the memoir, they were left speechless. 

Sarah Vaughan - Misty

Talking at the 2006 Dingle festival, Winehouse stated Vaughan was "one of my favourite singers of all time". Unlike Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, Amy came to Vaughan's music later on in her teenage years. Winehouse loved how her voice was "an instrument" like "a humming solo", "like a reed instrument-like a clarinet".

Ella Fitzgerald - Midnight Sun

"Ella Fitzgerald was very important to Amy", Mitchell explained in the 2012 piece on her musical influences. She listened to his Ella collection a lot, but 'Midnight Sun' stood out most to her. Father and daughter often listened to it together and Amy would exclaim, "How can someone write a song like that?".

Louis Armstrong - On The Sunny Side Of The Street 

When Amy announced to her family that she'd secretly applied for a scholarship at Sylvia Young Theatre School and had an audition soon, 'On The Sunny Side Of The Street' was this song her mother Janis suggested she sing. And that's exactly what she did. The song got her a place at theatre school and Mitchell credited it as being the point when not just family, but other people noticed just how talented she was, too.

Billie Holiday - The Nearness of You 

Probably one of the biggest song inspirations in Winehouse's life, 'The Nearness of You' has been sung by all of her heroes: Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Vaughan, Holiday and Washington. It was also the first song she recorded solo. "Nobody sang the song like she sang it, and she was just 17 years old at the time!", Janis exclaimed in the memoir. 

The Shangri-Las - I Can Never Go Home

Amy loved the music and look of 60s girl groups like The Shangri-Las and The Ronettes. Her favourite Shangri-Las song was, what she described in her 2006 Dingle Festival interview as, the "saddest song in the world": 'I Can Never Go Home Anymore'. Working with Mark Ronson on Back To Black, a pivotal influence was 60s girl groups. In a recording taken from 'Amy', Winehouse describes playing girl groups to him and Ronson being blown away, "Wow, oh my God". Mitch commented that the resulting similar sound was "exactly what Amy intended"

Lesley Gore/Amy Winehouse - Its My Party 

One of Winehouse's favourite songs by Quincy Jones, whose first hit was Lesley Gore's 1963 song and who then went on to produce her favourite Jackson records. In 2008, at Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday she met Jones, and overjoyed, got on her knees and kissed his hand. She was asked to collaborate on his following album Q Soul Bossa Nostra by singing Gore's 'You Don't Owe Me', but begged for 'Its My Party' instead. In 2009, her health problems meant her cover was nearly dropped, but eventually it was on the final LP in 2010. Talking later that year, Jones enthused, "What can I say, man? Nobody sounds like her[...]She has a great voice. She’s from another planet.".

Amy Winehouse and Tony Bennett - Body and Soul

Amy Winehouse's final recording. She grew up loving the music of Tony Bennett, thanks to her father's adoration for the crooner. His favourite song to sing to Amy as a child was 'Body and Soul'. After the collaboration, Bennett praised the fact that among the younger generations she didn't walk away from jazz, but instead was "born with that spirit" needed to sing it. The real tragedy, however, was when the time came to award the Grammy for best pop duo-group, Amy wasn't there to collect it herself.

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