Years before the release of her 2003 debut album, Frank, Amy Winehouse entered a recording studio for the first time as part of Sweet ‘n’ Sour, a hip-hop duo she formed with friend and fellow singer Juliette Ashby. The duo started the group — which Winehouse would later call “the little, white, Jewish Salt-N-Pepa” — at age 10, constructing their own vocal melodies and verses.
A few years later, producer Alan Glass, Ashby’s stepfather who had already recognized the pair’s singing abilities, brought them into the studio to record three songs: “Glam Chicks,” “Spinderella” (a homage to the DJ for Salt-N-Pepa, the model for Sweet ‘n’ Sour) and a track called “Boys…Who Needs Them.” The pair never released an album, but the formative studio experience and training imbued Winehouse with early knowledge — the drive and passion had long been there — of both the recording and songwriting process.
Amy, Asif Kapadia’s insightful, unflinching documentary on the singer, spends a considerable amount of time examining Winehouse’s early musical career and childhood. But in this exclusive, previously unseen extra footage from the DVD/Blu-ray and iTunes Extras, Winehouse’s initial forays into recording can be seen for the first time.
The clip opens with a 10-year-old Winehouse running around a house and praising Ashby to the camera. “Primary school, from day one, me and Amy were drawn to each other and we both loved singing,” a present-day Ashby recalls over footage of the duo as kids. “We were beside ourselves [when Sweet ‘n’ Sour got the chance to record]. That was our first experience in the studio. It was an amazing experience.”
“Juliette and Amy were like husband and wife, as they call it,” Kapadia tells Rolling Stone. “So much of the power of the film is really about their relationship. Amy’s a kid with a kid’s voice, but she could do it. She had talent even back then. Later in life, they were pulled apart and everything changes [for Amy]. Her friends are still there, but they’re distant. They’re in another world, but they couldn’t stand being around while she was harming herself. Sweet ‘n’ Sour is nice because it’s them doing their version of Salt-N-Pepa. Amy’s obviously sour [laughs], but they take it really seriously.”
Kapadia says the clip came out of interviews with Ashby explaining her long friendship with Winehouse, going back to the duo’s meeting at age four. With everyone wanting to claim “best friend” status with the singer after her death, Ashby was one of the few people who could substantiate that relationship. “Juliette said they were best friends, but everyone said that. Sweet ‘n’ Sour, in part, was the proof,” Kapadia says. “When they played me the music, I was waiting for them to break up in giggles, but they don’t. This is the real deal, and they were quite serious.”
The director was unable to clear “Boys…Who Needs Them” for official release, citing “complications of publishing and who has the rights,” but hopes it will see release one day. The two-and-a-half minute track, however, is a clear product of the Nineties, its New Jack Swing beat percolating under the duo’s nod to TLC’s unique pop-rap-R&B hybrid and Salt-N-Pepa’s brash confidence. It’s a captivating song, with Ashby and Winehouse alternating between trading lines and harmonizing — the sound of two teenagers aping their idols, yet displaying an outsize talent that surpasses mere mimicry.
Even in the context of Sweet ‘n’ Sour’s raw production, Winehouse’s blunt lyrics, cocksure recording persona and soulful voice that would define her most popular work were already evident. “Boys: Leave us alone/There’s no one home,” Winehouse and Ashby sing on the track. “They’ll treat you like a dog/Push you around.” It’s no coincidence that Salt-N-Pepa and TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes were early influences on the singer. “They were real women who weren’t afraid to talk about men, and they got what they wanted and talked about girls they didn’t like,” Winehouse told Interview Magazine in 2007.
The extra footage of Amy, available on iTunes Extras today and DVD/Blu-ray on December 1st, contains 17 previously unseen scenes, including Winehouse’s first U.S. show at New York’s Joe’s Pub, details of an aborted collaboration with Massive Attack and a press briefing from State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey explaining why Winehouse’s visa to attend the 2008 Grammys was rejected. The set also includes interviews with Yasiin Bey, Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, among others, and clips of Winehouse performing “Rehab,” “Love Is a Losing Game” and “You Know I’m No Good” at London’s Metropolis Studio.