Amy Winehouse: 10 Great Unreleased Songs
Amy Winehouse was a maelstrom of talent and trouble. She lived with a brash, unapologetic flair that earned her headlines, but the flashes of vulnerability in her music made her work truly timeless. Her 2011 death at age 27 has already taken on the quality of a tragic myth.
Winehouse’s immense musical legacy rests on just two albums issued during her lifetime, in addition to a handful of B sides, live recordings and guest vocal spots. Following the release of the posthumous rarities compilation Lioness: Hidden Treasures, label executives claimed the vaults were empty – having destroyed any further demos for her incomplete third record of original material. Despite this, a number of high-quality tracks have surfaced on bootlegs and online over the years, lovingly shared by fans desperate for the album that never was. In advance of the fifth anniversary of Winehouse’s passing, take a listen to a career-spanning selection of the singer’s unreleased gems.
“I’m not a girl trying to be a star or trying to be anything besides a musician,” Winehouse once said in an early interview. “I don’t think I’m gonna be at all famous. I don’t think I could handle it. I’d probably go mad.” With this insight into her psyche, the lyrics to “Long Day” become even more poignant. Penned following the release of Frank, her 2003 major-label debut, it’s a portrait of a reluctant public figure, already crippled by her notoriety. “I’m digging myself into a hole and these days I just work,” she sings over a deceptively breezy backing track. “When once I had so much soul and lately I’ve forgotten who I am.” Trading her trademark humor for stark clarity, the words foreshadow her fate.
“When My Eyes”
Predating sessions for Frank but elbowed from the final track list, "When My Eyes" reads like an ode to Winehouse's own imagination. The song is a lucid dream cataloging all she wants to be. She references retro roller-skating waitresses – her fantasy career – and name checks musical inspirations like Dinah Washington and Frank Sinatra. Touchingly, she also sings of the confidence that eludes her in waking hours. "When My Eyes" captures a time before she sought escape through drugs and alcohol, when her mind and music provided all the refuge she required.
Winehouse's unwavering introspection often led to deeply personal lyrics brimming with emotional intensity, but occasionally her soul-searching resulted in hilarious self-deprecation. This wicked wit takes center stage on the unreleased "Trilby." While future songs would hint at more serious addictions, this track pays tribute to her weakness for shopping. "Well, I got more shoes than Carrie Bradshaw, more bags than I could store," she sings, still unsatiated: "I want more, more, more, more, more!" Sure enough, she was often pictured wearing Trilby hats during the recording of Frank.
"Everyone who hears 'Procrastinate' [sic] loves it," Island Records chief Ted Cockle told the Guardian in 2011 as the posthumous Lioness: Hidden Treasures album was being readied for release. Fellow exec Mike Beese echoed his sentiments, but claimed that the track was being left off the compilation because Winehouse herself didn’t want the song to be issued. "If you ever hear 'Procrastinate,' you have my permission to come into my offices here in Kensington and fire me," he insisted. Despite his magnanimous explanation, the song had been making the rounds on bootlegs and YouTube for years under the title "Procrastination." As the name suggests, the lyrics confront her propensity for distraction and diminishing desire to write new music after the release of Frank.
With a title that hits uncomfortably close to home, "Alcoholic Logic" draws from the same wellspring that would produce "Rehab." Though less literal than her breakout hit, the lyrics compare her burgeoning substance-abuse issues with her complicated and often destructive love life. By 2005 she had become acquainted with future husband Blake Fielder-Civil, who would feed into her most damaging behaviors – including drugs and self-harm. Their tumultuous on-off union would inspire her greatest work, Back to Black.
Dripping with defiance, "Detachment" depicts a woman speeding away from the relationship she just torched. Recorded in 2006 during sessions for Black to Black, the lyrics allude to Winehouse’s affair with Fielder-Civil’s friend in an effort to make a clean break from their dysfunctional relationship. She was successful – for a time. The track is a missing piece of the album's narrative and adds further dimension to their doomed love story.
"All the songs are about the state of my relationship at the time with Blake," Winehouse said of the record in 2007. "I had never felt the way I feel about him about anyone in my life. It was very cathartic, because I felt terrible about the way we treated each other." Ironically, Back to Black’s success helped reunite the pair, who married in 2007.
A snippet of the song can be heard in Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary Amy, but the complete version remains in the vaults.
“Jazz n’ Blues”
Also known as "Money (No More Jazz n' Blues)," this slow jam is quite possibly the oldest known Winehouse song to surface. It reportedly dates back to her 2001 writing collaboration with Edward Bigham, two years before the release of Frank. With sparse instrumental backing, it sounds more like a sketch than a fully realized recording as she sings about her desire to "throw my cash away" and "blow it all on bags and shoes" – a topic she would revisit on "Trilby." Her vocal delivery lacks the unique phrasing and power of her future work, but the track is a fascinating look at a diva developing her style. As the title suggests, two of her favorite genres are dominant even at this early stage.
“Beat the Point to Death”
Though destined to earn worldwide acclaim as an R&B singer, Winehouse’s earliest experience in the recording studio occurred in the mid-Nineties as part of Sweet 'n' Sour, a hip-hop duo with her friend Juliette Ashby. The pair formed the group when they were just 10 years old, writing melodies and lyrics themselves. They later recorded three original titles: "Glam Chicks," "Spinderella" (named for Salt-N-Pepa's DJ) and "Boys … Who Needs Them."
"Sweet 'n' Sour is nice because it's them doing their version of Salt-N-Pepa," says Amy director Kapadia, who had the opportunity to hear some of the tapes. "Amy's obviously Sour [laughs], but they take it really seriously. … 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."
Considering her future lyrical themes, "Boys … Who Needs Them" is particularly charming. "Boys, leave us alone/There's no one home," Winehouse and Ashby sing on the two-and-a-half-minute track. "They'll treat you like a dog, push you around." Unfortunately, Kapadia was unable to secure the rights include the song in his documentary and all three Sweet 'n' Sour titles remain unheard. The closest Winehouse came to revisiting this early musical vision was arguably "Beat the Point to Death," a Nineties-tinged R&B number that owes a noticeable debt to Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. It too remains unreleased.
“All My Loving”
The posthumous Amy Winehouse at the BBC LP showcased some of the high-quality sessions she recorded for television and radio specials, but many of her imaginative cover versions remain unreleased. These range from American songbook standards like "Sentimental Journey," the blues bedrock of "Ain’t Nobody's Business" taken from the 2004 Billie Holiday tribute Billie & Me, and more contemporary covers of Lauryn Hill, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. One of the best is this soulful acoustic take on the Beatles barnstormer, recorded for the Glastonbury Calling TV documentary in 2004.
“You Always Hurt the Ones You Love”
By early 2011, Winehouse’s life had stabilized enough that she could resume work on her long-awaited third album. For production duties she tapped Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, who had also overseen sessions for Back to Black. “She probably finished the writing process a few weeks before she passed,” recalled Remi. “As far as I could see, we had 14 songs. Whatever needed to happen, it was right there.” Likely to be included in this batch of songs was the mournful “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” A full performance of this song, if it exists, has yet to surface, but the Amy documentary features a moving scene in which Winehouse recites the lyrics to this bruising critique of her own relationship failures.