Back to Black (song)
|"Back to Black"|
|Single by Amy Winehouse|
|from the album Back to Black|
|Released||30 April 2007|
|Recorded||Chung King Studios
(New York City, New York)
|Amy Winehouse singles chronology|
"Back to Black" is a song by English recording artist Amy Winehouse. It was released by Island Records on 30 April 2007 as the third single from her second studio album of the same name (2006). The song was written by Winehouse and Mark Ronson and produced by Ronson. Winehouse's "Back to Black" was inspired by her relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil who had left Winehouse for an ex-girlfriend.
"Back to Black" received universal acclaim by music critics who generally praised its throwback sound to girl groups from the 1960s. The song peaked at number eight on the UK Singles Chart in the United Kingdom and is Winehouse's third best-selling single in that country. Many cover versions by various artists were recorded for the song; most notably, Beyoncé and André 3000 covered it for the soundtrack of the 2013 film adaptation of the novel The Great Gatsby (1925).
- 1 Background and composition
- 2 Critical reception
- 3 Commercial performance
- 4 Music video
- 5 Covers
- 6 Usage in media
- 7 Track listings and formats
- 8 Charts
- 9 Certifications
- 10 Beyoncé and André 3000 version
- 11 Notes
- 12 External links
Background and composition
"Back to Black" was written by Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson with the latter also serving as its producer. The track was recorded in three studios – Chung King Studios and Daptone Studios located in New York City and Metropolis Studios in London. "Back to Black" was inspired by her relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil. He had left Winehouse for an ex-girlfriend, leaving her going to "black" with drinking and depression.
"Back to Black" explores elements of old school soul music. The song's sound and beat have been described as similar to vintage girl groups from the 1960s. Its production was noted for its Wall of Sound. Winehouse expresses feelings of hurt and bitterness for a boyfriend who has left her; however, throughout the lyrics she "remains strong" examplified in the opening lines, "He left no time to regret, Kept his d_ck [sic] wet, With his same old safe bet, Me and my head high, And my tears dry, Get on without my guy". The song's lyrical content consists of a sad goodbye to a relationship with the lyrics being frank. Slant Magazine writer Sal Cinquemani suggested that the protagonist's lover may be commited to cocaine instead of another woman. John Murphy of musicOMH compared the song's introduction to songs by Jimmy Mack, adding that it continues to a "much darker place" than the afforementioned artist's work.
The song has received critical acclaim by music critics. A writer from the website 4Music awarded the song ten stars out of ten in a review saying it managed to be as good as the 1960s girl group classics from which it was influenced. The writer went on to praise the "thoroughly modern Amy, who writes her own songs about love and sex and drugs and knows her own mind, but still gets hurt in a way only grown-ups can get hurt". Matt Harvey from BBC felt that the song owed to the "sonic herritage" of singers Phil Spector and Scott Walker and went on to call it "a tortured monster of a track - Amy displaying the sort of vocal depth that Marc Almond has always dreamed of". AllMusic writer John Bush found universality in the song and opined that even Joss Stone could take it to the top of the music charts.
In 2007, the song was included at the position of 39 on Popjustice's list of the year's best in music. Slant Magazine also mentioned it in their respective list of the best singles of the year, with Sal Cinquemani writing, "[It] is not only the singer's finest moment but producer Mark Ronson's as well". Writers of Rolling Stone magazine placed "Back to Black" at number 98 on their list of the 100 best songs of the 2000s praising Winehouse's trademark "stormily soulful" vocals and the updated sensibility. NME editors listed it at 61 on an eponomyous list for the magazine, writing that the song proved the album's real depth and added, "Hard faced and broken-souled, its knowing wallowing spoke to anyone who'd ever had a bunnyboiler moment". "Back to Black" was further considered to be one of Winhouse's signature songs. Justin Myers writing for the Official Charts Company remarked that it was the singer's most "anguished" song while also being "[h]eartbreakingly autobiographical" at the same time.
Pre-release, the song charted in the UK Singles Chart on downloads alone for five consecutive weeks, peaking at number 40. The single charted at number 25 in 2007 once it had been released in physical format which also became its peak position in that country.; The song has spent 34 non-consecutive weeks on the UK Singles Chart to date. It has re-entered with "Rehab" together on the chart. The song featured on BBC Radio 1's The B List Playlist during the week commencing 2 May. With sales of 96,000, "Back to Black" finished as the UK's 85th biggest-selling single of 2007. On 31 July 2011, following her death, the song re-entered the UK Singles Chart at 8, also giving the song a new peak position and second top ten hit in UK. As of September 2014, "Back to Black" has sold 340.000 copies in the UK and is Winehouse's third best-selling single in that country.
The music video was directed by Phil Griffin and features a funeral procession in which Winehouse mourns over a grave that reads "R.I.P. the Heart of Amy Winehouse". The shot of the headstone was edited out after the singer's death in 2011. The video was primarily shot nearby Gibson Gardens and Chesholm Road in Stoke Newington, London. The graveyard scenes were filmed at Abney Park Cemetery in north-east London. According the official Winehouse website, "Amy's sultry new video for Back In Black [sic] is both beautifully and artistically shot in black-and-white and compares in imagery a doomed love affair with that of a funeral." At the 2007 Music of Black Origin Awards (MOBO), the music video for the song was nominated in the category for Best Video but lost to Kanye West's "Stronger" (2007). Myers of the Official Charts Company deemed the clip "super-sad" and felt it went further on the song's main theme of goodbye.
A cover version of "Back to Black" by the English band The Rumble Strips appears as a B-side to their 2007 "Motorcycle" EP. On the fourth season of the UK TV talent show The X Factor, the girl group Hope covered the song during one of their live performances. Lightspeed Champion included a cover of this song as a B-side to their 2008 single "Tell Me What It's Worth". His version was a stripped-down rendition, from a different gender perspective. Priya Elan of NME considered his cover to be one of the best covers by a song by Winehouse classifiying it as "suitably distraught and heartbroken". "Back to Black" was covered twice on the Live Lounge segment of BBC Radio 1's The Jo Whiley Show, first by Elbow on 5 June 2008 and later by Glasvegas on 1 September 2008. Elbow's version contained a string accompaniment which backed the lead singer's vocals. Ronnie Spector has occasionally performed a rendition of "Back to Black" during live performances. A version recorded by her was released through iTunes Store on 2 August 2011. The song appeared on French singer Amanda Lear's 2009 album, Brief Encounters. The cover was also released as a single on 13 December 2012 containing three versions of the song; the album version, an acoustic version and a "Dance Amanda's Vino Della Casa Mix". The writers of the website Idolator, described her cover as "one of the strangest Amy Winehouse covers".
"Back to Black" was covered by Paije Richardson during the seventh series of The X Factor in one of the live shows. The song was covered on Glee in the second season episode "Funeral" by Naya Rivera's character Santana Lopez. On 29 July 2011, during a performance at I Want My MTV Ibiza, Mark Ronson covered "Back to Black" with Charlie Waller as a tribute to Winehouse, several days after her death. He revealed that the song was one of the first songs they had written together. He also told the crowd that Waller's inclusion for the performance was due to Winehouse's positive reaction after hearing his cover of "Back to Black" with The Rumble Strips. A writer of MTV UK praised his performance, saying that it was sending "a tingle down the spine and causing the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end". "Back to Black" was performed by English singer Florence Welch during the VH1 Divas concert at Hammerstein Ballroom on 18 December 2011 in New York City. Welch performed the song as a tribute to Winehouse after her death. Mark Graham of VH1 praised Welch's performance of the song, noting that thanks to it Winehouse's musical legacy was cemented. A German version was produced and sung by Ivo Lotion. A version was made by the 2 Tone ska band, The Selecter, featuring on their 2011 album, Made In Britain, but the single release was cancelled, out of respect, when it coincided with Winehouse's own death. A cover was also performed by Jacquie Lee, Season 5 finalist for reality singing competition, The Voice.
Usage in media
During 2007, the song was also used various times for TV trail campaigns, such as for BBC's Philip Pullman adaptation The Shadow in the North in December 2007. Phil Tufnell and his dance partner Katya Virshilas performed a tango to "Back to Black" in the seventh series of Strictly Come Dancing. A sample of "Back to Black" was used by screamo band Comadre in the song "Binge", which is about Amy Winehouse and the downward spiral leading to her death. The song was used as part of Mexican telenovela Llena de Amor for English-born Mexican actress Azela Robinson for her stripper character (La Reina). The song was used in an American trailer for the BBC America/Space program Orphan Black. In 2013, "Back to Black" was included on the soundtrack of the film About Time (2013).
Track listings and formats
Beyoncé and André 3000 version
|"Back to Black"|
|Song by Beyoncé featuring André 3000 from the album The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann's Film|
|The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann's Film track listing|
"Back to Black" was covered by American recording artist Beyoncé and rapper André 3000 for the soundtrack of the 2013 film The Great Gatsby. The song premiered in April 2013 after several snippets of it appeared online and it was used in the trailer for the film. Jay-Z who served as an executive producer for the soundtrack suggested the song to its producer Baz Luhrmann. It was the final song recorded for the album and was included after the producers wanted a darker moment on The Great Gatsby: Music from Baz Luhrmann's Film. Amy Winehouse's father Mitchell Winehouse reported that Beyoncé had not informed him about covering the song and requested that the income coming from it should be included in his Amy Winehouse Foundation. When the song was released, Winehouse criticized André 3000's singing saying that it should have been covered only by Beyoncé. However, Mark Ronson, the original producer of the song revealed that he was flattered and honored by the cover version.
Beyoncé and André 3000's cover is a slower version than the original with several lyrical modifications. It features a darker production with heavier instrumentation complete with a guitar and synthesizers, chopped and screwed elements and electronic beats. Upon its release, the song received mixed reviews from music critics who noted that the original version was already perfect to be further reworked; several critics praised its reworked arrangement while others criticized the singers' vocal performance calling it the most controversial song on the soundtrack.
Background and development
On 1 April 2013 it was announced by E! Online that American singer Beyoncé would cover the song with André 3000 for The Great Gatsby soundtrack, set to be released on 7 May 2013. Baz Luhrmann, the director of the film, revealed that "Back to Black" was the final song to be included on the album. The inclusion of the song on the soundtrack was suggested by Beyoncé's husband, rapper Jay-Z, who also served as its executive producer. "We were looking for, 'How do we have a darker moment?' and he said have a listen to this and he played it", commented Luhrmann who, after a few spins, confirmed it should appear on the album. Anton Monsted who served as a producer for the soundtrack, also talked about the placement of the cover of "Back to Black" on the track listing during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
We have to thank Jay-Z for bringing this into the overall thinking. He worked with us on the second party in the movie. The first party is a gaudy, rich, Venus flytrap of a celebration designed to attract Daisy's interest by physically bringing the entire city of New York to Long Island. The second party is one that Daisy does attend, but at this point in the story, we were looking for a musical direction that alluded to darker things beneath the surface. We were looking for a song that would speak to the almost 'Sid and Nancy' addictive love that Gatsby and Daisy have found themselves re-engaging in. Everybody knows the Amy Winehouse version of this song, and I think this is a very interesting interpretation. It plunges you further into this particular kind of lovesickness. I think it works very well in the film, where it blends between a jazz recording that The Bryan Ferry Orchestra did and the version on the album with Beyonce and Andre 3000. That combination helps to deepen the resonance of what the song is telling us.
On 2 April 2013, Amy Winehouse's father Mitchell Winehouse used his Twitter profile to reveal that Beyoncé had not informed him of her plans to cover the song and that he wanted income from the song to go to his Amy Winehouse Foundation. He wrote, "I don't know this but what if Beyonce gave £100,000 to foundation. Do you know how many kids that would help? Just putting it out there." He later added, "Let me repeat. This is the first I have heard of Beyonce doing Amys [sic] song." Kia Makarechi of The Huffington Post noted that Beyoncé did not use the song as a personal record and thus it was "slightly curious" for Winehouse to request for her to pay out. Winehouse later used his Twitter account to write "I like Beyoncé's cover and have no probs." However, upon hearing the full-length track, he wrote on his Twitter profile, "I just heard the Andre part of Back to Black. Terrible. He should have let Beyonce do it all."
On 4 April 2013 a new trailer for the film featured previews of three songs from the soundtrack; a thirty-second preview of the cover of "Back to Black" was included among those songs. Chris Payne of Billboard magazine praised the cover, which according to him was made unique with the downtempo EDM wobble. A ninety-second snippet of the song also appeared online on 21 April 2013 and was made available for streaming through iTunes Store. A writer of Rap-Up magazine described it as a "dark and haunting collaboration" adding that it features "[André 3000] rapping his verse, while Queen B[eyoncé] burns slow with her seductive vocals." Sam Lansky of the website Idolator wrote that the cover was "a fairly sinister, gloomy affair" because of the lyrics which according to him were connected with Amy Winehouse's death and the film's noirish bent. He further commented that "it strikes us as an unusually dark side of King Bey[oncé], who's supposed to be literally the most poised human being alive". Speaking about the modification of the lyrics, he noted that it was "but a little odd" and concluded the review by saying, "It's eerie but cool, and a fitting tribute to Winehouse's legacy." The full version of the song premiered on Mark Ronson's East Village Radio show on 26 April 2013. Upon its release, Ronson, who co-wrote the original song, commented that it was a "wonderful take on our song" and added: "I'm flattered and honoured, I know Amy would be too."
The cover version of "Back to Black" has a slower tempo than the original. It also features a darker production and chopped and screwed elements with a dark, twisted mood and a hypnotizing dub beat. Charley Rogulewski of Vibe magazine commented that the cover version was like a heroin-laced outtake off of the Trainspotting soundtrack. Eschewing the 1960s Wall of Sound style of the original, the remake takes a minimalist, synth-heavy approach, with an occasional, echoing guitar twang. Melinda Newman of the website HitFix noted that the cover version was more solemn than the original with the guitar "adding to the loneliness". Logan Smithson of the online magazine PopMatters commented that it also features heavier instrumentation. The '60s pop string orchestration of the first version is exchanged for a "meatier, keyboard-fueled, big beat groove" as stated by Keith Murphy of Vibe magazine. Glenn Gamboa of Newsday noted that the cover was stripped down practically to an electronic pulse which he further compared with the "sweeping, dramatic, icy electronic music" that Luhrmann used in his film Romeo + Juliet.
The lyrics of the song were modified; they were reversed so it could function better as a duet. It opens with André 3000 rapping his verses on a scratchy, bare beat and dissonant instrumentation further playing with the rhythm of the lyrical phrasing. Beyoncé continues singing her part at the first minute and thirty seconds of the song. Instead of belting her verse out, she whispers with seductive and sultry vocals, while André 3000 "buzzes" and raps over a nostalgic Aquemini leaky faucet beat as stated by Rogulewski. Newman of the website HitFix commented that Beyoncé's vocal performance contrasted André 3000's spoken lyrics.
Upon its release, the collaboration of "Back to Black" received mixed reviews by music critics. Critics discussed that the song was already "perfect" to be further reworked. A writer of the website Consequence of Sound commented that the cover was "an intriguing take on the sultry number, featuring a soft pulse of dub underneath the syrupy sing-talk of André and breathy croon ala Marilyn Monroe/Betty Boop from Queen B." Paula Mejia of the same website listed the song as a highlight on the album, adding that the singers "take an unsettling postmortem stab"; "Oozing womps from the latter [Beyoncé] trickle into the ear slowly, mimicking that feeling when you're walking alone at night and have the suspicion you're being followed, but you're too freaked-out and cool to look behind you." Christina Lee of the website Idolator wrote in her review of the song that it was "a gloomier take on Southern hip-hop's codeine effect", comparing it with OutKast's album Aquemini (1998) reinterpreted for modern times. Charley Rogulewski of Vibe magazine commented that the cover was "a drugged-out slow burner in comparison to the doo-wop original, which boasted Winehouse's robust vocals". C. Vernon Coleman of XXL magazine simply described it as "dope". Describing it as a shift in Beyoncé's usual approach, Ann Powers of NPR noted that "[she] gets stuck in the 1950s, sounding far more like a torch singer than a blues queen" but added that it was not a problem since "Lurhmann's postmodernism has plenty of room for the juxtaposition of historic and current styles." She further added that André 3000 sings in a "dandyish snarl that's been off-putting to some, but his radical rearrangement of the song comes closer than anything else here to Lurhmann's own nearly surrealist aesthetic". Describing the cover as "distinguishable", Logan Smithson of PopMatters further commented, "Though the cover doesn't top Winehouse's original, it is good in its own right and feels right at home on Gatsby. Besides, who doesn't love hearing Andre 3000's voice?". Kelly Dearmore from the American Songwriter described the cover as "synthy [and] trippy" writing that the singers turn it into a "wondrously hypnotic effect, and in turn, setting the tone for the entire album by blending brash audacity with dark surrealism".
In a more mixed review, AllMusic's David Jeffries called the song an "icy cold reading" of the original. Noting that it had a "lavish-yet-empty feeling", Aisha Harris from Slate magazine wrote in her review: "The song has the feel of a blurry stupor—fitting... for the dark undertones of The Great Gatsby, but not terribly satisfying outside that context. Winehouse's vocals had a visceral, emotional punch, whereas here, there's little connection between the sound of the voices and the meaning of the lyrics. 'Life is like a pipe/ And I'm a tiny penny rolling up the walls inside' doesn't feel as meaningful coming from Beyoncé as it did from Winehouse." Thomas Conner from the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that Beyoncé surprises by downshifting into "indie-chanteuse mode" for the cover which he noted that was sang "with a sad sexual tension that approaches torch song but never ignites it". Newman from the website HitFix wrote in her review that the original version was stronger than the cover and added that it felt like it was a song by André 3000 featuring Beyoncé as the song mainly featured his vocals. She finished her review by grading the cover with a B- and wrote, "Andre 3000 and Beyonce aren't afraid to rework the track and make it their own, for which they deserve credit, but their remake won't make anyone forget Amy's version." Jim Farber of Daily News wrote in his review that "unfortunately" Beyoncé only makes a cameo appearance in the song while André 3000 dominates with a "rank rap and a woeful vocal". Writing that it sounded "dull", Cameron Adams of Herald Sun added "it's got nice guitar work but the minimal remake is worth it only to hear Bey sing, 'I love blow and you love puff'". Paste magazine's Philip Cosores wrote that "'Back to Black' sees Jay-Z sticking his wife with a pretty raw deal, with the male half of the duet getting the opening verse and the chorus virtually to himself, leaving Bey with scraps at the end."
Mark Beech from Bloomberg L.P. gave a negative review towards the cover, writing that Beyoncé and André 3000 "murdered" the original version and noted that F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author of the novel The Great Gatsby on which the film was based, would be "baffled" by it. Kathy McCabe from The Daily Telegraph wrote that the song was the most controversial musical moment from the soundtrack and added that it seemed "unrecognisable from the original, darker and so cut and pasted, it gives you the jitters after a couple of minutes". Keith Murphy of Vibe magazine described the cover version as the soundtrack's "weakest link" although she called it "credible". She added that Beyoncé sounds "way too pristine" on it and wrote, "Please avoid covering the late Amy Winehouse if you are unable to project her heartbreaking anguish." Stacy Lambe of VH1 panned the cover of "Back to Black" as "the biggest disappointment on the soundtrack". Another writer of the same website also gave a negative review for it, saying "I think the arrangement of this is sleepy and practically smothers the angst out of the song. Also, Beyonce lives such a perfect life that she can't convey the same bitter pain in her voice that Amy could."
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