By early 2007, the excitement coming from the UK about Amy Winehouse was too overwhelming for the US record industry to ignore any more.
The British vocal sensation had failed to make the American charts with her debut album Frank, which made its UK debut in 2003, rising to an initial peak of No.13. But even in her home country, that first record was more of a critical favourite than a commercial success until Winehouse released the follow-up, Back To Black, on October 27, 2006. Both albums would spend literally years on the British charts. In the week of the 15th anniversary of its release, in 2021, Back To Black was spending its 127th week in the UK Top 40, and 444th in the Top 100.
Produced by Mark Ronson and universally hailed in Britain as a modern-day masterpiece of contemporary soul music, the record entered the domestic bestsellers at No.3 in November 2006. Perhaps surprisingly in retrospect, it spent only four initial weeks in the Top 40, but then the effect of its first hit “Rehab” and the new year single “You Know I’m No Good” began to kick in.
In the second half of January 2007, Back To Black topped the UK chart for the first time, and would go on to spend all but two of the next 48 weeks in the Top 10. America couldn’t overlook Amy any longer, and the album entered the Billboard 200 on the March 31 chart.
Just in advance of the set’s US release on Universal Republic, Kim Garner, the label’s senior VP of marketing & artist development, told Billboard: “The feedback across the board here has been nothing short of amazing. Amy had two incredibly successful shows here in New York that generated a slew of excellent reviews.” Those mid-January gigs, at Joe’s Pub in mid-January, were her first-ever US shows.
‘It made people rethink music’
The album “made people rethink music,” Ronson told Billboard, “because it was so simple in its approach: the sound of five or six really good instrumentalists with an amazing singer.” Blender, greeting the record’s US appearance, said it “sounds fantastic – partly because the production nails sample-ready 60s soul right down to the drum sound and partly because Winehouse is one hell of an impressive singer.” The New York Times purred: “A 23-year-old English songwriter, Ms. Winehouse is decades too young for 60s nostalgia, but she has come up with a wonderfully time-twisted batch of songs.”
Back To Black went on to reach No.2 in the US, turning gold in May 2007, platinum in July and double platinum the following March. From it, that “Rehab” signature became a major pop item, hitting No.9 on the Hot 100, and by the end of the year Winehouse had six Grammy nominations, of which she would win five, missing out only in the Album of the Year department. But back at the time of the American release of Back To Black, Winehouse was typically and delightfully dismissive about the business aspects of the record.
“I love doing music and playing gigs,” she told this writer in that Billboard story, “and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to do so. But to be honest I’m not the kind of person that will think about the demographic. I’m just the ‘turn.’”
Buy or stream Back To Black.