Melding influences of jazz, soul, pop and R&B, Amy Winehouse was a fresh new voice when her first album, Frank, came out in 2003. Even though she only released two albums before her 2011 death, Winehouse maintained a consistent public presence for years, due as much to her image and lifestyle as her great singing. She is probably best known for her self-penned single “Rehab,” an autobiographical look at her refusal to spend time in a rehabilitation facility to kick her substance abuse problem from her second album, Back to Black, recorded when she was barely 23.
“Rehab” charted all over the world, reaching the top 10 in America and number one in some countries, selling millions of downloads and propelling Back to Black to the number two spot on the Billboard 200. “Rehab” was released in October 2006 in the UK and January 2007 elsewhere, and was a favorite among the younger demographic in particular, mostly popular for its dance-friendly production and its memorable They tried to make me go to rehab/I said no, no, no catchphrase. Many listeners didn’t consider the big picture of the lyric, or weren’t really capable of understanding the consequences of addiction. A real listen to the words shows that the song is about Winehouse’s life experiences, about her addiction, sadness and longing for companionship, with lines like I’m gonna, I’m gonna lose my baby/ So I always keep a bottle near and I don’t ever want to drink again/ I just, oh, I just need a friend. The last thing this song is about is dancing and having a good time.
In the book Amy, My Daughter, her father Mitch Winehouse wrote about how the song came to be written. In his words, recounting a conversation she had with her producer, Mark Ronson, she said, “’You know they tried to make me go to rehab and I said no, no, no.”’
‘“That’s quite gimmicky,’ Mark replied. ‘It sounds hooky. You should go back to the studio and we should turn that into a song.’ Of course, Amy had written that line in one of her books ages ago. She’d told me before she was planning to write a song about what had happened … but that was the moment ‘Rehab’ came to life … that day she wrote ‘Rehab’ in just three hours.”
The song won several statuettes at the 2008 Grammy awards, including the Grammy for Song of the Year, which was given to her as the writer. Ironically, Winehouse had to perform “Rehab” for the telecast via satellite, as she had been denied a visa to enter the United States because of her drug use. And in even more irony, the remix of the song with rap icon Jay-Z was a hit in dance clubs, where alcohol is generally part of the festivities.
Winehouse died in July 2011, another rock ‘n’ roll “death by misadventure,” in this case, death due to having drunk too much. She became a member of the “27 Club” – rock stars who have died at the age of 27, including Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Janis Joplin, to whom Winehouse sometimes drew comparisons, for reasons that are hard to understand since the two had almost nothing in common musically, and just both happened to be female singers who had substance abuse issues.