The Story Behind The Song: Amy Winehouse’s legacy-defining track ‘Rehab’
Amy Winehouse was a truly timeless artist, one who significantly altered the landscape of popular music. The singer was a mercurial talent in every sense of the world, an icon that was more than just a performer but a kind soul that the world lost painfully too soon. Winehouse triumphed and pioneered a new approach to pop music, always striving to work entirely in her own lane and the release of ‘Rehab’ on October 23rd, 2006, took the world by storm and introduced her to a wider audience than ever before.
Across all the tracks from her beautiful sophomore record Back To Black, which was released in 2006 and is full of heartfelt songs and impressive vocals, the musician showcased the thematic depth and peaks of love in a way that only Winehouse could. It’s a brilliantly honest record from start to finish as Winehouse proves herself as a heart-on-her-sleeve romantic. The first glimpse of that iconic album was given with the release of ‘Rehab’ which immediately asserted international attention. It was a wake-up call to those who had previously slept on her immaculate debut Frank in 2003.
The majority of the songs featured on Back to Black were solely written by Winehouse. At the time, she was working closely with pop-producer extraordinaire Mark Ronson and her musical focus switched toward the girl groups of the 1950s and ’60s. The choice to work with New York singer Sharon Jones’s band, the Dap-Kings, as her session musicians for the record also affected the change of pace for the former-jazz singer and gave her sound not only its effortless style but that extra dimension that made it a masterpiece.
‘Rehab’ became Winehouse’s signature track, one with it ended up becoming an internationally adored anthem that epitomised her talent. It went onto win three Grammy Awards at the 50th ceremony, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. On top of that, the track then led Winehouse to win an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song.
The song was born out of a conversation she had with producer Mark Ronson and, remarkably, only took her a couple of minutes to conjure up the hook for an all-time classic. “I was walking down the street with Amy,” Ronson said to Zane Lowe on BBC Radio 1 during a special broadcast following Amy’s passing in 2011. “We were in New York and we’d been working together for about a week and we were walking to some store,” he added. “She wanted to buy a present for her boyfriend and she was telling me about a specific time in her life that I feel bad, talking about a friend like this, but she hit, like, a certain low and her dad came over to try and talk some sense into her.
“And she was like, ‘He tried to make me go to rehab and I was like, ‘Pfft, no no no.’ And the first thing I was like, ‘ding ding ding ding ding.’ Like, I mean I’m supposed to be like, ‘How was that for you?” and all I’m like is, ‘We’ve got to go back to the studio’,” the producer reminisced.
‘Rehab’ would end up being Winehouse’s biggest hit in America and was also a huge commercial success in the UK, one which manages to tow that all too difficult line of selling well without compromising quality in a familiar battle with the mainstream. ‘Rehab’ plays a key role in helping the singer achieve her now legendary status in music, transforming popular taste and developing how contemporary artists approach the art today, cementing Winehouse’s place in the annals of music history.