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Music

The iconic friendship of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson

In terms of musical ubiquity, Mark Ronson is the walking, talking embodiment. Since the release of ‘Ooh Wee’ from his 2003 album Here Comes the Fuzz, Ronson’s tracks have been mainstays of dancefloors, adverts and TV shows everywhere. A DJ, producer and sometimes actor, it is remarkable for such a man that he has only released five albums across a 28 year period and yet is so well-known and loved.

That speaks to the testament of the man. After the release of his debut outing, which has now garnered somewhat of a cult status, featuring Mos Def, Ghostface Killah and Jack White, Ronson would go on to become one of the defining musicians of the mid-late ’00s. He soundtracked the skinny-jeaned, plimsoll wearing latter half of that strange decade. His second album, Version, was what truly brought him into the limelight.

In April 2007, he hit the penultimate spot on the UK Charts with his remix of The Smiths single ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’, which featured Australian singer Daniel Merriweather; the album’s lead single. But it was that June, with the actual release of Version that truly cemented his place as a defining character of 21st-century music. The album’s third single set him on an emotional collision course with one of the era’s most iconic and missed vocalists. 

October 2007’s cover of the Zutons’ ‘Valerie’, etched both Ronson and Amy Winehouse into pop culture history ad infinitum. A soulful take on the original, featuring Winehouse’s unmistakable vocals, and set to the beat of the Jam’s ‘A Town Called Malice’, the pair made the song their own and it reached number two on the UK Singles Chart. Showing the cover’s significant effect, the original is largely forgotten in the collective consciousness.

This wasn’t all though. Ronson famously produced Winehouse’s second and final studio album the iconic, Back to Black. The pair worked on six tracks for the album together, and fittingly, they are some of Winehouse’s most enduring. They are: ‘Rehab’, ‘Back to Black’, ‘You Know I’m No Good’, Love Is a Losing Game’, ‘Wake Up Alone’ and ‘He Can Only Hold Her’.

When they first met, Winehouse was surprised at how young Ronson was and expected to meet a producer who was an “older man with a beard”. However, they hit it off. In 2010, Ronson told The Guardian that he liked working with Winehouse because she would be brutally honest with him if she didn’t like something he’d done in the studio. Retrospectively, of their relationship, he would add, “that connection happened like that,” he said. “It was an instant familiarity. I just loved being in her company, her presence. She was just so funny.”

The album had a brilliant neo-soul feel that marked Winehouse out as one of Britain’s best vocalists and most observant lyricists. However, as is well documented, she had personal demons that would eventually culminate in her tragic death in 2011. Drug abuse and alcoholism only hastened the star’s decline. Amy Winehouse’s story is one that should continue to be told as there are lessons to be learnt by everyone in it. 

After Back to Black’s release, a wave of brilliant British female artists were snapped up by record labels. These include Adele, Duffy, V V Brown, Florence and the Machine and La Roux. Without its release, it is possible that they wouldn’t have been given their break. Let that sink in.

Unfortunately though, given the glamorous stature the pair were afforded off the back of the album’s successes, and as Ronson would carry on his practice of ubiquity in the production world, the duo’s relationship would become strained. Looking back, Ronson said, “obviously, we had our ups and downs, and it was troubling”.

Things came to a head around the turn of the decade. Off the back of her success, Winehouse’s private life had been getting more and more out of hand. As well as coping with her substance abuse and mental health issues, she also had a mutually “destructive” relationship with her husband Blake Fielder-Civil, and in some ways, the couple had a stark Sid and Nancy vibe. Things got so out of hand that the singer’s parents publicly voiced their concern that the two would enter into a suicide pact. 

In 2008, Winehouse finally entered a rehabilitation clinic, in a hope of overcoming her addiction issues for once and for all. In 2010, she proclaimed that she had fully quit illegal substances, a positive step. However, showing life’s wicked side, it would be alcohol that eventually killed her. It was ruled as accidental alcohol poisoning that claimed her life. 

Furthermore, struggling mentally, Winehouse would claim that Ronson was taking all the credit for Back to Black, and at one point, this was the main source of their fraught relationship. Retrospectively, Ronson’s admits regret at not helping his friend more, “When she was going through addiction, I wish I’d been a little bit more upfront or confrontational about it,” he told The Guardian in 2021. “But I just was like, ‘Ah, she’ll sort it out – she did it already once.'”

Firstly, the pair reportedly argued in 2008 after her substance abuse ruined a shot at penning the soundtrack for the James Bond entry, Quantum of Solace. Although things really came to an ugly, public head a couple of years later in 2010. This came after Ronson appeared on Jools Holland, and responded to a question asking about what the role of a producer actually is. He responded: “Working with someone like Amy Winehouse, she would come to me with just a song on an acoustic guitar and then you’d kind of dream up the rhythm arrangements and the track around it, all sorts of things. It’s really different, artist to artist.”

For an unknown reason, this enraged Winehouse, who Tweeted in the early hours of the morning: “Ronson you’re dead to me; one album I write, and you take half the credit – make a career out of it? Don’t think so bruv.” Showing the tempestuous nature of her mental state at the time, she quickly backtracked and wrote: “Ronson I love you; that make it better? You know I love you.”

Luckily the pair would patch things up, as Ronson claims, “We definitely squashed that. Of course, that record is all her – the soul of it.” Unfortunately, though, we all know how the story ends. However, Amy will continue to live on through her classic works such as ‘Valerie’, Frank and Back to Black. Her story is one that needs telling. If you haven’t already seen it, the documentary, Amy, is well worth a watch.

Listen to ‘Back to Black’, below.