The Great British Songbook #3: ‘Rehab’

Amy Winehouse

Some songs are classics from the first moment, the first line. They arrive, mess with your mind, demand your full attention and leave insisting that you play them again right away. The kind of song that can transform a singer from well-respected journeyman into global icon before the final cha-cha-cha. The kind of song you can vividly remember hearing for the first time.

I was working in the news room of a local radio station in Cornwall. It’s a very lively environment, with people loudly shouting the odds about various news items and how best to translate them into good radio. Tempers get high, sulking is not uncommon, it’s my favorite kind of office.

On my desk is a pile of new CDs, which it’s my job to listen to, because I write about music for a BBC website. I pull out a sampler CD of an album called “Back To Black” by Amy Winehouse. I know who she is because there’s been a trend for jazzy singers doing grown-up songs for a mature audience and I had thoughtlessly associated her with Katie Melua and that lot. I’d listened to her first album, “Frank” but apart from the surprising amount of swearing, nothing had made much of an impression.

So, without expecting much, I put the CD in and thumbed the play button:

“They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.”

What’s this? Is this a Ray Charles song? I check the writing credits, to find that no, it’s a Winehouse original, and it seems to be about being at your wits end, but defiant. And wait, didn’t she just namecheck Ray himself? She DID! And Donny Hathaway! Amazing. Oh and now it has stopped. I should play it again, just to make sure it still works. Well, whaddya know, it does.

Within an hour I’m on air, babbling to one of the presenters about this girl who can sing like Brother Ray and how she is clearly about to leave all of those tasteful musical revivalists for dust. Whatever IT is, she has it and is about to take it on a trip around the world. This is more than just a catchy pop song by a soulful singer, it’s a new iconic musical moment, a song people will play whenever they want to remember the mid-naughties, a song which will be sung at karaoke until something else comes along which indulges the performer instinct, and then it’ll be sung there too. It’s as good as anything else, ever.

And the biggest shock of all is that I was RIGHT.

Oh no wait, the biggest shock of all is that they did “Rehab” on the very first episode of Glee. That was like being mugged (and then sexually harrassed) by a Care Bear.

 

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic

See more posts by Fraser McAlpine