How Amy Winehouse's Album Got Done
Fearful of backlash, her team struggled with questions of taste; proceeds going to charity.
When Amy Winehouse died of alcohol poisoning July 23, she left behind five Grammys and scores of tabloid headlines -- but little new music. While she had written an album's worth of ideas since her 2006 breakthrough, Back to Black, almost nothing had been recorded. "I never had an Amy Winehouse record on the schedule," says Monte Lipman, president and CEO of the singer's U.S. label, Universal Republic. "My feeling was, I'd rather she continue to seek support, help and get healthy; under no circumstances would I put any pressure on her."
But it was hard to deny the demand for a posthumous release. After all, fans of the late Tupac Shakur have seen no fewer than nine albums since his death in 1996, all of which debuted in the Top 10. The call was heeded by producer Salaam Remi, who had worked with Winehouse regularly and was on his way to see the 27-year-old when news of her death broke. "I left London with a bit of a monkey on my back," he says. "When I got back to Miami, I started listening to her music, and it was like going through an old photo album."
Sorting through scraps of material from 2003 to 2009, he and longtime Winehouse producer Mark Ronson compiled a collection of mostly covers -- including '60s hits "Our Day Will Come" and "The Girl From Ipanema" -- as well as songs that existed as little more than a single vocal take with guitar. In November, Remi played the music for Winehouse's parents and her brother, stepmother and manager, who had traveled to Miami for the reveal. "They were all skeptical," says Remi. "Her father was scared. Mitch's first reaction was that he might not be able to stay in the room. By the end, he was relieved."
Two concerns remained: that the album -- Lioness: Hidden Treasures, which went on sale Dec. 5 -- not be perceived as Winehouse's follow-up to Back to Black (says Lipman: "We are not selling this as Amy's third album") or as an attempt to cash in on her death, as some had criticized the 2010 album Michael for doing. That collection bundled unreleased tracks by Michael Jackson six months after his death and sold 224,910 units its first week and 518,000 to date. The Winehouse clan had a solution for the latter concern: Profits from Lioness would benefit the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity whose aim is to "bring healthier and happier lives to young people."
Many artists experience their biggest sales after death. A recent example: Ray Charles, whose 2004 album, Genius Loves Company, was released two months after he died, topped the charts and has since sold 3.2 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. Winehouse sales also are expected to be strong (Lioness quickly topped the U.K. chart), but Remi shrugs off any expectations. "We're capturing moments and storing them for others to enjoy," he says. "It's not about now or this week, it's about forever."
GRAMMYS SCORECARD: Indies dominate the noms ahead of the Feb. 12 show
Independents: 194 nominations
Bon Iver, 4 noms
Universal Music Group: 102
Kanye West, 7 noms
Sony Music: 75
Adele, 6 noms
Warner Music Group: 63
Bruno Mars, 6 noms
EMI: 31 noms
Coldplay, 3 noms