MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: Amy Winehouse, Tancred, and The Bangles

Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Amy Winehouse’s sudden death on July 23, 2011, was an incalculable loss. She’d put a modern spin on the classic soul and girl group sound of the 1960s, a talented songwriter who was also a compelling performer, and her sharp wit and iconic look only added to her appeal.

Sadly, her problems with substance abuse meant she only recorded two full studio albums during her short career, along with a number of non-album tracks. Surprisingly — and unfortunately — there isn’t a vault of unreleased material that can be mined for future release. In a 2015 interview with Billboard, David Joseph, Chairman/CEO of Universal Music UK, said he destroyed Winehouse’s unreleased recordings, explaining, “It was a moral thing. Taking a stem or a vocal is not something that would ever happen on my watch. It now can’t happen on anyone else’s.”

It also means that two “new” Winehouse releases, The Collection and 12×7: The Singles Collection (both Island/Ume) feature no previously unreleased material. But The Collection offers a nice way to cover the Winehouse basics in one fell swoop, featuring the albums Frank, Back to Black, Lioness: Hidden Treasures, Live In London, and the self-explanatory Remixes. Frank, Winehouse’s debut, has tended to get overlooked in the wake of Back to Black’s staggering success, especially as it wasn’t initially released in the US; it’s an album well-worth rediscovering. Lioness is a must-have posthumous collection of rarities, featuring a superb cover of “The Girl From Ipanema,” Winehouse’s last original song, “Between the Cheats,” and her final recording, the Grammy-winning duet “Body and Soul,” with Tony Bennett. Live In London documents a terrific May 2007 show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, previously released on DVD/LP as I Told You I Was Trouble: Live in London; this marks its first release on CD. The Singles Collection is a fun all-vinyl set, featuring some great non-album B-sides like “Monkey Man” and “You’re Wondering Now.”

Frank was the promise, Back to Black the fulfillment, and Lioness the aftermath. I’d hoped there would be a lot more from Amy Winehouse. But I’m so grateful for what we do have.

Those who pre-ordered Tancred’s Nightstand album when it was first released in 2018 got a bonus; a cassette with nine acoustic demo versions of the album’s songs. Now the songs are being made more widely available as Nightstand (Acoustic) (Polyvinyl Record Co.).

Nightstand is an album that looks at the intricacies of human relationships. Acoustic strips the songs of their instrumental augmentation, with the result that they now cut straight to the bone. “Queen of New York,” for example, is a buoyant, almost dizzying number about the pleasure and excitement of a one-night stand. But on Acoustic, it’s more bittersweet, the morning after now tinged with sadness. The difference is even more striking on “Song One,” a painful number about unrequited love; on Acoustic, the line “Why must she love someone else?” becomes even more devastating.

“Lyrics are my favorite part of writing, hands down,” Tancred (aka Jess Abbott) said to Playlist Play, and Acoustic keeps them right in the foreground. The titles resonate — “Apple Tree Girl,” “Underwear,” “Strawberry Selfish.” There’s a concise elegance to the writing; a line like “Kiss me like we’ll never get older” needs no further elaboration. There’s also a teasing playfulness: “I’ll feed the hand that bites me.” Overall, Acoustic has a freshness and an intimacy that might well lead to it becoming your preferred version of Nightstand.

Sweetheart of the Sun, originally released in 2011, was the first album featuring the Bangles as a trio, following Michael Steele’s departure from the group. It also happens to be the last album that the group has released to date. Notices were good at the time of its release, but the record faltered on the charts.

Which meant that not enough people got the chance to experience this gorgeous record. The album has a strong Southern California vibe, a sound rooted in the late ’60s and early ’70s music the band members grew up listening to. Further inspiration was drawn from Sheila Weller’s book Girls Like Us, which told the stories of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. After reading the book, “we started to make this composite woman who represented something important to us and inspirational to us,” guitarist Susanna Hoffs told Rolling Stone.

Thus you get the title track, “Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun),” about a golden girl who carved out a musical path for others to follow: “Now we want to celebrate her/All of us who came in later/Quiet power, simple grace/No man could put you in your place right now.” The cascading harmonies sweep you up from the first track, and never let go until the final, ringing notes of the closing song “Open My Eyes.” There are hooks a-plenty throughout, and the kind of good, solid, jangly guitar rock that’s irresistible. The album’s two covers are delightfully idiosyncratic: “Sweet and Tender Romance” (a lot rougher than that title makes it sound) by the 1960s Scottish sister duo the McKinleys and “Open My Eyes,” originally by Todd Rundgren’s first band the Nazz.

On its initial release, the vinyl edition of Sweetheart came and went and quickly became a high priced collector’s item. So Real Gone Music has stepped up to reissue the album on pink swirl vinyl; get it while you can – and have a safe and healthy 2021!

NEWS ROUNDUP: Music Lawsuits, New Music from Marianne Faithfull & More

Music Lawsuits


One of Spotify’s former sales executives, Hong Perez, is suing Spotify and her former boss, head of sales Brian Berner, for gender discrimination, equal pay violation and defamation in New York’s Supreme Court. Perez’s complaint accuses Berner of taking mens-only employee trips to the 2016 and 2017 Sundance FIlm Festival, as well as to Atlantic City strip clubs. Perez also alleges Spotify awarded higher compensation to male employees and promoted employees despite sexual harassment warnings. Spotify denied these claims.


Drake filed a fraud lawsuit against model Laquana Morris (aka Layla Lace) on Tuesday in the Superior Court of California, accusing her of civil extortion, fraud, defamation, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Drake admitted to having consensual sexual relations with Morris in Manchester, England February 2017. In April 2017, she claimed on social media that he dumped her after she told him she was pregnant with his child. The case also alleges that Morris demanded money from Drake and filed a police report alleging the rapper raped her during the Manchester hotel encounter. Manchester police cleared Drake of of sexual assault allegations.

The New New

Nick Cave and Marianne Faithfull released a collaboration titled “The Gypsy Faerie Queen,” which will be included on her twenty-first album Negative Capability, due out November 2nd. Avril Lavigne released first song in five years, “Head Above Water,” which describes her battle with Lyme Disease. Major Lazer and South African singer Babes Wodumo released “Orkant/Balance Pon It” with a video that showcases people of Durban, South Africa dancing on buses, in classrooms and on the streets.

End Notes

  • The Senate passed the Music Modernization Act (MMA), that will modernize copyright protection for songwriters on streaming services and other digital platforms.
  • Paul McCartney has first Billboard chart number one album debut with 18th solo release Egypt Station.
  • A new Amy Winehouse documentary entitled Back to Black has been announced, highlighting the making of her iconic record.

HIGH NOTES: 10 Female Artists Who Reference Drugs in Their Music

When you hear the phrase “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” you usually picture male musicians: Lou Reed croaking out the words to “Heroin” or “Waiting For My Man;” The Weeknd’s famously numb face; Kurt Cobain finding God in “Lithium;” The Beatles on LSD; Neil Young’s coke booger immortalized in The Last Waltz.

Stereotypes about drug users aren’t flattering to any gender, but female celebrities are held to especially high standards of behavior, with sex, drugs, and other supposedly hedonistic behaviors deemed “unladylike.” Maybe that’s why more women seem to avoid drug references—and why those who make them convey a special brand of “IDGAF.” Being unladylike, after all, is part of many artists’ images. Here are some women who have changed the public’s perception of women and drugs through drug references.


Halsey sprinkles drug references throughout her songs, which looks like a way of solidifying her image as a rebellious woman, until you realize few of them actually describe her taking drugs. “Are you high enough without the Mary Jane like me?” she sings in “Gasoline,” inspiring a remix by K.A.A.N. titled “Mary Jane.” In “Hurricane,” she sings of someone who “tripped on LSD, and I found myself reminded to keep you far away from me.” “Colors” centers on another toxic person: “You’re only happy when your sorry head is filled with dope.”

These songs may tell an anti-drug message, but in “New Americana,” she sings, “We are the new Americana, high on legal marijuana.” Confirming that “we” includes her, she said at the 2016 VMAs, “I smoke a lot of weed.” Altogether, her songs give an (accurate) picture of drugs as potentially both positive and destructive.


The opening lines of Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz are pretty telling: “Yeah I smoke pot, yeah I love peace, but I don’t give a fuck, I ain’t no hippy,” she sings on Dooo It!” and that’s only the beginning of an album littered with drug references. A year prior to its release, she sang about dancing with either “Miley” or “Molly,” depending on if you know,” prompting headlines like Miley Cyrus sings about molly again; experts warn of its dangers and Demi Lovato warns pal Miley Cyrus of the dangers of drugs after star confirms MDMA reference.”

But Miley’s not ashamed of her drug use. “I think weed is the best drug on earth,” she said in a Rolling Stone interview. “One time I smoked a joint with peyote in it, and I saw a wolf howling at the moon. Hollywood is a coke town, but weed is so much better. And molly, too. Those are happy drugs – social drugs. They make you want to be with friends.”

She did, however, announce last spring that she’d stopped using alcohol and drugs. “I haven’t smoked weed in three weeks, which is the longest I’ve ever [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][gone without it],” she told Billboard. “I’m not doing drugs, I’m not drinking, I’m completely clean right now! That was just something that I wanted to do.” Her reason? “I like to surround myself with people that make me want to get better, more evolved, open. And I was noticing, it’s not the people that are stoned.” Halsey might beg to differ.


Rihanna’s “We Found Love” video is believed to be an ode to the relationship-healing powers of MDMA, with montages of pills, raves, and expanding pupils as she and a male actor rekindle a dying love, though she then appears to leave him after they crash back to reality. The lyric “yellow diamonds” is thought to refer to the drug. But mostly, Rihanna’s a proud stoner, singing in James Joint,” “I’d rather be smoking weed whenever we breathe.”


From raving about a guy who “might sell coke” in “Super Bass” to saying she’s “high as hell, I only took a half a pill” in “Anaconda,” drug use is one of the many things Nicki Minaj is unapologetic about. She also establishes herself as defying conventions of femininity by dropping sports references in her songs. (Billboard counted 42.)


With music embracing female sexuality and celebrating clubbing as a way to lose your inhibitions, Madonna created a new archetype of femininity. MDMA was such a central part of this image, she named an album (and a skincare line) MDNA. But when she tried to speak to a younger generation of drug users, it backfired. “Have you seen molly?” she asked a crowd at Ultra, eliciting criticism from Deadmau5 and Paul van Dyk. In response, she claimed she was simply referencing a Cedric Gervais song, tweeting, “I don’t support drug use and I never have.” One notable exception: urging a lover to “get unconscious” in 1994 hit “Bedtime Story,” which she promoted with a pretty trippy video. 


Like most of Jenny Lewis’s music, her drug references paint depressing images. In Rabbit Fur Coat,” she sings of her estranged mother, “She was living in her car, I was living on the road, and I hear she’s putting that stuff up her nose.” In the eponymous track for her first solo album, “Acid Tongue,” she sings, “I’ve been down to Dixie and dropped acid on my tongue, tripped upon the land ’til enough was enough.” But drugs seem to be a thing of the past for Lewis. Later in the song, she sings, “To be lonely is a habit like smoking or taking drugs, and I’ve quit them both, but man, was it rough.”


Long before Halsey or Miley Cyrus, perhaps the OG of female stoner artists was Janis Joplin, whose ode to marijuana, “Mary Jane,” is somewhere between a celebration of the drug’s benefits and a confession of addiction. “I spend my money all on Mary Jane,” she sang. “Now I walk in the street now lookin’ for a friend, one that can lend me some change, and he never questions my reason why ’cause he too loves Mary Jane.” Of course, she would later lose her life to another addiction, dying of an accidental heroin overdose.


Aside from publicly refusing to go to rehab, Winehouse referenced her drug habits in lyrics like “I’d rather have myself and smoke my homegrown” in “Addicted” and “You love blow, and I love puff” in “Back to Back.”

In 2007, she told Rolling Stone that the change in her musical style from jazz to R&B reflected a change in her drug of choice from weed to alcohol. “I used to smoke a lot of weed,” she said. “I suppose if you have an addictive personality then you go from one poison to the other. The whole weed mentality is very hip-hop, and when I made my first record, all I was listening to was hip-hop and jazz. The weed mentality is very defensive, very much like, ‘Fuck you, you don’t know me.’ Whereas the drinking mentality is very ‘Woe is me, oh, I love you, I’m gonna lie in the road for you, I don’t even care if you never even look my way, I’m always gonna love you.'”


Drugs were a central part of 1930s jazz culture, and Fitzgerald was no exception. In “When I Get Low I Get High,” she sang about numbing her pain with drugs, and a few years later, she got more explicit in “Wacky Dust,” a song about a substance that “gives your feet a feeling so breezy” and “brings a dancing jag”—presumably, cocaine. It ends on a less celebratory note, though, warning listeners that “it’s something you can’t trust, and in the end, the rhythm will stop. When it does, then you’ll drop from happy wacky dust.”


“I can’t lie,” Tove Lo told BBC of “Habits (Stay High),” whose video features her downing drink after drink at a club (and whose lyrics reference the munchies). “What I’m singing about is my life. It’s the truth. I’ve had moments where that [drug-taking] has been a bigger part than it should be. It’s hard to admit to, and I could filter it or find another metaphor for it — but it doesn’t feel right to me.”

“There are so many dudes singing about the same subject,” she elaborated to Untitled. “I wonder if they get the same question or is it because I’m a girl that people ask me, ‘Don’t you feel like you have a responsibility to be a role model?’ And I think: do I have that [responsibility] more than dudes because I’m a girl and I sing pop? I think there’s a kind of denial on how much drugs are a part of people’s lives.”