Winehouse released her debut album, Frank, on 20 October 2003. Produced mainly by Salaam Remi, many songs were influenced by jazz, and apart from two covers, every song was co-written by Winehouse. The album received positive reviews with compliments over the "cool, critical gaze" in its lyrics and brought comparisons of her voice to Sarah Vaughan, Macy Gray and others. The album reached number 13 on the UK Albums Chart at the time of its release, and was eventually certified triple Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). In 2004, Winehouse was nominated for British Female Solo Artist and British Urban Act at the Brit Awards, while Frank made the shortlist for the Mercury Prize. That same year, the album's first single, "Stronger Than Me", earned Winehouse and Remi an Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song.
In contrast to her jazz-influenced debut album Frank, Winehouse's focus shifted to the girl groups of the 1950s and 1960s. Winehouse hired New York singer Sharon Jones's longtime band, the Dap-Kings, to back her up in the studio and on tour. Mitch Winehouse relates in Amy, My Daughter how fascinating watching her process was: her perfectionism in the studio and how she would put what she had sung on a CD and play it in his taxi outside to know how most people would hear her music. In May 2006, Winehouse's demo tracks such as "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab" appeared on Mark Ronson's New York radio show on East Village Radio. These were some of the first new songs played on the radio after the release of "Pumps" and both were slated to appear on her second album. The 11-track album, completed in five months, was produced entirely by Salaam Remi and Ronson, with the production credits being split between them. Ronson said in a 2010 interview that he liked working with Winehouse because she was blunt when she did not like his work. She in turn thought that when they first met, he was a sound engineer and that she was expecting an older man with a beard.
Tom Elmhirst, who remixed the single "You Know I'm No Good", was enlisted to help with the mixing of the album. He first received Ronson's original mix, which he described as being "radical in terms of panning, kind of Beatlesque. The drums, for instance, were all panned to one side." He attempted to mix "Love Is a Losing Game" in the same manner he did with "Rehab", but he felt it was not right. The majority of the songs produced by Ronson were done at the studio of the band the Dap-Kings, in Brooklyn, New York. The drums, piano, guitar and bass were all done together in one room, with the drums being recorded with one microphone, with lots of spill between the instruments. Elmhirst mixed "Rehab"; when he first received the multitrack of the song it was small, but Ronson then went to London to record strings, brass and percussion in one of Metropolis Studios's tracking rooms. After this was added, there were quite a few tracks. The song had a retro, 1960s soul, R&B feel, which is what the Dap-Kings specialise in, when it came to the mixing Elmhirst added a contemporary feel to it as well, while Ronson wanted to keep the mix sparse and not overproduced.
According to AllMusic's John Bush, Back to Black finds Winehouse "deserting jazz and wholly embracing contemporary R&B". David Mead of Paste also viewed it as a departure from Frank and said that it sets her singing to Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson's "synthetic Motown-style backdrop". Meanwhile, Ann Powers from NPR Music characterised Back to Black as "a full embrace of classic rhythm and blues." Music journalist Chuck Eddy credits Ronson and Remi's production for resembling Phil Spector's Wall of Sound technique and surrounding Winehouse with brass and string sections, harp, and the Wurlitzer. PopMatters writer Christian John Wikane said that its "sensibilities of 1960s pop and soul" are contradicted by Winehouse's "blunt" lyrics and felt that "this particular marriage of words and music mirrors the bittersweet dichotomy that sometimes frames real relationships". The staff of The A.V. Club emphasized on "the record's status as the pinnacle of the Brit neo-soul wave it ushered in".
The song "Tears Dry on Their Own" samples the main chord progression from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's 1967 song "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". On the song "Rehab", Winehouse mentions "Ray" and "Mr. Hathaway", in reference to Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway. However, for some time during live performances, she replaced "Ray" with "Blake", referring to her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, who served time in prison for charges relating to grievous bodily harm. "Back to Black" explores elements of old-school soul music. The song's sound and beat have been described as similar to vintage girl groups from the 1960s. Its production was noted for its Wall of Sound. Winehouse expresses feelings of hurt and bitterness for a boyfriend who has left her; however, throughout the lyrics she "remains strong" exemplified in the opening lines, "He left no time to regret, Kept his d_ck [sic] wet, With his same old safe bet, Me and my head high, And my tears dry, Get on without my guy". The song's lyrical content consists of a sad goodbye to a relationship with the lyrics being frank. John Murphy of musicOMH compared the song's introduction to the Martha and the Vandellas song "Jimmy Mack", adding that it continues to a "much darker place".
A deluxe edition of Back to Black was released in mainland Europe in November 2007 and in the United Kingdom on 3 December 2007. The reissue features the original studio album remastered as well as a bonus disc containing various B-sides, rare, and live tracks, including Winehouse's solo rendition of the single "Valerie" on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge; the song was originally available in studio form on Ronson's Version album. Winehouse's debut DVD I Told You I Was Trouble: Live in London was released in the UK on 5 November and in the US on 13 November. It includes a live set recorded at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire and a 50-minute documentary chronicling the singer's career over the previous four years.
The first single released from the album on 23 October 2006 was "Rehab", a song about Winehouse's past refusal to attend an alcohol rehabilitation centre despite prodding by her management company. On 22 October 2006, based solely on download sales, it entered the UK Singles Chart at number 19, and when the physical single was released the following week, it climbed to number seven. Following a performance of "Rehab" at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards on 3 June 2007, the song rose to number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 for the week of 23 June, peaking at number nine the following week.
"You Know I'm No Good" was released on 8 January 2007 as the album's second single, reaching number 18 on the UK Singles Chart. Back to Black was released in the United States in March 2007, with a remix of "You Know I'm No Good" featuring rap vocals by Ghostface Killah as its lead single. A third UK single, "Back to Black", was released on 30 April 2007. Having previously peaked at number 25 on the UK chart, the track climbed to number eight in late July 2011, following Winehouse's death. Two further singles were released from the album: "Tears Dry on Their Own" was released on 13 August 2007, and peaked at number 16 in the UK, while "Love Is a Losing Game", released on 10 December 2007, reached number 33.
Winehouse promoted the release of Back to Black with headline performances in September and November 2006, including a Little Noise Sessions charity concert at the Union Chapel in Islington, London. On 31 December 2006, Winehouse appeared on Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny and performed a cover of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" along with Paul Weller and Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. She also performed Toots and the Maytals' "Monkey Man". She began a run of another 14 gigs beginning in February 2007. At his request, actor Bruce Willis introduced Winehouse before her performance of "Rehab" at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards in Universal City, California on 3 June 2007. She had made the awards' organisers nervous when she went on a Las Vegas jaunt in the hours before the show. During the summer of 2007, she performed at various festivals, including UK's Glastonbury Festival, Lollapalooza in Chicago, Belgium's Rock Werchter and Virgin Festival in Baltimore.
In November 2007, the opening night of a 17-date tour was marred by booing and walkouts at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham. A critic for the Birmingham Mail said it was "one of the saddest nights of my life [...] I saw a supremely talented artist reduced to tears, stumbling around the stage and, unforgivably, swearing at the audience." Other concerts ended similarly, with, for example, fans at her Hammersmith Apollo performance saying that she "looked highly intoxicated throughout", until she announced on 27 November 2007 that her performances and public appearances were cancelled for the remainder of the year, citing her doctor's advice to take a complete rest. A statement issued by concert promoter Live Nation blamed "the rigours involved in touring and the intense emotional strain that Amy has been under in recent weeks" for the decision. Mitch Winehouse wrote about her nervousness before public performances in his 2012 book, Amy, My Daughter.
Back to Black received widespread acclaim from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 81, based on 26 reviews. AllMusic writer John Bush lauded Winehouse's musical transition from her debut record: "All the best parts of her musical character emerge intact, and actually, are all the better for the transformation from jazz vocalist to soul siren." Q magazine said she "now has a voice brimming with womanly promise." Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian called Back to Black "a 21st-century soul classic". Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine said that Winehouse and her producers are "expert mood-setters or crafty reconstructionists". Victoria Segal from The Times stated "these are explicit, honest songs ... from a thoroughly modern milieu". The Observer's Stuart Nicholson said the record succeeds because of "clever melody lines and smart lyrics". Jon Pareles of The New York Times called the album "a wonderfully time-twisted batch of songs", while Andy Gill hailed its "rejection of genre clichés". The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones praised Winehouse's "mush-mouthed approach" and "range and delivery". Nathan Rabin, writing in The A.V. Club, was impressed by "the incongruity between Winehouse's trifling lyrical concerns and Back To Black's wall-of-sound richness". Entertainment Weekly's Will Hermes felt that her "smartass, aching, flirty, and often straight-up nasty" lyrics "raise this expertly crafted set into the realm of true, of-the-minute originality".
In a mixed review, Rolling Stone's Christian Hoard stated: "The tunes don't always hold up. But the best ones are impossible to dislike." Robert Christgau gave it an "honorable mention" in his consumer guide for MSN Music, citing "You Know I'm No Good" and "Rehab" as highlights and writing, "Pray her marriage lasts—she's observant, and it would broaden her perspective". Pitchfork critic Joshua Klein criticised Winehouse's "defensive", subjective lyrics concerning relationships, but added that "Winehouse has been blessed by a brassy voice that can transform even mundane sentiments into powerful statements". Douglas Wolk, writing for Blender, said that the album "sounds fantastic—partly because the production nails sample-ready '60s soul right down to the drum sound; and partly because Winehouse is one hell of an impressive singer, especially when she's not copping other people's phrasing". In a retrospective review for Rolling Stone in 2010, Wolk gave the album four-and-a-half out of five stars and referred to it as "an unlikely marvel, a desperately sad and stirring record whose hooks and production (by Remi and Mark Ronson) are worthy of the soul hall-of-famers she namedrops—'Tears Dry On Their Own' is basically 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' recast as self-recrimination".
Back to Black was named one of the 10 best albums of 2006 and 2007 by several publications on their year-end albums lists, including The Austin Chronicle (number four), Billboard (number three), Blender (number eight), Slant Magazine (number four), Entertainment Weekly (number two), The New York Times (number three) and Time (number one). The album was placed at number 40 on Rolling Stone's list of The Top 50 Albums of 2007. Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Willman named Back to Black the second best album of 2007, commenting that "Black will hold up as one of the great breakthrough CDs of our time." He adds, "In the end, the singer's real-life heartache over her incarcerated spouse proves what's obvious from the grooves: When this lady sings about love, she means every word." Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Albums of the 2000s ranked the album number 20. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked the album at number 451 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
At the 2007 Brit Awards, Winehouse won British Female Solo Artist, and Back to Black was nominated for MasterCard British Album. In July 2007, the album was shortlisted for the 2007 Mercury Prize, but lost out to Klaxons' Myths of the Near Future. This is the second time Winehouse has been nominated for the Mercury Prize; her debut album Frank was shortlisted in 2004. Back to Black won numerous awards at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards on 10 February 2008, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year for "Rehab"; while the album received nominations for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, winning the latter. Winehouse herself, for the album, was presented the Grammy for Best New Artist, while Ronson earned the 2008 Grammy Award for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.
Back to Black debuted at number three on the UK Albums Chart on 5 November 2006 with first-week sales of 43,021 copies. The album fell to number 10 the following week, selling 27,763 copies. By the end of 2006, the album had been certified Platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Back to Black topped the UK Albums Chart for the first time during the week ending 20 January 2007, its 11th week on the chart, selling over 35,500 copies. The following week, the album remained at number one with nearly 48,000 copies sold. Five weeks later, it returned for a third week atop the UK chart, selling 47,000 copies. The deluxe edition of the album also spent a week atop the UK chart for the week ending 8 March 2008 with 62,773 copies sold, its 17th week on the chart after entering at number 22. In doing so, Winehouse became the first artist to top the chart with separate regular and deluxe editions of the same album. The two versions of the album charted separately at the time and were both in the top 10 for the week ending 29 December 2007. As of 14 June 2009, the album was the 18th highest-selling album of all time in the UK, with all versions combined. Back to Black was the biggest-selling album of 2007 in the UK, having sold 1.85 million copies. The BPI certified the album 12× Platinum on 28 August 2015, and by July 2016, it had sold 3.58 million copies, making it the UK's second best-selling album of the 21st century behind Adele's 21, as well as the 13th best-selling album in the UK of all time.
Back to Black debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200 in the United States with first-week sales of 51,000 copies, becoming the highest debut entry for an album by a British female solo artist at the time—a record that would be broken by Joss Stone's Introducing Joss Stone, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 for the week of 7 April 2007. Following Winehouse's multiple wins at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards, the album jumped from number 24 to a new peak of number two on the Billboard 200 chart issue dated 1 March 2008 with sales of 115,000 copies, a 368% increase from the previous week. The album was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on 10 July 2007 for shipments in excess of one million units, becoming the 24th best-selling album of 2007. It was eventually certified double Platinum on 12 March 2008, and has since sold nearly three million copies in the US.
Back to Black topped the European Top 100 Albums chart for 13 non-consecutive weeks, while reaching number one in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland. The album was certified 8× Platinum by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) in late 2011, denoting sales of eight million copies across Europe. As of November 2010, it is the fifth most downloaded album of all time in Germany. By April 2013, the album had sold over 12 million copies worldwide.
Following Winehouse's death on 23 July 2011, sales of Back to Black drastically increased across the world. The album rose to number one on several iTunes charts worldwide. On 24 July 2011, with fewer than seven hours sales after the announcement of her death counting towards the respective week's chart figures, the original album re-entered the UK Albums Chart at number 49 with 2,446 copies sold, while the deluxe edition sold 843 copies to re-enter the chart at number 163. The following week, it soared back to number one, marking the fourth time the album has reached the top of the chart. Back to Black held the top spot for two additional weeks, selling 63,071 copies in the second week and 43,726 copies in the third week. On 26 July 2011, Billboard reported that the album had re-entered the Billboard 200 chart dated 6 August 2011 at number nine with sales of 37,000 copies, although that week's chart only tracked the first 36 hours of sales after her death was announced. The following week, it climbed to number seven with 38,000 copies sold after a full week's worth of sales. In Canada, the album re-entered the Canadian Albums Chart at number 13 on sales of 2,500 copies, an increase of 2,172% from the previous week. It rose to number six the following week, selling an additional 5,000 copies. In continental Europe, Back to Black returned to the number-one spot in Austria, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland, while reaching number one for the first time in Italy.
After the release of Back to Black, record companies sought out female artists with a similar sound and fearless and experimental female musicians in general. Adele and Duffy were the second wave of artists with a sound similar to Winehouse's. A third wave of female musicians that has emerged since the album was released are led by V V Brown, Florence and the Machine, La Roux and Little Boots. In March 2011, the New York Daily News ran an article attributing the continuing wave of British female artists that have been successful in the United States to Winehouse and her absence. Spin magazine music editor Charles Aaron was quoted as saying, "Amy Winehouse was the Nirvana moment for all these women [...] They can all be traced back to her in terms of attitude, musical styles or fashion." According to Keith Caulfield, chart manager for Billboard, "Because of Amy, or the lack thereof, the marketplace was able to get singers like Adele, Estelle and Duffy [...] Now those ladies have brought on the new ones, like Eliza Doolittle, Rumer and Ellie [Goulding]."
Notes^a signifies a remixer.
"Addicted" is only included on UK and Irish pressings of the standard album, while appearing as a bonus track on all deluxe editions of the album.
"Tears Dry on Their Own" contains a sample interpolation of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
"He Can Only Hold Her" contains a sample interpolation of "She's a Fox Now" written by Richard and Robert Poindexter.
Credits adapted from the liner notes of Back to Black.