Life is a Losing Game

Yesterday, Amy Winehouse became the latest member of the so-called “27 Club”, a group of singers and musicians who all died in their 27th year. The announcement of her death was certainly not a surprise and, in fact, was in some ways expected due to the singer’s fondness for drugs and alcohol. In this regard, she had much in common with the other members of the 27 Club, though she was also a talented songwriter and performer. However, she hadn’t released much original material over the last few years and her live performances had become increasingly more shambolic. I first encountered her music in 2004 at a time when I had little time for pop music. Then I came across her single Fuck Me Pumps and I remember being struck by the song’s witty lyrics as well as the brash delivery by its singer. This led me to her debut album Frank and its more consistent follow-up Back to Black. Unfortunately, interest in Winehouse’s private life overshadowed interest in her music and her slim body of work is unlikely to make her as important a member of the 27 Club as the other six that I present below

2011 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of influential bluesman Robert Johnson. He recorded even fewer tracks than Winehouse in his short life, but these recordings were a huge influence on subsequent blues and rock musicians. Johnson died in Mississippi in 1938 after drinking from a poisoned bottle of whiskey. His Stop Breaking Down Blues was recorded by The Rolling Stones on Exile on Main Street and they had earlier covered Love in Vain on 1969’s Let It Bleed. This was the last album to feature founder member Brian Jones who had been found dead in his swimming pool in East Sussex in July of that year. Both Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix paid tribute to Jones soon after, but within two years both of them would also be dead. In July 1971, Morrison was found dead in the smaller confines of his Paris bathtub. His band The Doors had also been fans of the blues and their version of a John Lee Hooker tune would subsequently appear on L.A. Woman later that year. They had also recorded Howlin’ Wolf’s Back Door Man for their 1967 debut. Jimi Hendrix had taken the blues to a whole other level with his guitar-playing and singing by the time he died in London in 1970. The cause of his death was due to choking on his vomit in his sleep after taking too many sleeping tablets. Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower is generally considered to be one of the best interpretations of another artist in rock music. The original appeared on John Wesley Harding and that’s also where you can find Dylan’s version of Dear Landlord. It is sung here by Janis Joplin, who died from a heroin overdoes in California a couple of weeks after Hendrix

It was the deaths of Jones, Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison within the space of two years and at the age of 27 that led to the creation of this 27 Club. Over the years, many less notable musicians have also died at this age and the list includes Echo & the Bunnymen drummer Pete de Freitas (motorbike crash), Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff (another heroin overdose) and the mysterious disappearance of Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards. In April 1994, the lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana became the most famous 27-year-old musician since the early seventies to join the club when he shot himself in Seattle. This year is the 20th anniversary of the release of Nevermind and SPIN magazine has commemorated this event by releasing a 13-track tribute to Nirvana’s classic that you can find out more about here. The Meat Puppets and The Vaselines had previously been covered by Nirvana and both of them appear on this tribute. The Arizonians take on Smells Like Teen Spirit while the Edinburgh band perform Lithium. You can hear Nirvana’s version of Molly’s Lips by The Vaselines below. The final song is one of the many ska numbers that Amy Winehouse sang throughout her short career. Let’s hope that the inevitable release of any posthumous tracks will be as good as this

Stop Breakin’ Down Blues – Robert Johnson

Love In Vain (Robert Johnson cover) – The Rolling Stones

Back Door Man (Howlin’ Wolf cover) – The Doors

All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover) – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Dear Landlord (Bob Dylan cover) – Janis Joplin

Molly’s Lips (The Vaselines cover) – Nirvana

Hey, Little Rich Girl (The Specials cover) – Amy Winehouse

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