Amy Winehouse is a true star that did not get to shine in its full potential. She was severely addicted to alcohol and drugs and eventually lead to her untimely death in 2011 at the age of 27. Amy Winehouse’s signature song “Rehab” is autobiographical, in which she refuses to attend a rehabilitation center for addiction. The hit song is the blueprint of the untimely death of one of the most gifted soul/R&B/jazz singers the world has seen. In this article, we dive into the meaning and true stories behind “Rehab.”
“Rehab” was released as the lead single from Amy Winehouse’s second and final studio album ‘Back to Black’ released in 2006. The album, itself, is hailed as one of the classics of R&B. The album produced some major hits such as “You Know I’m No Good,” “Tears Dry on Their Own,” “Love Is a Losing Game,” “Me & Mr Jones,” and the title track “Back to Black.” The album has sold over 16 million copies worldwide, and was ranked at #33 on Rolling Stone’s list of the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time.’
“Rehab” was a major hit in her home country, peaking at #7 in the UK Singles Chart, and became her first top 10 hit on Billboard Hot 100 Chart in the US. The song also broke the top ten in several countries including Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Spain. The song has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and was a staple song at Amy’s concerts.
“Rehab” ranked number 7 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007 and number 194 on the same magazine’s updated list of ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.’ In 2011, NME placed it at number 8 on its list “150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years.”
On 10 February 2008, “Rehab” won three Grammy Awards; ‘Record of the Year,’ ‘Song of the Year,’ and ‘Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.’
However, none of these accolades prevented Amy Winehouse from trodding down her path of self-destruction. In hindsight, all the successes of her music did not help her at all to clean up her act.
Amy Winehouse and the backstory of “Rehab”
In an interview with The Daily Mail in 2007, Amy Winehouse gave insights into how she came up with “Rehab.”
“With ‘Rehab’ I was walking down the street with Mark Ronson, who produced my last album. I just sang the hook out loud. It was quite silly really.”
Clearly, Amy was not taking her problem seriously. Her former management team tried to get her to admit to a rehabilitation center, but Amy had refused. In the same interview, Amy reveals;
“Mark laughed and asked me who wrote it because he liked it. I told him that I’d just made it up but that it was true and he encouraged me to turn it into a song, which took me five minutes. It wasn’t hard. It was about what my old management company wanted me to do.”
It is said that Amy Winehouse consulted her father if she should go to rehab. But he has said that she was in no need of such treatment. He did not believe Amy was an addict. He believed that Amy drank because of her relationship issues and rehab could not fix that.
A lot of her drinking worsened after Amy’s debut album was done and the promotions were completed. She met Blake Fielder (an addict himself). One of her former managers recalls how Amy’s life started changing after, at the young age of 22.
“She started going to the pub more and more, and then she met Blake. Overnight, everything changed. I started to get repeated phone calls from her at 2 or 3 AM, with her in bits, crying. I found myself driving round Camden two or three times a week, knocking on pub doors and seeing if there were lights on, trying to imagine which way she had walked home. At one point I called her when I was on holiday, and I didn’t even recognise her on the phone. It quite quickly became clear to me that this was serious, and her friends agreed. Her family brushed it off at first but eventually, they agreed too.”
Did Amy Winehouse ever go to rehab?
Yes, she did, several times. On August 14, 2007, Winehouse entered The Causeway Retreat, a rehab center in Essex, England, with her new husband Blake Fielder. The treatments did not work well for Amy in the end. The center itself was shut down eventually in the wake of many ethical concerns and violations in 2010. We do not know if Amy would have been better off at a different rehab center. All we know is that Amy did not find the answer she was looking for there.
Amy Winehouse passed away from alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, after 5 years since the release of the song.
Watch “Rehab” Music Video by Amy Winehouse
Buy ‘Back to Black’ Album by Amy Winehouse on Apple Music and Amazon
“Rehab” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
Those infamous lyrics begin…
They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said, “No, no, no”
This lyric tells a true story. Amy’s former management saw that she was on a path of self-destruction due to her alcohol and drug addiction. But Amy was not going to take life advice from her management. She did ask for advice from the people she loved, especially her father. However, her father failed to see the devil that Amy was dancing with. So, she told off her management, thinking that it was yet another stunt to control her life and appearance for the music industry.
In the next line, Amy admits that she has been ‘black,’ which seemingly admits that she has a problem. But…
I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine
Amy Winehouse thought her father knew what’s best for her. He probably had the best intentions in mind. But he failed to see the real problem. A daughter looks up to her father. But, this time, she did not receive the guiding light she was looking for. Amy was a rebellious soul, and she was looking for any form of justification for her behavior, which she received from the blessings of her father, and later from her husband.
In the first verse of “Rehab,” Amy Winehouse sings that she would rather stay home listening to musical legends such as Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway.
I’d rather be at home with Ray
The above original lyric was changed by Amy during some of her live performances to “I’d rather be home with Blake,” referring to her husband. It is believed that Blake Fielder was the one who introduced Amy to hard drugs.
Amy also sings that she does not have seventy days to spare for rehab. Substance abuse treatment usually takes anywhere from 30 to 60 and even up to 90 days in severe cases. For Amy to pick 70 days suggests that she was aware that her condition was rather on the ‘severe’ side.
In the first pre-chorus, Amy sings how she was never the one to fit a mold that society wanted her to be. She was never good with her grades at school. So, a drug addict R&B singer was just another FU to the world.
In the second verse of the song, Amy Winehouse plays out her role during rehabilitation. The doctor asks her why does she think she is here, and she replies that she has no idea. This suggests that Amy, too, wanted to believe that she did not have a problem. Maybe she knew that she drank too much. But did she see that as a problem?
In the last two lines of the verse, Amy sings how she is worried about losing her baby if she becomes sober. This may allude to the fact that her husband Blake, too, was a severe addict. Maybe, drugs and alcohol were a prominent component in their relationship.
Another, possibly imaginary, conversation ensues. This time the doctor diagnoses her to be just depressed and not an addict. Amy replies that depression is just the icing on the cake, hinting that she had so many other issues she drowned with alcohol and drugs. In an interview, Amy did admit that she suffered from depression which leads to her drug abuse;
I do drink a lot. I think it’s symptomatic of my depression … I’m manic depressive, I’m not an alcoholic, which sounds like an alcoholic in denial.
In the final verse of the song, Amy confesses that she doesn’t even want to drink. It’s not that she loves alcohol. But she needs alcohol and drugs to deal with everything that is going on in her life from depression, stress, lack of emotional connections, messed up relationships, and the rest.
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
Amy screams that she only needs a friend to look after her and help her deal with her problems. It is saddening to hear this in a song.
She sings again that she is not going to waste ten weeks (70 days) in rehab and fool everyone to think that she was helped. It seems that, deep down, Amy believed that she did not have an addiction problem. But it was just an outcome of other problems that she was trying to suppress.
Amy sings that saying “no, no, no” to rehab is not her pride talking. She believes that she numbs her pain with alcohol and drugs. So, this is only a temporary problem that she has until her tears have dried off, caused by other personal problems.
The whole world sang this song in unison until Amy’s death. She received the highest of music accolades for a song that sings of her depression and substance abuse. The void created by Amy’s passing in music remains to date.
This is the tragic and true story behind “Rehab,” the signature song by Amy Winehouse.
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.