This was originally recorded in 2006 by the Liverpool group The Zutons, peaking at #9 in the UK. In an interview with The Zutons, their drummer Sean Payne revealed that the song was written about a friend of their lead singer Dave McCabe who got caught drink-driving: "She's in trouble for drink driving. She was a friend Dave met over in the US. It's his musical postcard to her, saying he's having a hard time and can she come over and see him. He didn't mean it, it just made a good song."
Amy Winehouse is a featured vocalist on this song. After working with Winehouse on her Back to Black album, the English music producer Mark Ronson recorded Version, an album of cover songs which were mostly guitar tunes reworked as '60s & '70s Soul numbers. "Valerie" was one of the songs Ronson covered and he told Liverpool magazine how he originally came across this song: "I'm glad it was a Liverpool song. I think Liverpool has the best musical history of, well, of anywhere in the world. But I have to admit I didn't know the song all that well before we did it. At the time I'd just finished Amy's album, and I'd almost finished mine and I really wanted her to do a song for me. I kept asking her if she knew any new songs. I explained that it was Soul covers of guitar records. She only listens to things made before 1967, she didn't know any indie songs. Then one day she came up and said 'I like Valerie by the Zutons.' At the time I couldn't hear her voice singing it in my head. I wasn't sure how it would work, but she went into the studio and tried it. I loved it." Pritchard was also asked if the band expected Ronson's cover to be a hit. He replied: "Because we'd had a big hit with it, she (Amy Winehouse) was so notorious at the time and he was also on the up, we kinda thought it would be a smash. The way the world works is that if she's absolutely everywhere in the media, and if she has a song that's catchy too, then everyone's happy. It's good and it's funny - nobody had covered one of our songs before."
When they recorded this cover, Ronson realized he needed to add strings to the track, but Amy Winehouse wasn't having it. Ronson knew the strings needed to appear but he wasn't going to fight with his guest singer. The British producer admitted to Remix magazine: "Basically, I kinda had to go behind her back to put the strings on the record."
An alternative acoustic version recorded by Winehouse for the Radio One Live Lounge was included on several versions of the single release of Back to Black
. Later in 2007 this version entered the UK charts as it was the only hit registered by an iTunes search for "Amy Winehouse Valerie." (There was no mention of the guest singer's name on Mark Ronson's version.) A few weeks later there was a surge of sales when it was included on a new "Platinum Edition" of Winehouse's Back to Black
album. As a result, the British singer became the second act in 2007 to reach the UK Top 40 with two different recordings of the same song. The Proclaimers achieved the same feat earlier in the year with both the 2007 Comic Relief and original 1988 versions of "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)
The Daily Star reported: "Dave (McCabe) put a deposit down on a lovely big house in Liverpool with the royalties from the track. He's been really chuffed and has been telling all his mates about the property. Initially it was strange for him and the band hearing one of their favorite songs done by someone else, but now they love Mark and Amy's version and are hoping it's a big hit in America."
The Zutons bass guitarist Russell Pritchard was asked by Digital Spy
if the band expected Ronson's cover to be a hit. He replied: "I wouldn't say we're fans, but we don't hate it. It's not a bad thing - he's just stuck the beat from The Jam's 'Town Called Malice
' behind it. I quite like it. It proves how catchy the song is that it can be played in two very different ways and still be a hit. It shows that we're good at songwriting, or at least that we can be."
Dave McCabe told Scotland on Sunday May 11, 2008: "I could tell you I was inspired by gazing out across the Mersey or walking past Macca's old house, but the truth is I got the idea in a cab on the way to my mum's. The whole song was written before I got there, so 20 minutes, max."
"Valerie" charted in the US for the first time in December 2010 when a version by the Glee Cast debuted at #54 on the Hot 100 after featuring in the Fox TV show.
Mark Ronson recalled to Q magazine, March 2015. "I really didn't know that song. Amy played it to me five minutes before I recorded it. She picked it because they played it at her local. We listened to it, wrote the chord chart and then cut it. It was wild."
"We'd recorded it for about an hour in a slow arrangement and everyone was packing up and at the last minute I went, 'Can we do a slightly faster one?' It was two takes and we were done."