Wilson Pickett- In the Midnight Hour (1965)
Wilson Pickett- In the Midnight Hour (Atlantic)
Recorded Between 1962-1965
Released - June 1965
Wilson Pickett is a soul legend with a golden voice. The singer was born in 1941 in Prattsville, Alabama and was the fourth of eleven children. He learned to sing in the Baptist church choir. In 1955 Pickett, who was routinely beaten by his mother, left to live with his father in Detroit and began singing with the gospel group the Violinaires. Inspired by the music of Little Richard, he then moved from gospel to singing popular music in 1959 with the Falcons. The group combined gospel and pop music, gained some notoriety, and scored a minor hit with “I Found A Love,” which Pickett co-wrote. Pickett then submitted a version of his tune “If You Need Me” to Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler. Instead of signing Pickett, Wexler took the song and gave it to Atlantic recording artist Solomon Burke, who recorded it and scored a hit. Angered but not deterred, Pickett scored his first solo hit with “It’s Too Late,” which appeared on his first solo record of the same name for Double-L Records in 1963. Wexler then saw the possibilities regarding Pickett and bought out his recording contract from Double- L. Now with Atlantic, Pickett first released the duet “Come Home Baby,” a duet with singer Tami Lynn, but it did not do well. His next attempt was the mega-hit "In The Midnight Hour,” recorded at Stax Records in Memphis. The song reached #1 on the R&B Billboard Charts and #21 on the US Pop Charts. It was even nominated for a Grammy Award. The success of the track catapulted Wilson Pickett’s career.
About the Album
In The Midnight Hour is a compilation record showcasing releases from 1962-1965. Several tracks include the help of the celebrated Stax Rhythm Section of Steve Cropper on guitar, Al Jackson on drums, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass, and Booker T. Jones on keyboard. In 1965 Atlantic released the album In The Midnight Hour, which reached #3 on The US R&B charts but only #107 on the pop charts. Moving up to the 1970s, his follow-up records would continue to sell well and he scored major hits with “634-5789,” “Land of a 1,000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” “Funky Broadway,” “Hey Jude,” and others. This success ranks Pickett as one of the greatest soul singers ever.
Personal Struggles and Later Career
In 1973, Pickett left Atlantic Records and began recording for RCA. By 1975 his music was not selling well, and the singer was dropped from RCA but continued to release music for his fans on Big Tree Records, but no hits followed. He then began to suffer the effects of alcohol and cocaine abuse and grew increasingly violent toward family, musicians, and friends. Although he struggled personally in the 1980s and 1990s, he was awarded at this time for his career, and many of his songs were being covered by bands like The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Aerosmith, Van Halen, and others. Despite dwindling popularity, he continued to find opportunities to record and perform and even made some film appearances.
In 1991, the same year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was arrested while driving his car in a drunken rage over the front lawn of Englewood, NJ, Mayor Donald Aronson. In 1992 Pickett struck 86-year-old pedestrian Pepe Ruiz while driving drunk. Ruiz died later in the year and Pickett was sentenced to a year in prison. He was also involved with several domestic violence issues. In 1996 after another domestic assault disturbance, he was arrested for cocaine possession. Wilson Pickett died in 2006 at age 64.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- “In the Midnight Hour” is the song that made Wilson Pickett a star. The song was initially released as a single in 1965. Pickett and Stax studio guitarists Steve Cropper wrote: “In The Midnight Hour.” Cropper recalls: “Atlantic Records president Jerry Wexler said he was going to bring down this great singer Wilson Pickett ‘to record at Stax Studio where Cropper was a session guitarist “and I didn’t know what groups he'd been in or whatever. But I used to work in [a] record shop and found some gospel songs that Wilson Pickett had sung on. On a couple [at] the end, he goes: 'I'll see my Jesus in the midnight hour!’”
Cropper then got the idea of using the phrase “in the midnight hour” as the basis for an R&B song. More likely, Cropper remembered The Falcons’ 1962 song "I Found a Love," on which Pickett sings lead and says, "And sometimes I call in the midnight hour!” Musically, “In the Midnight Hour” is soulful and has an incredible underlying rhythmic feel. Hats off to the Stax session players, who were a significant part of Pickett’s overall sound at the time. “In The Midnight Hour” reached #1 on the R&B Charts and #21 on the Hot 100s Charts. Had the lyrics been less suggestive, it likely would have had even more crossover success. (*+)
Track 2- “Teardrops Will Fall” is a duet between Wilson Pickett and Tami Lynn. The song is credited to Dicky Doo, who is singer and songwriter Gerry Granahan from the band Dicky Doo and the Don’ts, and New Orleans gospel vocalist Marion Smith who Wexler signed in 1965. The song could have easily been a hit. Take special notice of the underlying groove and horn interlude. (+)
Track 3- “Take A Little Love” is credited to Pickett and is the B side of the single “Come Home Baby.” The song has a bit of a country soul groove—another solid track showcasing Pickett’s powerful vocals. I also believe that this could have been a single.
Track 4- “For Better Or Worse” was a solid early single for Pickett, and it shows off his vocal range and signature screams along with a Gospel chorus. “For Better Or Worse” blends gospel, blues, and soul and is well-written, produced, and performed. The song is one of the best on the record and was written by Pickett. The song served as the B side to the single “I’m Gonna Cry.” (+)
Track 5- “I Found A Love” was first recorded by Pickett’s gospel group, the Falcons, and was a gospel hit. The music is thick, and Pickett sings with tremendous passion. It's a great praise song that helped establish Pickett. The background vocal lines are a little overwhelming and out of tune at times (*+)
Track 6- “That’s A Man’s Way” is another Cropper and Pickett collaboration. The song is sexy and soulful. It's a song about passion that is again expertly delivered. The track is a perfect side one closer and leaves you wanting more music. Although not a hit, it is one of Pickett’s best. (+)
Track 1- “I’m Gonna Cry” was released as a single in 1964, and it underperformed. It reached only#124 on US Billboard Charts. The song has a pretty involved arrangement with some significant layering and background vocals. The heavy layering associated with the “Motown Sound” success clearly influenced the production and recording. (*+)
Track 2- “Don’t Fight It” served as the follow-up single to “Midnight Hour” and exemplifies how well Cropper and Pickett worked together as writers. There are a few well-handled key changes and orchestration characteristics, but at its core, the songs interest is centered around the groove of the rhythm section and Pickett's strong preachy vocal deliverance- Don’t fight it, just enjoy it (*+)
Track 3- “Take This Love I’ve Got.” This is a call-and-response song that is reminiscent of the Isley Brothers' hit “Shout.” Although the song seems like filler, Pickett delivers.
Track 4- “Come Home Baby” features Pickett again in a duet with Tami Lynn written by the successful husband and wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Wells. The song was released as a single in 1964 but failed to chart. I have no idea why because it has all of the elements: great vocals, a toe-tapping groove, interesting horn lines, and a solid hook. (*+)
Track 5- “I’m Not Tired” is another Cropper and Pickett original. Once again, they deliver. This song seems to channel Sam Cooke’s style and sound. Cooke was murdered in 1964, leaving a void for Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding to serve as the kings of soul. The two competing soulsters seemed to push each other towards greatness until Redding died in a plane crash in 1967. (+)
Track 6- “Let’s Kiss And Makeup.” For the most part, Pickett’s music is about relationships, having them, losing them, and, in this case, regaining one. This one was written by Pickett’s Falcons bandmate Willie Scofield. There is some pretty cool guitar work on this one.
In The Midnight Hour is an excellent collection of Wilson Pickett’s earlier works. The title track and the album helped establish Pickett as one of the most significant voices of soul and one of the greatest vocalists to emerge in the mid-1960s.