Wilson Pickett tore apart songs with a big, booming, cutting voice. He tore apart songs with great gusto. His early records have the crazy power of Little Richard but with more guitar based backing tracks and less surreal songs. The1960’s established Pickett as a performer of great singles such as "Land of a Thousand Dances" and "In The Midnight Hour". The Pickett vocal sound was one of contained emotion escaping – Be it joy or desire or hurt.
Pickett was the opposite of Otis Redding whereas Redding was stodgy, dull, and oversang everything (perhaps the creator of the oversinging style prevalent on American Idol), Pickett attacked the song directly then fell back dodging and weaving like a boxer through the melody. He also co-wrote or chose better material as well.
By the end of the 60’s, Pickett also started making great full length records. His masterpiece HEY JUDE came out in 1969 and the title track is my favorite cover version of a Beatles song by any artist. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, the backing accompaniment is raw, earthy, human especially Duane Allman who empowers the proceedings. There are numerous other classic songs here such as “Night Owl” and “Toe Hold”.
Next Pickett made the album RIGHT ON. Considered a bit of a stopgap between HEY JUDE and WILSON PICKETT IN PHILADELPHIA (his other masterpiece), RIGHT ON is a good record in and of itself. The standouts are two very often covered songs “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Hey Joe”. Pickett’s versions IMO are the definitive ones because he slows everything down and stretches out these tunes into the works of high drama they deserve to be.
Next was IN PHILADELPHIA which is Pickett’s second best record. Having Pickett work with the progenitors of the popular at the time Philadelphia soul sound (consisting of beautiful orchestral songscapes) the production team Gamble and Huff was an inspired choice as the velvet backing instrumentation only serves to boost Pickett not hold him back. Quite a lot of guitar on this record too.
Pickett did make one more good record DON’T KNOCK MY LOVE which was recorded in Muscle Shoals and featured the same muscular backing sound as HEY JUDE but after that he slid into disco and less inspired music.
The greatest thing one could take away from Wilson Pickett’s singing career is that it is important for the vocalist to challenge himself and put himself in different situations. Pickett did this admirably and the result is a legacy of classic songs, standards that transcend genre.