The Good: Some exceptional songs, Good sound, Decent vocals
The Bad: Short, All of the best songs are the known ones.
The Basics: A fun, soulful album, The Exciting Wilson Pickett is short, but illustrates a high level of quality for 1960s r&b.
After a brief hiatus - not evident as I simply move my music reviews - I was excited to find my library had a new stack of Wilson Pickett c.d.s in for me and I could continue my exploration of his music. That continued study began with The Exciting Wilson Pickett, which was Pickett’s sophomore album and one which has appeared on compact disc without any tracks other than what were on the original 1966 release. The thing is, The Exciting Wilson Pickett sounds more like a compilation album and at least “In The Midnight Hour” was duplicated from his first album (which was titled In The Midnight Hour).
That said, despite its short duration, The Exciting Wilson Pickett lives up to its name and is a fun album worth the attention of anyone looking to learn about the music of Wilson Pickett. This is one of the definitive rhythm and blues albums of the 1960s and it is the one which cemented Wilson Pickett’s celebrity in the mainstream of American pop culture. In addition to “In The Midnight Hour,” the album features “Land Of 1000 Dances” and the less-known songs are still pretty decent.
With only a dozen songs occupying half an hour, The Exciting Wilson Pickett is a fair balance between Pickett’s abilities as a performer and his quality as an artist. Pickett is the credited co-writer of five of the songs and he provides the lead vocals on each and every song. While Pickett does not play any musical instruments, his voice is exceptionally expressive. Pickett was not involved in the production of the album, which is not at all surprising given the time period this was made in. How much of this is Pickett’s musical vision and how much was what the studio wanted is questionable.
The result, however , is less questionable. “Mercy, Mercy” actually sounds like a song by The Rolling Stones and I watched a video where Sting credits “In The Midnight Hour” as being the song he lost his virginity to, so Wilson Pickett is undeniably an influence on other musical artists and it’s exciting to listen to on The Exciting Wilson Pickett.
The sound of The Exciting Wilson Pickett is universally upbeat r&b tracks which are danceable and soulful. This comes from most of the primary instrumentation being in the brass section that backs Pickett. Pickett sings, backed up by trumpets, saxophones and heavy drums. The trumpets and saxes are used as accent pieces which highlight key lines or phrases Pickett sings, though on songs like “You’re So Fine,” they actually create the funky melody that is more musical than Pickett’s screaming vocals. What is also interesting for listeners to hear is how the bass is used in many of Pickett’s songs as a percussion instrument. The bass barely makes chord progressions in songs like “In The Midnight Hour” but it keeps time and its throbbing presence is what is arguably what makes the song so intense.
For those who are not a fan of r&b, which is basically pop music where the electric guitars are replaced with brass instruments, the vocals of Wilson Pickett are not likely to be much of an incentive to change the listener’s mind. While he is able to sing lines fast and charismatically on songs like “Land Of 1000 Dances” and soulfully on songs like "867-5789,” most of the songs have him shouting or screaming through lines to accent his emotions. “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” and “You’re So Fine” have him roughly articulating his lines at the limits of either his vocal range or his ling capacity. Either way, he comes out sounding raspy and somewhat tired. On “She’s So Good To Me,” Pickett even surrenders his usual baritone vocals to let the female backing vocals overwhelm his primary vocals. Even so, the way Pickett stretches and adds – for lack of a better term – noise to his vocals makes songs like “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” take on a more primal quality and it is hard to complain about Pickett “showing” instead of just “telling.”
On The Exciting Wilson Pickett, Pickett becomes strangely self-referential for an artist releasing only his second album. He sings about dancing and just loosening up to the music on “Land Of 1000 Dances.” That song might be one of the funkiest songs of all time even though it does little other than list dance types like “Playing, it is a habit / With long tall Sally / Twistin' with Lucy / Doin' the Watusi / Roll over on your back / I like it like that / Do that Jerk-uh / Watch me work y'all” (“Land Of 1000 Dances”). Even so, the song and album sound great and there is something reassuring about just hearing a fun song about dancing and partying (“I’m Drifting” has similar elements).
Pickett also, smartly, creates some songs with universal themes. “It’s All Over” is a true lament to love lost, just as “Something You’ve Got” is a smooth, soulful expression of desire and the way love blinds people to reality. Still, Pickett makes it sound cool when he just belts out “My my, who-a, / I love you so” (“Something You’ve Got”). And while I am tempted to call some of the songs repetitive, they are so short that they seldom develop to the point of being repetitive.
Short, in fact, is the worst I can say about The Exciting Wilson Pickett; it doesn’t use the medium well, but what is present on this album clearly laid the bedrock of r&b and pop music for decades to come. Fun and nonthreatening for those looking to listen to something soulful . . .but have been heretofore hesitant to!
The best song is “In The Midnight Hour,” the low point is the unmemorable “Barefootin’.”
For other works by Wilson Pickett, please check out my reviews of:
I'm In Love
The Very Best Of Wilson Pickett
It's Harder Now
For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.