Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wilson Pickett Helps Pioneer Funk With The Wicked Pickett!

The Good: Some wonderful lyrics, Very fresh sound (even today), Intriguing vocals
The Bad: Dreadfully short
The Basics: Fun and funky, The Wicked Pickett has Wilson Pickett's music evolving into some awesome early funk!

Sometimes, when a musical artist or performer has a body of work that is frequently anthologized or has a limited number of hit singles, the real joy in immersing oneself in their works can be in finding the hidden gems of their career. In the case of Wilson Pickett, whose three decade career seems to be frequently boiled down to seven singles which appear on virtually every compilation and maybe a half-dozen other songs which are mixed in that are recognizable, the hidden gem album might well be The Wicked Pickett.

The Wicked Pickett is an album which Pickett did not contribute any of his own songs to and was released in 1966, but sounds refreshingly cool today. However, because the c.d. transfer is a true replication of the original album, it is an underwhelming use of the capacity of the digital medium. So, while I enjoy and enthusiastically recommend The Wicked Pickett, it falls into a more average use of the medium and might be better as a digital download than taking up space on a shelf in c.d. form (I wish most Oldies albums would double up when they were released on compact disc!). That said, the recognizable hit from The Wicked Pickett is Pickett's rendition of "Mustang Sally," but it is not the best song on the album.

With only twelve songs occupying a minimal-feeling 30:44, The Wicked Pickett has Wilson Pickett's R&B style evolving more to a proto-funk sound. Yes, Pickett does only about half of the album as smooth ballads like "Mustang Sally," "Time Is On My Side" and "You Left The Water Running" and he devotes the rest of the album to songs where he is competing with his instrumental accompaniment in a soul-funk way. Songs like "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," and "Knock On Wood" are all up-tempo jams which have Pickett rocking and rolling as much as he is bringing listeners to their feet with a dancable sound.

The Wicked Pickett is hardly the creative work of Wilson Pickett. On this album, he does not write any of the songs he is performing and he does not play any of the musical instruments. However, true-to-form, he provides all of the lead vocals. He was also not involved in the production of the album, which is not surprising. So, whether or not Pickett wanted to create a more soulful and funky album, that is what The Wicked Pickett became.

Instrumentally, The Wicked Pickett shifts Pickett's sound from strong brass and bass to strong brass and electric guitars. Songs like "Time Is On My Side" (yes, the same song popularized by The Rolling Stones) have a brash, funky quality to them with Pickett screaming out the lyrics and the trumpets blaring to accent his raw vocal emotionalism. The bass is not absent, but it comes up infrequently on songs like "She Ain't Gonna Do Right," where it creates a bassline which is arguably intended to help keep time with the drums more than create or accent the melody being played by the brass section. In true funk form, the trumpets and saxophones dominate the instrumental accompaniment on the album.

Vocally, Wilson Pickett oscillates between being smooth and almost classically jazz-sounding in his vocals ("You Left The Water Running") and just noisy. "Knock On Wood" is almost inaudible at times when Pickett screeches through the lines with inarticulate passion. Yes, he makes it musical, but after songs like the repetitive "Sunny," some of the more noisy elements drag and make the listener cringe. Academically, the songs are intriguing for the level of passion Pickett puts in them and when he goes for clear, he makes songs which are passionate and coherent, as he does on the groovy "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love."

More than his prior albums, Pickett seems preoccupied with the loss of love or the inability to find what he wants in a woman on The Wicked Pickett. His bona fide breakup masterpiece might well be "You Left The Water Running." When Picket sings "You left the water running / When you left me behind / You left the water running / Running from these eyes of mine / You turned off the light of love / When you left with that other guy" ("You Left The Water Running"), he takes the simple words and infuses such passion and loss into them that the song resonates with anyone who has ever lost love.

Rather interestingly, it is on The Wicked Pickett that he also casts himself as a victim in the game of love. On "Up Tight Good Woman," he actually has lines like "She don't need to have a pretty face / Just two arms to keep me safe . . . A good little woman to stand by my side / I want a good woman" which have a simple, plaintive quality which Pickett makes into an auditory personal ad. The irony here is that on an album called The Wicked Pickett, Wilson Pickett is often at his most vulnerable and even his lament "Three Time Loser" where he sings about failures in love sounds remarkably true-to-life.

But what makes The Wicked Pickett very easy to recommend is that Pickett takes lyrics which are about regrettable occurrences in love and breakups and he makes them sound musical and interesting. This album, despite some of the noisy vocals, is very easy to listen to and rock out with because every track has a great beat and funky sound. The disparity between the lyrics and the sound is interesting and I take it to be the triumph of trying again over the crushing defeat of the loss of love.

The best song is the simple and melodical "You Left The Water Running," the low point is the incoherent "Ooh Poo Pah Doo."

For other works by Wilson Pickett, please check out my reviews of:
The Exciting Wilson Pickett
I'm In Love
In Philadelphia
In The Midnight Hour And Other Hits
The Very Best Of Wilson Pickett
It's Harder Now


For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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