Posts

WILSON PICKETT: THE TOP 20 PERFORMANCES ON YOUTUBE


This playlist brings together twenty of the greatest Wilson Pickett performances currently on YouTube. Other than the opening clip, none of them are the recorded versions of his many hits, but rather live renditions and TV appearances, with a couple of oddities thrown in for good measure. They include the German TV special from 1968 which features his superb backing band at the time, the Midnight Movers; the headlining performance at Soul To Soul in Ghana, March 1971; a raucous TV duet with Tom Jones; two clips from two different Soul Train appearances in the 1970s; a rare appearance onstage with James Brown; a couple of rather corny clips from the 1980s; two magnificent performances on the Letterman show from his successful comeback around 1999; and the emotional all-star tribute to him at the Grammys in 2006, shortly after he died. Several of these clips have been specifically referenced in my biography, IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR: THE LIFE & SOUL OF WILSON PICKETT, published by Oxford University Press.

 

NUMBER 1: IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, un-named television show 1965.

This is the only lip-synch on the whole playlist; I couldn’t find a live performance of Wilson Pickett any earlier than 1966. And I couldn’t find earlier videos of Pickett in any capacity prior to a couple of 1965 TV performances promoting the seminal Stax studio version of “In the Midnight Hour.” Pickett and band look a little stiff as they go through their paces, but the glee in the singer’s eye, the smile on his face as he mimes his way through what he must know to be a hit record, is palpable.


NUMBER 2: MUSTANG SALLY, unspecified television show, c. 1967.

Forget the claim in the description that this is 1965; Pickett didn’t record “Mustang Sally” (at Fame in Muscle Shoals) until 1966, and the size and the look of this group indicates it’s from around 1967. Gone is the stiffness of the previous clip; this group swings, they rock, they roll and oh man, do they have soul, with Pickett in full screaming mode. In coming years, poor old Mustang Sally would become such a lazy bar-band staple that some can’t bear to hear it; this version shows the emotive breadth of the song back when Pickett was at his peak.


NUMBER 3: EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMEBODY TO LOVE, German TV special, early 1968.

Pickett with the best backing band of his career, the Midnight Movers, captured in mesmerizing form on this German television special from early 1968, by director Reinhard Hauff. The full concert, available elsewhere on YouTube, shows the band warming up with the likes of “Soul Finger” before a young Jack Philpot, one of the only hold-overs from Pickett’s previous group, introduces the singer. Pickett bounds on to deliver a fiercesome “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love,” written by his friend Solomon Burke but a bigger hit in Pickett’s hands; he ad-libs into some of “In The Midnight Hour,” while the interracial crowd jumps to its feet and dances stage-front in delight.


NUMBER 4: STAGGER LEE, German TV special, early 1968.

Pickett had recently recorded the standard “Stagger Lee” at American Studios for the I’m In Love LP, and the Midnight Movers do more than adequate duty taking on the studio parts of some of the finest musicians in the south. With Skip Pitts on guitar, Ernest Smith on bass, “Woody” Woodson on drums, George Patterson on tenor sax and Curtis Pope on trumpet (all recently poached from Gene Chandler), joined by longer-standing Pickett band members Jack Philpot on sax and Chris Lowe on trumpet, the new group is in a league of its own, while Pickett’s vocal roar, louder than any rock singer of his era, puts the whole sound thoroughly over the top.


NUMBER 5: DEBORAH, Sanremo Music Festival, Italy, February 1968.

We back up slightly to the Sanremo Music Festival, an annual song contest held in the Italian Riviera, where Pickett brought his Midnight Movers to back him in lieu of the traditional Italian orchestra favored by all other entrants, including American artists Dionne Warwick, Shirley Bassey, and Eartha Kitt. Recorded for Italian single release in a New York studio just a few weeks earlier, “Deborah” found Pickett alternating between Italian-language operatic verses, and full-on soulful choruses referencing “good times walking down Broadway.” As seen here in Sanremo itself, albeit with some dubious audio-video synching, Pickett pulls it off in an entirely live rendition, George Patterson hard at work directing the band behind him while juggling cornet and saxophone. Check Pickett’s squalls off-mic just before the two-minute mark. He and the band were rewarded for their efforts with a fourth-place finish, the highest of any non-Italian entrants. He’d be back the next year.


NUMBER 6: FUNKY BROADWAY, German TV special, early 1968.

No Pickett show was complete without someone dancing on stage with him, but rarely did the occasion spill over into such an exuberant full-scale stage invasion as at the German TV special of 1968 for Funky Broadway, the set’s penultimate song. Around the two minute mark, Pickett smiles as he sees his stage swamped, backs off briefly and then reclaims the mike with an appropriate holler of “you got me feeling alright… lord have mercy.” While the Midnight Movers hold tight on the riff – Skip Pitts’ guitar the driving force – the audience struts its stuff in front of, around and almost on top of the musicians. It’s hard not to take note of their integrated composition (likely including many American servicemen and/or their offspring) and wonder how many cities in the States would have allowed such mingling even in 1968. More so, it’s hard not to be impressed by the joy they bring to the occasion, vocally expressed at points as one of the cameras leans into their midst. Pickett laps it all up – though even he seems taken aback by the passion with which one long-legged lady embraces him. This is soul music as social force writ large.


NUMBER 7: BAREFOOTING’, IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR and HEY JUDE, This Is Tom Jones, c. 1969

Don’t worry about the quality of the video. Nor that the trailed song is “Barefooting.” Once Tom Jones and Wilson Pickett lock into the groove together on this live performance on the former’s TV show, from what is almost certainly 1969, you will not be able to take your eyes off them. As they riff back and forth, the unseen live band with its own admirable arrangements, they morph into “In The Midnight Hour” before concluding with an ecstatic duet of “Hey Jude.” Two things should be transparent: 1) An understanding of why studio musicians say they so loved recording with Wilson, that he brought energy and vitality to his surroundings and instantly lifted their game. 2) Why I call Jones “one of the finest soul singers ever to come out of the United Kingdom.”


NUMBER 8: IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, Soul To Soul, Ghana, 1971

For my money, this event, at which Pickett headlined the first ever black American post-jazz package to visit Africa, represents the zenith of his career. To quote directly from the book: “the moment they broke into the descending chords of “In the Midnight Hour,” the crowd’s reaction was electric. The young African men who had commandeered the front rows fell into the pogoing mosh-pit of a punk rock movement still several years and a continent away—jumping, leaping, dancing, and excitedly shoving those around them. And the police broke from their official baton-wielding crowd control duties to join in with the joy of the moment. Still others in the frenzied crowd stared upward at Wilson Pickett as if in the presence of a deity.


NUMBER 9: LAND OF 1000 DANCES, Soul To Soul, Ghana, 1971

No Pickett show was complete without someone dancing on stage with him, but rarely did the occasion spill over into such an exuberant full-scale stage invasion as at the German TV special of 1968 for Funky Broadway, the set’s penultimate song. Around the two minute mark, Pickett smiles as he sees his stage swamped, backs off briefly and then reclaims the mike with an appropriate holler of “you got me feeling alright… lord have mercy.” While the Midnight Movers hold tight on the riff – Skip Pitts’ guitar the driving force – the audience struts its stuff in front of, around and almost on top of the musicians. It’s hard not to take note of their integrated composition (likely including many American servicemen and/or their offspring) and wonder how many cities in the States would have allowed such mingling even in 1968. More so, it’s hard not to be impressed by the joy they bring to the occasion, vocally expressed at points as one of the cameras leans into their midst. Pickett laps it all up – though even he seems taken aback by the passion with which one long-legged lady embraces him. This is soul music as social force writ large.


NUMBER 10: FIRE AND WATER, Soul Train, 1972

An important clip for several reasons. As I point out in my biography, host Don Cornelius’s generous introduction probably played its part in boosting Pickett’s claims as the singer set about securing himself a more lavish record deal, one that would soon see him depart Atlantic for RCA where, despite a million dollar signing fee, his career quickly floundered. Additionally, the choice of song – written and originally recorded by the band Free – demonstrates Pickett’s ability to take a rock song and make it better: this version, as produced by Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford, made number 2 on the R&B charts. The performance of it on Soul Train is entirely live, and the band is certainly grooving, but for the first time, the singer’s voice sounds strained – and also for the first time, we see him in sequins, evidence that the 1970s have truly kicked in, with ultimately devastating results for gospel shouters like Pickett. Finally, of course, there are the dancers. We Brits were not exposed to Soul Train in its heyday; Top of the Pops was as risqué as it came. As such, I can watch clips like this until the proverbial cows come home. So, hopefully, can you.


NUMBER 11: SCHITZ MALT LIQUOR TV commercial, late 1970s.

We now take a brief intermission – and what better way to do so than with a Wilson Pickett television commercial. This advertisement for Schlitz Malt Liquor is painfully ironic, given that at the time it was shot, most likely in the late 1970s, he was descending into alcoholism. Not that you would know as much by his confident presentation, which portrays him the way he no doubt wanted to be perceived – as a cool, calm, collected man of great means who nonetheless enjoys nothing more than an old-fashioned, down-home, inexpensive beer. (The raging bull was part of Schlitz’s ongoing marketing campaign.) Pickett was sufficiently photogenic that a career in TV or film might have beckoned, but for the fact that his illiteracy prevented him reading his own scripts in detail, and that he was developing a reputation for unreliability, aided – or not, depending how you read grammar – by his drinking.


NUMBER 12: THE BEST PART OF A MAN, Soul Train, 1976

Four years following his last appearance on Soul Train – during which time he had signed to RCA, released four increasingly disappointing LPs and eventually been dropped, a mere shadow of his former superstar self – Wilson Pickett returned to America’s pre-eminent black music show to unveil the singles from his new album, Chocolate Mountain. Disco, clearly, was the new soul vision, and the changes in musical taste are revealed by the audience’s dancing, so much more restrained than back in 1972, and by Pickett appearing on stage alone, for the first time in this playlist, lip-synching to the track. An attempt at bonhomie with host Don Cornelius is stilted (and likely scripted), but though Pickett looks out of sorts without a backing band, “The Best Part of a Man” is no slouch of a contemporary dance song: recorded in Nashville, it has a slick, but never saccharine approach, and for this author’s money, was his strongest foray into late 1970s dance music. But although “The Best Part of a Man” returned Pickett to the Soul Top 30 for the first time in two years, it would be his last ever such appearance in the former R&B charts that he had dominated throughout the 1960s. Chocolate Mountain proved but a brief return to form, and the relationship with T.K. ended abruptly when Pickett found out he did not in fact own his imprint.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Archives

Calendar of posts

February 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jan    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728