The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 January 2006

The midnight mover

Conventional wisdom has it that Wilson Pickett, who died today of a heart attack at 64, was the least subtle of all soul singers, always right up in your face, never relaxing for a moment.

I'm not buying. I'll gladly concede that Pickett's style was loud and proud and leather-lunged, and that he wasn't the best ballad singer Stax — or, for that matter, Atlantic, who wound up with his contract — ever saw; but geez, the man was versatile. Who else would have had the temerity to cover the Beatles ("Hey Jude"), Steppenwolf ("Born to Be Wild"), Free ("Fire and Water"), and, by God, the Archies ("Sugar, Sugar"), and get chart singles out of every one?

Still, my favorite Wicked Pickett track is "Funky Broadway," a song recorded first by its composer, Arlester "Dyke" Christian, a few months earlier in 1967. The Dyke and the Blazers version is indisputably funky, but Dyke's monochromatic, almost skeletal approach to this tune makes you wonder why they bothered to do five whole minutes of it; the record company wisely separated this into Part I (the hit) and Part II. Pickett, for his part, gets through the tune in 2:30 or so, and he seems to be having a whole lot more fun on his street. Some of that fun was no doubt inspired by the legendary Muscle Shoals crew at Rick Hall's Fame Studios, but I'd like to think he was tickled by the pretentiousness of some of the stuff that was written about him back in the day. From The Sound of Wilson Pickett (Atlantic 8145, 1967), the very LP on which "Funky Broadway" appeared, comes this verbal sludge:

[Pickett's] output of notable recorded performances will continue inasmuch as the record buyers of today are more discerning than ever before and they quickly differentiate between what is legitimate art and what is spurious.

The proper response to that, from Pickett's hit "Land of 1000 Dances":

Na na na na,
Na na na na, na na na, na na na,
Na na na NA.

So there.

Posted at 7:23 PM to Tongue and Groove

Agreed -- "Funky Broadway" is amazing as sung by Pickett. What a voice...what a great way to enjoy the drive to work...what a talent.

Posted by: david at 8:40 PM on 19 January 2006

I had forgotten about Funky Broadway, and for that matter the other one. Good stuff.

Our reaction here was "he's only 64?" I guess he won't still be sending anyone a Valentine.

I think seeing him depicted as hanging with Alan Freed in the early days made me assume he was older; more like the 71 Elvis would have just turned.

Posted by: Jay at 8:13 AM on 20 January 2006