A big-time belter who at his best oozed a primal sexual energy, “Wicked” Wilson Pickett was one of Stax/Atlantic’s prime soul vocalists during a time when those camps could do no wrong. Nobody said you had to be a nice guy (Pickett was sent packing from Stax to Muscle Shoals after some early sessions because nobody could get along with him) to be a great singer, and Pickett was blessed to have been born with a freakishly powerful voice that could give any of the greats a run for their money in terms of rough, raw intensity. Surprisingly, he could go pop too, as exemplified by songs such as “634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.),” “She’s Lookin’ Good,” “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You,” and even a cover of The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” and he was also an effective balladeer, as evidenced by his phenomenal cover of “Hey Jude” (with a young Duane Allman spectacular on guitar). Of course, playing in front of some of the best bands in the business helped, and indeed the jam-based acid rock of the moody “Engine Number 9” (with Philly soul maestros Gamble and Huff) is all about its groove. Likewise, the pumped up bass is the best characteristic of “Don’t Knock My Love, Pt. 1,” some jazzy guitar elevates an improbable cover of Free’s “Fire And Water,” and gospel female backing and punchy horns add that little bit extra to many of these songs. About the songs themselves, it must be said that many of them are simple, simplistic even (for example, on “I’m In Love” he basically soulfully repeats the title refrain over and over), but this can be overlooked when said songs have such an animalistic intensity. Indeed, classics such as “In The Midnight Hour,” “Land Of 1000 Dances,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Funky Broadway” are known by heart by any bar band worth its salt, though the funky stomp of these much-covered songs have rarely if ever been topped by his imitators. As with most soul singers of his era, Pickett was more about songs than albums, so your best bet is to pick one of two compilations. The budget conscious are advised to buy The Very Best Of Wilson Picket, which covers the basics and contains most of his truly essential songs (i.e. his mid-to-late ‘60s songs) amid a few lesser selections. However, A Man And A Half: The Best Of Wilson Pickett is the definitive package, as this 2-cd set (44 songs as opposed to The Very Best Of's 16) covers all the high points (and, it must be said, several not so high points). It's your decision, but for any lover of hard-edged soul, either package is simply wicked, man.
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