Debates over who the greatest soul man of all-time is could contain solid arguments for James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson and a few others. The release of Rhino’s six-disc Wilson Pickett boxed set makes a good case for the wicked Pickett (1941-2006), who came out of Detroit with that raspy shout, a spitball of phlegm, a string of hits a mile wide (50+ charters) and a 1991 Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame induction.
If danger is at the heart of real rock ’n’ roll, Pickett was its living incarnation. The dude was nuts: a real wild cat who not only commanded the stage with a feral presence, but lived his life the same way. After he relocated to New Jersey, he drove his car on the Englewood Mayor’s lawn. Guns, jail, cocaine, his story has all the trappings of a great Hollywood feature.
But it’s in these grooves that his true genius lies.
It took legends like Music Executive Extraordinaire Ahmet Ertegun, producer Jerry Wexler, guitarist Steve Cropper and a few others to harness Pickett’s over-the-top artistry into the kinds of tracks compiled here. From early hits by The Falcons, to a string of funky misses until his “In The Midnight Hour” breakthrough (which he co-wrote), almost every cut is sterling precision, etched like a damn sculpture with perfectly funked-up syncopated horns that grab your bowels and forces your body to move.
Hits “Mustang Sally,” “Land Of 1,000 Dances,” “Funky Broadway” (one chord: E), “I’m A Midnight Mover” and dozens of others are side by side with crazy-ass covers of “Hey Jude,” “Born To Be Wild,” “Hey Joe” and other rock anthems. His eccentric takes on blues, novelty tunes, ballads and even old folk songs constitute a fascinating eclecticism all delivered with his signature tonsil-tearing ferocity.