Wicked Pickett dead at 64

Categories: Obituary
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The first time I ever remember saying "sign of a good party!" when dancefloor turbulence made the record skip, I was in junior high and The Exciting Wilson Pickett was on the turntable. There is a powerglide moment in "Land of a Thousand Dances," right between the "nah, nah-nah-nah-nah" chant and the "like boney maroney" lyric, when my friends and I would go batshit with pubescent glee--damn straight we made that needle jump.

Pickett, who died today of a heart attack at the age of 64, had a voice and a fervor that were instant gratification for a freshly minted teenager. Never before had I heard a singer emit something perfectly pitched at the midpoint between a howl and a coo until Pickett told us, "All ya gotta dooooo is PICK UP your telephone and dial now, 6-3-4-5-7-8-9. That's my number!"

"In the Midnight Hour" is on the record, ranking with "Dances" and "Mustang Sally" among the Wicked one's greatest hits. But the record also had daft covers of "Barefootin'"--a squirrelly hit for Robert Parker--and Don Covay's "Mercy Mercy," both done in Pickett's inimitible sweaty, soul-soaked manner. And it had Steve Cropper's "Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do," which may as well have been Pickett's motto.

He released a slew of records, with his best moments by far coming in the mid-to-late 60s. Vocally he was the aural opposite of the dulcet-toned Lou Rawls, who also passed recently. Pickett was the man with elan, rivaling Otis Redding for onstage excitement. He had the Atlantic label production crew and the boys from Memphis and Muscle Shoals. At his best, he squeezed out sparks on every syllable, ballads be damned. Drop 99 cents on one of his tunes--cheaper than Red Bull and twice as energizing.


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