Soul Serenade: Wilson Pickett, “In The Midnight Hour”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

It’s New Year’s Eve! Everybody’s waiting for The Midnight Hour

Wilson Pickett

Soul Serenade - Wilson PickettI’m gonna wait ’till the midnight hour
That’s when my love come tumbling down
I’m gonna wait ’till the midnight hour
When there’ no one else around
I’m gonna take you, girl, and hold you
And do all things I told you, in the midnight hour

Tonight is the only night of the year when everyone, everywhere, not just the “Wicked” Wilson Pickett, is waiting for the midnight hour. Whether you’re in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop, watching fireworks over the Sydney Harbor Bridge, at a cool party, or simply snuggled up with a loved one on the couch watching tv, we’re all waiting for the midnight hour on New Year’s Eve.

Pickett wrote the song back in ’65 along with Booker T & the MGs guitarist Steve Cropper. In those days, a lot of Stax artists would go to the Lorraine Motel in Memphis to hang out, use the pool, and write songs. That’s where Pickett and Cropper wrote “Midnight Hour,” and where, in 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.

They recorded the song at Stax Studios on May 12, 1965. Cropper played guitar, and fellow MGs Al Jackson, Jr. (drums), and Duck Dunn (bass) were on board too. Stax had a distribution deal with Atlantic Records in those days, and Pickett was an Atlantic artist. Jerry Wexler was the president of Atlantic, and it was his idea to have Pickett record with the Stax musicians.

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When Wexler told Cropper of his plans, the guitarist hand to do some research, because he didn’t know anything about Pickett’s background as a singer. Cropper began to listen to gospel records that Pickett had sung on, and on several of them he heard Pickett sing things like “I’ll see Jesus in the midnight hour,” as the record began to fade out. That’s how the idea for the song came to Cropper.

Wexler produced the session, and he was responsible for coming up with the song’s awesome backbeat. It was a revelation that caused Cropper to completely re-think there arrangement that he had in place.

“This was the way the kids were dancing; they were putting the accent on two,” Cropper said. “Basically, we’d been one-beat-accenters with an afterbeat; it was like ‘boom dah,’ but here was a thing that went ‘um-chaw,’ just the reverse as far as the accent goes.”

The combination of a great singer with a great song, a funky arrangement, and a dream team of musicians led “In the Midnight Hour” to the #1 spot on the Billboard R&B chart on August 7, 1965. But it didn’t stop there. The song achieved big-time crossover success, reaching #21 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was one of two records that Pickett placed in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time, coming in at #134 (“Mustang Sally” was #434).

There have been many covers of “In the Midnight Hour.” One of the biggest was the 1968 cover by the Mirettes, which was a Top 20 R&B hit. Roxy Music included a version on their 1980 album Flesh and Blood, and Razzy Bailey scored a country hit with the song in 1984. There were other covers by the Chambers Brothers, the Righteous Brothers, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Delbert McClinton, Johnny Rivers, James Taylor, Tina Turner, Mary Wells, and the Young Rascals. You can also hear the song played nightly by bar bands all over the world.

It’s been a rough year, but it’s nearly over. Hold on. Things have to get better, right? I wish you and those you love all the best in 2016.