William Bell's debut single, this was released by Stax Records in 1961. It is Bell's signature song and acknowledged as a Southern soul classic.
The song is about a lost love. When William Bell wrote it, he had found a niche as the featured vocalist with Phineas Newborn's orchestra. However he was feeling homesick and missing his loved ones back home in Memphis. Bell recalled to Mojo:
"I was on the road and feeding lonesome for my girlfriend and all that stuff. I was in New York we happened to be off that night, and there was a thunderstorm. I wrote the song then. When I came back to Memphis at the end of the summer, Chips (Monan, producer) asked me about doing a solo project and that was one of the songs I had."
The song is much covered. Among the well-known versions are ones by Otis Redding for his 1965 album, Otis Blue and The Byrds for their 1968 record, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, with lead vocals sung by guitarist Roger McGuinn.
The third verse of "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies ("they shook and lurched all over the church floor...") was inspired by girl whose parents would speak in tongues at their Pentecostal service.