Wilson Pickett wants you to know you can call on him for some good lovin', and he's going to make sure you remember his number: 634-5789 (this was before you had to dial the area code). The song became one of his biggest hits, and his second R&B #1, following "In The Midnight Hour."
This song was written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, who later collaborated on Floyd's hit "Knock On Wood." Both were working for Stax Records - Floyd as a songwriter and Cropper as a songwriter/producer/guitarist. In their first attempts at writing this song, they used a different phone number (Cropper remembers it being the number of Floyd's ex-girlfriend), but it didn't sing very well. They tried other number combinations until arriving at 634-5789, which felt right. The last four digits are the same ones used in The Marvelettes 1962 hit "Beechwood 4-5789."
Pickett was signed to Atlantic Records, which had him record this song at Stax in Memphis. Before Pickett got there to work on The Exciting Wilson Pickett album, Atlantic sent their renown engineer, Tom Dowd, to Stax so he could make sure it was ready. Dowd did some production and engineering on this track, which sets it apart musically from much of Pickett's output. "In '634-5789,' if you listen to it closely, you can probably tell that there's a little bit more to it and a little bit more music than what Stax Records normally sounded like," Steve Cropper explained. "For example, we put on another big fat snare beat, and Al Jackson had some tambourine and a couple little licks here and there. Put the girls on it, put the backgrounds on it, and really made it a good, full production. Tom Dowd was always helpful in putting out a full production and really taught us a lot about overdubs and the way to go about it. So this was one of the songs that got that full treatment from Atlantic Records."
Over some drinks, Steve Cropper learned a valuable lesson from Tom Dowd, which he applied to this song and many after. Here's how Cropper tells it: "I said, 'I'm very curious that Motown and some of the guys at Atlantic, when their songs hit, they just seem to sell so much more product. They're such singalongs. How do you get that?' And he said, 'Well, if you start writing your lyrics on the downbeat, on the beat, you'll get more of a singalong effect instead of just telling a story and singing it where the words fall.'
So with '634-5789' I tried to get the numbers that would match those downbeats and sing along like that. And I had quite a bit of success from that time on by writing everything on the downbeat."
Before Pickett left Memphis, he and Cropper wrote and recorded another number song for the album: "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)."
Pickett and Eddie Floyd had some fun with Steve Cropper when they first played this song for Picket. "We were so excited to have the song." Cropper said. "Eddie and I went into the studio late and did a demo. I couldn't hardly sleep waiting for Wilson Pickett to get to the airport. I went out and picked him up - usually when I pick up Wilson, we go straight to the hotel and I let him check in and we go to the studio, but this time I was so excited about the song I went straight to the studio. I had Eddie there, and had the tape ready to play for him. We brought him into the control room, handed him a set of lyrics and played the tape. Maybe a verse and a half in, Wilson wads up the piece of paper, throws it on the floor, and starts to walk out. About that time, I see Eddie flying across the room. He did a flying, block tackle on Wilson Pickett and there are these two big guys scuffling in the control room floor. I thought, I'm gonna get killed this day and I'll never get out of here. And I couldn't believe Wilson hated this great song. Well, come to find out that later, they had been putting me on, and that Wilson and Eddie had been doing antics for many, many years, scuffling on the road and stuff like that, so both of them were pulling my leg."
This song was the basis for a scene in the 1998 movie Blues Brothers 2000 that takes place in a call center for adult services (a phone sex operation). In the film, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett and Jonny Lang each take a verse, with Lang providing the guitar solo.