Pickett had his first success with a song called "I Found a Love," which he wrote and performed with his group The Falcons in 1962. That song reached #75 on the Hot 100, and two years later Atlantic Records signed him to a solo deal. His first single with the label, "Come Home Baby" was recorded in New York with producer Bert Berns, and it went nowhere. For a change of sound and scenery, Atlantic sent him to Memphis to record his next single at Stax Records (which had a distribution deal with Atlantic) using their house band. These sessions produced "In The Midnight Hour," which became Pickett's breakout hit. He went on to become a soul music legend and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.
In this song, Pickett is waiting till midnight to meet his girl for a romantic rendezvous. It's not clear if he's doing it at that hour to stay undetected, or if it's just more romantic. Either way, his love will come tumbling down.
Pickett wrote this with guitarist Steve Cropper, who wrote and produced many of the soul classics for Stax Records. Cropper played guitar on the Stax session band, Booker T. and The MGs.
Cropper recalled to Uncut in 2015: "I say in my shows that playing the guitar is real simple, you just follow the dots - the dots on neck on every guitar are in the same place. That's how I came up with the intro for this. They go, It couldn't be that simple,' then all of them go home and get their guitars out and go, 'Wow, it is!'"
Cropper and Pickett wrote this at the Lorraine Motel, which was located near the Stax studios in Memphis. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot there while standing on the balcony.
The title came from something Steve Cropper heard Wilson singing on one of his gospel tracks. Said Cropper: "Wilson says he wrote the song but, you know, I listened to some old church stuff he sang on and he was singing, 'See my Jesus in the midnight hour, see my Jesus in the midnight hour," over and over, and I said, 'I'm gonna see my girl in the midnight hour,' what about that?'"
This was produced by Jerry Wexler with Steve Cropper, Al Jackson and Donald "Duck" Dunn from the Stax house band Booker T. & the MG's playing on the track (keyboard player Booker T. Jones didn't participate in the session). Booker T. and The MGs played on many soul classics, and even had a hit of their own with "Green Onions
" in 1962, and they also backed up Pickett's hero Otis Redding on many tracks.
The personnel on this track was:
Guitar: Steve Cropper
Drums: Al Jackson
Bass: Donald "Duck" Dunn
Piano: Joe Hall
Tenor Sax: Andrew Love, Charles Axton
Baritone Sax: Floyd Newman
Trumpet: Wayne Jackson
Atlantic Records gave Pickett the nickname "The Wicked Pickett" after this was released. They used it to promote him, claiming he got it because of his prowess with the ladies. Pickett lived up to the nickname - he spent some time in jail and struggled with drug use before his death in 2006 at age 64.
This soul classic is Pickett's most popular song, but it had only modest success on the Hot 100, peaking at #21 (it did better in the UK, where Pickett had a hearty following). It did climb to #1 on the R&B chart, giving Pickett his first of five chart toppers on that tally.
Pickett also recorded "Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won't Do)" and "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)
" at the Stax Studios, with backing by Booker T. and the MG's and the horns by the Bar-Kays.
When Pickett and Booker T and the MG's first tried to record the song, nobody liked the result - then Jerry Wexler had the idea to change the rhythm so that the teenagers could dance The Jerk, which was a big dance craze at the time. To do this, Wexler had the rhythm section stress the "two" beat, which simulated the dance. Wexler also demonstrated the dance, which the band found amusing.
Steve Cropper explained on his website
: "He was pretty adamant about how Jackson and I stayed really locked in, and that was probably one of the first examples of a song that has a really delayed backbeat, and strictly in the design of the jerk dance. And Al Jackson and I had both seen that dance - I think it was in Detroit - we were playing a show out there and we were noticing these kids doing this dance a little bit different from some of the other kids that we had seen dancing, and Al Jackson picked up on that right away, so he knew immediately what Jerry Wexler was talking about when he said 'I want that jerk beat.' So, it worked out pretty good, and of course Wilson fell right into it being a dancer himself."
In 1991, this was used in the movie The Commitments, which was about an Irish band who played the songs of American soul singers. The movie helped introduce Pickett's music to a new audience.