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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the three THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE: "In The Midnight Hour"

An infinite number of rockin' pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!



WILSON PICKETT: "In The Midnight Hour"


Sometimes even a great record--the greatest record--is taken for granted. For all the classic 45s or album tracks that tackled you and gloriously pinned you to the pavement on first exposure, there are many other shots o' sonic bliss that you just didn't quite get immediately, songs you didn't fully appreciate on first spin, or third spin, or even for a long while after that. Maybe some of these are records you initially deemed merely "Okay, I guess," if you gave them any thought at all; perhaps some are little ditties you ignored, or even actively disliked. And then one day or night--preferably night--you hear the song again, and it suddenly clicks, as if you're hearing it for the very first time. And it's like the trite old story of the presumably-mousy secretary whose beauty suddenly reveals itself when she removes her glasses...except that she was always beautiful, with or without the glasses, ya freakin' dimwit. You just didn't notice. 

But you're paying attention now. And whether it's a girl or a song or some other sublime gem, you've fallen in love. What took you so long?


I never disliked Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour," but it wasn't at the top of my pop consciousness either. My first active memory of the song was a TV commercial for an oldies compilation, some time in the mid-'70s. The cathode-ray figure of the Wicked Pickett hisself, swayin' and simmering as he lip-synced that he was gonna wait 'til the midnight hour, jumped from my TV screen and filled my room with bravado and soul. It was so cool, and the indelible memory of that image makes me smile, even now. It should have been the start of a beautiful obsession.


The moment slipped away instead. I didn't give the song much further thought for years thereafter.

Those years passed, like teardrops flowing under a bridge. I had moved to Buffalo in the early '80s. By 1984 I was engaged to the love of my life. We had gotten rid of our intrepid 1969 Chevy Impala, and replaced it with an awful '78 Mercury Bobcat that was far and away the worst car we ever owned. That crappy little Bobcat's only advantages over the Impala were that it didn't stall out quite as much, it had power steering, and it had an FM radio.

I remember approximately where and when I was. It must have been 1984, maybe '85, no later, probably not earlier. I don't recall ever catching an oldies show on the Impala's AM dial, so I must have been in the verdammt Bobcat. I'm not sure where I was driving from, but I know I was heading east on Route 5 away from Williamsville (or fresh off the Thruway), passing the Lord Amherst Hotel on my way home to our Lisbon Avenue tenement apartment. It was, I think, a Saturday night. It's always Saturday night, whenever great oldies play on the radio.

And the song played. The Memphis Horns flooded my sorry little jalopy with the sound of soul, and Stax Records' mighty session players--guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, and drummer Al Jackson--joined forces with the Horns to form an offensive line of dominant, confident swagger like nothing I'd ever experienced. But if I thought that was swagger--and I did--it was nothing compared to the sheer, self-assured groove of Wilson Pickett wailin' his lustful vow:

I'm gonna wait 'til the midnight hour
That's when my love comes tumblin' down
I'm gonna wait 'til the midnight hour
When there's no one else around

This was a pure and pristine magic, even while it looked forward to the sweaty, shakin' consummation of earthy love as the clock strikes twelve:

I'm gonna take you, girl, and hold you
And do all the things I told you
In the midnight hour

It was the Gospel of sex, a testifying moan, a celestial mingling of Heaven and earthly desire: sin as salvation. Nearer my God to thee, again and again, all night long, in the midnight hour.

It's inconceivable to think I didn't hear Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour" at least once in that decade or so that elapsed in between a snippet in a TV commercial and a Saturday night drive in my little Bobcat. I must have heard it, probably many times. But I didn't really hear until that night, that moment, when the Wicked, Wicked Pickett preached in sacred tones of a midnight meeting between the sheets. Swagger. Soul. This suburban white kid's world expanded in an instant, albeit an instant that was years in the making. That's a lot of midnight hours. That's a lot of swagger. And that's the Greatest Record Ever Made.

Amen. Again and again, baby. The sweetest sacrament can be wicked indeed.

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