In The Midnight Hour

Wilson Pickett/Steve Cropper

Wilson Pickett recorded “In the Midnight Hour” at Stax Studios, Memphis, 12 May 1965. Stax was the famous studio where a lot of classic soul and R&B was recorded – and where that style and sound was forged, with studio regulars playing on hundreds of releases. It’s a great example of what’s known as the Atlantic soul sound. Knock On Wood (with some chord stabs somewhat reminiscent of In The Midnight Hour), Soul Man, Respect, When A Man Loves a Woman, and Everybody Needs Somebody are other classic Stax releases. The Stax house band even appeared in the Blues Brothers as Jake and Elwood’s backing band.

The song’s co-writer Steve Cropper recalls: “[Atlantic Records president] Jerry Wexler said he was going to bring down this great singer Wilson Pickett” to record at Stax Studio where Cropper was a session guitarist “and I didn’t know what groups he’d been in or whatever. But I used to work in [a] record shop, and I found some gospel songs that Wilson Pickett had sung on. On a couple [at] the end, he goes: ‘I’ll see my Jesus in the midnight hour! Oh, in the midnight hour. I’ll see my Jesus in the midnight hour.'” and Cropper got the idea of using the phrase “in the midnight hour” as the basis for an R&B song.[3] Besides Cropper the band on “In the Midnight Hour” featured Stax session regulars Al Jackson (drums) and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass). According to Cropper, Wexler was responsible for the track’s innovative delayed backbeat, as Cropper revamped his planned groove for “In the Midnight Hour” based on a dance step which Wexler demonstrated in the studio – “(quote Cropper) this was the way the kids were dancing; they were putting the accent on two. 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.”[4]

The song has won various plaudits in lists of songs that shaped Rock n roll and all time best songs, but it’s great example of how standard blues style chord progressions are put together with fantastic brass, and interspersed with other chords to keep the progression interesting.