The Wicked Pickett pleads for musical redress…
“Listen – Mojo Mamma – MP3″
Here I sit on a Sunday morning, with ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ on in the background – which I saw when it came out 37 years ago, but my four year old is watching for the first time – drinking a bottle of diet coke (too lazy to make a pot of coffee) and wondering where the weekend went.
I oughtn’t complain, as it’s been an extraordinarily busy one, with the Asbury Park 45 Sessions on Friday night, driving to East Jabib and back yesterday (where we ended up taking the wee one to the emergency room for what turned out to be yet another ear infection) and then the two boys waking me up at 6:30AM (are they INSANE??!?!?) today. I figured I’d better get the files uploaded and the posts written before I crawl onto the couch and take a nap.
A while back – I can’t remember where exactly – I grabbed the LP ‘The Sound of Wilson Pickett’ because:
a. The Wicked one is one of my musical heroes
b. As a result of ‘a’, I grab any and all OG Pickett vinyl whenever I come across it in the field
So, I get it home and place it on the ‘to be listened to/digi-ma-tized’ pile, where it sat gathering dust for a few months. When I finally set aside some time and dropped the needle on the record, I was stunned.
Now Pickett delivered some mighty powerful soul in his day, but that’s not why the record delivered a punch. The first cut I played brought on one of those Moe Howard slow-burn ‘WAIT A MINUTE YOU PORCUPINE!’ moments.
There, coming out of the grooves was a song (‘Mojo Mamma’) that bore a distinct resemblance to a much better known (and far more successful) tune, that being Edwin Starr’s ’25 Miles’.
So, once I finished recording all I wanted to record, I rushed to the computer, got onto the interwebs and started Google-ing to see if I could find what the story was.
You know what I found?
ZIPPITY DOO DAH…
I hit the reference books and discovered that Pickett’s recording of ‘Mojo Mamma’, which was credited to Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler pre-dated ’25 Miles’ by almost two years. The tune, which features the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and the Memphis Horns was recorded in 1967. Starr’s ’25 Miles’ didn’t break on the charts until early 1969.
The only real clue I could find, that suggested to me that those credited with writing ’25 Miles’ – Starr, Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua – may have been nailed for “borrowing” the tune, is that fact that though ’25 Miles’ is originally credited to those three, later attributions add the names of Wexler and Berns to the credits.
How Starr et al thought they could get away with it is beyond me. Though ‘Mojo Mamma’ wasn’t anything close to a hit, the album from which it came – ‘The Sound of Wilson Pickett’ – includes a number of big hits, including ‘Funky Broadway’, ‘I Found a Love’ and ‘Soul Dance Number Three’. To be sure, in 1967 the soul game was pretty much 45-based, but someone must have heard the similarities a few years later when the tune re-appeared as Starr’s ’25 Miles’ (and I’m guessing that group included legal counsel for Messrs Berns and Wexler).
I have no idea why this bit of musical appropriation isn’t more widely known. There’s no doubt in my mind that ’25 Miles’ is a far more powerful record, but if you like that song, one would be inclined to give credit where credit is due. If any of you have some more pertinent details I’d love to hear them.
I hope you dig the tune.