Rhino's 1993 collection The Very Best of Wilson Pickett remains the best single-disc anthology of the fiery soul singer's work, choosing 16 of his best tracks for Atlantic and presenting them in excellent remastered sound quality. Pickett never departed all that much from the rough, swaggering vocals that first made his name, but he was utterly electrifying within that style, setting the standard for Southern soul singers behind Otis Redding. All of Pickett's early signature hits -- "In the Midnight Hour," "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)," "Land of 1,000 Dances," "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway" -- lead off the disc in quick succession, capturing the emergence of Southern soul as a viable commercial style. But Pickett is just as charismatic on the rest of the material, nearly all of which made the R&B Top Ten and went under appreciated on the pop charts -- he was just too much for white audiences to handle. Pickett did his best to shake up his formula -- he cut a near-psychedelic soul tune, "Engine No. 9," with future Philly soul architects Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff; he helped bring Bobby Womack back into the music business by covering his "I'm in Love" and "I'm a Midnight Mover"; and he made some unpredictable cover choices in the Beatles' "Hey Jude," the Archies' bubblegum tune "Sugar Sugar," and Free's "Fire and Water." Fans who want to dig deeper can go for the double-disc A Man and a Half, but The Very Best of Wilson Pickett is such a concentrated dose of everything that made him great that it should be considered a necessary purchase for anyone who claims to be a fan of real soul music.
Steve Huey, Rovi