0318: “Time Is Tight” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s

Booker T. & the M.G.’s were the house band for Stax Records, which meant that they played on records by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, and Albert King among many other gifted artists in Memphis in the ’60s. They were a group of four musical geniuses who helped to create, shape, and epitomize the Memphis sound to the point that everyone outside of Memphis was trying to do what they were doing. They are one of the most influential bands in all of modern American music. Their first hit single “Green Onions” reshaped R&B, soul, the instrumental, and the idea of what cool is. Though few of their albums are start-to-finish great, their place in canon of modern music is secure in the fact that their five best songs are some of the five greatest songs ever produced, up comfortably on the same shelf with The Beatles’ masterworks.

In a word association game when I think of jazz I think of precision. Even when jazz unhinges itself looking for new sounds, genres, and abstractions that attempt to transcend descriptors, I think of how precise and mathematical it is. Jazz is like poetry in that sense too: every word and note somehow seems more important than a pop song or work of fiction. And when precise notes like that embed itself into a pop song, then you really have something. That is what “Time Is Tight” is to me. Four musical geniuses hitting the exact perfect notes and the exact perfect tempo changes. This is jazz made concise and into pop. Exploring worlds of sound and pushing boundaries is legitimately exciting and awe-inspiring, but so too is a three minute instrumental pop song. Steve Cropper’s guitar on this track won’t blow you away by sheer virtuosity as compared to other guitar solos of the rock era, but within the framework of this song it is perfect. It is precise. It is one part of an engine that will make you move. The drum beat makes you move. The bass line makes you move. Booker T’s organ makes you move, and tickles your brain. All these things come together in perfect—precise—harmony. “Green Onions” is rightfully seen as the game-changing track to point to first, but “Time Is Tight” is right there. I’d put it up against just about any song from the ’60s. Here are four music geniuses just riffing. It shouldn’t be this easy.

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