“Knock on Wood” – its intro is which song is played backwards?
By 1966, Eddie Floyd was a full-time writer and producer for a year at Stax Records, the legendary Memphis pop, soul and R&B label of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and Booker T. and the MGs Working with Stax guitarist Steve Cropper, Floyd had already written two hits for Wilson Pickett: “634-5789 (Soulsville, USA)” and “Ninety-Nine and a Half (I Won’t Do)”. Cropper had also co-written the singer’s song “In the Midnight Hour” with Pickett.
One night in 1966, he and Cropper set out to write a song about luck and superstition at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Floyd worked on the superstition that if you touch a tree after expressing a hope or wish (“I hope to win the lottery, knock on a tree”), it will come true.
The belief goes back to early cultures who believed that living things such as trees possessed mystical powers; when cut, the tree lost its magical properties. Knocking, say, on a wooden table is supposed to drive away any evil spirits inhabiting the wood.
A loud clap of thunder and subsequent lightning gave Floyd the line “Like thunder, lightning, the way I love you is frightening.” Adding the line helped change the tune’s focus from luck to love.
The song the pair wrote was “Knock on Wood.” To Floyd’s lyrics, Cropper contributed the song’s signature intro. Cropper’s inspiration is his own “In the Midnight Hour.” For “Knock on Wood,” Cropper played the “Midnight Hour” intro backwards!
Believing they had written a hit for Otis Redding, Floyd and Cropper went into the studio the next day to record a demo of “Knock on Wood”. Isaac Hayes contributed the horn arrangement, and Al Jackson came up with the distinctive four drum “hits” that follow Floyd’s “You gotta knock…”.
But Stax founder Jim Stewart believed the song was an imitation of “In The Midnight Hour” and refused to let Redding record it. The demo sat in the box untouched for months until Stewart was persuaded to release the recording as an Eddie Floyd song.
The demo of “Knock on Wood” would become the final version that everyone knows today; it was never recut for single release.
“Knock on Wood” would become the biggest hit of Floyd’s career and has been covered by more than 100 artists, including Eric Clapton and Seal; Amii Stewart’s disco version topped the pop charts in 1979.
And despite Jim Stewart’s original take on the song, Otis Redding would record “Knock on Wood” in 1967 as a duet with Carla Thomas.
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