The Letter – The Box Tops

THIS DAY IN MUSIC……………………………..on September 23rd of 1967 sixteen year old Alex Chilton led The Box Tops to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 with “The Letter”. In the UK, it reached #5. The record would go on to sell over four million copies and receive two Grammy nominations for Best Contemporary Group Performance and Best Performance By A Vocal Group, although they lost both to The Fifth Dimension. As for the song, “The Letter”, it’s come back twice since The Box Tops’ version. It was a Top Twenty hit for a group called The Arbours in 1969 and a Top Ten song for Joe Cocker in 1970. The Nashville songwriter Wayne Carson Thompson wrote the song after his father gave him the line, “Give me a ticket for an aeroplane.” Thompson gave the song to The Box Tops on the recommendation of his friend, Chips Moman, who ran ARS Studios and liked the sound of an unnamed band headed by then-16-year-old Alex Chilton, who auditioned for him in 1967. Thompson played guitar on the recording. He didn’t like the singing, believing the lead vocal was too husky, and wasn’t fond of the production either. The addition of the jet sound “didn’t make sense” to him. When producer Dan Penn added the airplane sound to the recording, Wayne Carson Thompson clearly thought that Penn had lost his mind. He hadn’t – several weeks later it became one of the biggest records of the ’60s, and The Box Tops went on to score with a few other Thompson compositions, including their follow-up release, “Neon Rainbow” (#24, 1967), “Soul Deep” (a #18 hit in 1969) and “You Keep Tightening Up On Me” (their last chart hit, which peaked at #74 in 1970). A few years later, Thompson won a Grammy for cowriting the hit “Always On My Mind.” When the group recorded this they still did not have a name. One band member suggested, “Let’s have a contest and everybody can send in 50 cents and a box top.” Producer Dan Penn then dubbed them The Box Tops. At 1:58, the Box Tops’ version of this was the last #1 hit to be shorter than two minutes in length. The song reached #5 in the UK.