The Box Tops – The Letter

Alex Chilton was sixteen when he recorded this song for the Box Tops. The Box Tops formed in Memphis Tennessee in 1967. They would go to have seven top 40 hits. This one was their most successful single. It peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, and #5 in the UK in 1967.

After the Box Tops, Alex Chilton would help form one of the best ever power pop bands of all time that no one ever heard of… Big Star. One of my all-time favorite bands.

Nashville songwriter Wayne Carson Thompson wrote the song after his father gave him the line, “Give me a ticket for an aeroplane.”

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.

Rolling Stone magazine included the Box Tops original at number 372 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”

The band was known for this song, Cry Like A Baby, and my favorite Soul Deep.

From Songfacts

This song is about a guy who gets a letter from his former love telling him that she wants him back, and the guy wants to fly out and see her immediately. 

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.”

At 1:58, the Box Tops’ version of this was the last #1 hit to be shorter than two minutes in length.

Cover versions were US hits for two other artists, The Arbors (#20 in 1969 – arrangement by Joe Scott) and Joe Cocker (#7 in 1970). Cocker’s version is a live recording featuring Leon Russell; a studio version appears on his album Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

The title is never sung in this song: his baby writes him “a letter.”

The Letter

[Chorus]
Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain’t got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
My baby, just-a wrote me a letter

I don’t care how much money I gotta spend
Got to get back to baby again
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
My baby, just-a wrote me a letter

Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no more
Listen mister, can’t you see I got to get back
To my baby once-a more
Anyway, yeah!

[Chorus]

Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no more
Listen mister, can’t you see I got to get back
To my baby once-a more
Anyway, yeah!

[Chorus]

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

24 thoughts on “The Box Tops – The Letter”

  1. This is a favorite of mine, as are The Box Tops. Blue-eyed soul from Memphis. Between “The Letter” and “Cry Like A Baby,” they had a song called “Neon Rainbow,” which was a real departure from “The Letter.” I liked that one, too.

    Ever think of doing your own Top 500?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John I struggle with 10! That is a thought though. That would keep me busy for a while.
      It would be cool to take on that big of a project.

      Like

  2. “The Letter” Is great! Everything that makes a good pop song can be found here in two minutes: a catchy hookline, a skilful text around a small touching love story and a decent blue-eyed soul beat. What more do you need?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s how it sounds: Getting up in the morning, take a sip from the bottle, you’re already 18, and then right in front of the microphone and sing. Class. But perhaps there is a time for everything in this life. And the dear Alex Chilton wasn’t so lucky with other recordings, both Big Star and on his own.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The one I like best and wasn’t a massive hit is Soul Deep…You probably know Cry Like A Baby also. They were a singles band of course.
      Alex’s voice is very different with them singing a type of soul.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yea but when Chris left after the 1st album Alex stayed with the power-pop voice. I loved it…love both of them. In Memphis Alex is held in high regard.

        Like

    1. Joe did a lot of good covers I do agree. People wrote songs with him in mind…you know you are good when people like Paul McCartney does that.

      Liked by 1 person

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