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The Letter by The Box Tops

Album: The Letter/Neon RainbowReleased: 1967Charted:
  • 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. 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.
  • 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."
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Comments: 19

On February 16, 1969, the Arbors' covered version of "The Letter" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart position #83; six weeks later on March 30th it peaked at #20 {for 2 weeks} and it spent 10 weeks on the chart...
The quartet, which formed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, had three other Top 100 records; "A Symphony for Susan" {#51 in 1966}, "Graduation Day" {#59 in 1967}, and "I Can't Quit Her" {#67 in 1969}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
好听。张少驰 - 北京
Finally found out who did the slow version of The Letter... slow drum roll * * * * * The Arbours; it's up on youtube and I'm listening to it as I write...Steve - New Zealand
Cocker's live version video is a who's who of eclectic musicians. Leon, Bobby Keys on sax, Rita Coolidge on bgv, etc. Timeless.Brad - Fl
Per: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm
Songwriter Wayne Carson, who co-wrote such hits as "The Letter" (#1-1967 for the Box Tops and #7-1970 by Joe Cocker), "Neon Rainbow" (#24-1967 by the Box Tops ), "Always On My Mind" (#5-1982 for Willie Nelson) and "Somebody Like Me" (#53-1966 by Eddy Arnold) died Monday (July 20th, 2015) in hospice care in Nashville...
The Denver native was 72...
He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997...
May he R.I.P.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
On December 3rd 1910, Frenchman Georges Claude demonstrated the first modern neon lighting at the Paris Motor Show...
And exactly fifty-seven years later on December 3rd, 1967 the Box Tops' "Neon Rainbow" peaked at #24 {for 4 weeks} on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart...
"Neon Rainbow" succeeded "The Letter" on the Top 100; “The Letter” had peaked at #1 {for 4 weeks} on September 17th, 1967.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
Who performed this song w/ a very slow monologue?Rick - Belfast, Me
I saw Alex Chilton about a dozen years ago, performing solo at McCabe's Guitar Shop. In the banter between songs he remarked that he was not about to make the session for 'The Letter', so it is not him singing on that song. I don't know if this is true, maybe he was having fun with us, but it is what he said.Mark - Sierra Madre, Ca
saddened to hear about alex...i grew up listening to his voice at the skating rink and on am radio. love the song "soul deep". 03-18-10.Lee - Huntsville, Al
Having listened to Chilton in Big Star and on his solo stuff, I still find it hard to believe he sings these husky-voiced Box Top songs. The guy's voice is actually quite high. He must have shredded his vocal chords before singing this and other BT songs.Kevin - Reading , Pa
i really like the live version joe cocker does with this song. best song he does imo. even though he calls it "give me a ticket for an airplane".Mike - Baltimore, Md
I was going to write the same thing as Jack!
Almost Famous is one of my 10 favourite movies, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is the one who says that line as Lester Bangs (actual Rolling Stone journalist). He is the guest of a female radio DJ. She intends to put on The Doors, he trashes Jim Morrison, praises the Guess Who, The Letter, and finally puts himself The Stooges on the record player and starts dancing...
P.a. - Paris, France
Joe Cockers version is the Best version of theis song. A rare case of the cover being better than the original.Nunzio - Darwin, Australia
Cocker's live version is amazing.Rob - Wilkes-barre, Pa
Once again, the marvelous Eva Cassidy re-worked this song in her own image. It is probably one of the hardest rockers in her catalog of songs, and as always, it is so worth listening to. Her torchy rendition is stunning!Jerry - Brooklyn, Ny
"Did you know that 'The Letter' by the Box Tops is a minute and fifty eight seconds long? It means nothing. But it takes them less than two minutes to accomplish what it takes Jethro Tull HOURS to NOT accomplish!" -Almost FamousJack - Boston, Ma
Alex Chilton later formed the intensely influential group Big Star. Not many people bought their albums in the 70's, but Paul Westerburg of the Replacements was such a big fan he wrote a song called "Alex Chilton." All of Westerburg's fans got curious and ran out to buy Big Star albums. Big Star became an influence to pretty much every non hip-hop song sung by a white boy in the 90's, from the Gin Blossoms to Elliot Smith to Counting Crowes [who in concert would replace the lyric "We all want to be big stars" to "we all want to be in Big Star"]. They basically sound like that band from high school with your friends in it, if your friends were geniuses. Their song "Down the Street" was covered by Cheap Trick for use as the theme song to "That 70's Show."Craig - Madison, Wi
In the 80's, a Cheech Marinesque singer put out a spoof of "The Letter" entitled "Vanna Pick Me a Letter." Yep, that was the whole joke. Yes, it was as bad as you'd suspect.Craig - Madison, Wi
Alex Chilton's gravel-voiced lead vocal was not his natural voice- he once attributed it to lack of sleep.Charles - Charlotte, Nc
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