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The Letter

by

The Box Tops



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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 this 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." (thanks to Kent Kotal at Forgotten Hits)
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 2 other artists, The Arbors (#20 in 1969) and Joe Cocker (#7 in 1970).
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Comments (13):

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 Famous
- Jack, 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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