The Letter

Album: The Letter/Neon Rainbow (1967)
Charted: 5 1
  • songfacts ®
  • Lyrics
  • 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: 20

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 12, 1969, Dick Clark conducted an interview with Fred Farran of the Arbors on his ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    At the time the Arbors' covered version of the Box Tops' "The Letter" was in it's second of two weeks at #20 on Billboard's Top 100 chart, that was also it's peak position on the chart, and it spent a total of ten weeks on the Top 100...
    Fred Farran passed away at the age 74 on August 29th, 2011, and his twin brother Edward, who was also a member of the Arbors, died six years earlier on January 2nd, 2003...
    May both brothers R.I.P.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyFifty years ago today, Sept. 17th, 1967, the Billboard's Top 10 for the week ending Sept. 23th was:

    1. THE LETTER by The Box Tops (Mala) {1st of 4 weeks at #1}
    2. ODE TO BILLIE JOE by Bobbie Gentry (Capitol)
    3. COME BACK WHEN YOU GROW UP by Bobby Vee and the Strangers (Liberty)
    4. REFLECTIONS by Diana Ross and the Supremes (Motown)
    5. NEVER MY LOVE by The Association (Warner Brothers)
    6. APPLES, PEACHES, PUMPKIN PIE by Jay and the Techniques (Smash)
    7. (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) HIGHER AND HIGHER by Jackie Wilson (Brunswick)
    8. YOU’RE MY EVERYTHING by The Temptations (Gordy)
    9. I DIG ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC by Peter, Paul and Mary (Warner Brothers)
    10. FUNKY BROADWAY by Wilson Pickett (Atlantic)...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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}.
  • Steve from New ZealandFinally 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...
  • Brad from FlCocker's live version video is a who's who of eclectic musicians. Leon, Bobby Keys on sax, Rita Coolidge on bgv, etc. Timeless.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: 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 from Sauquoit, NyOn 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.
  • Rick from Belfast, MeWho performed this song w/ a very slow monologue?
  • Mark from Sierra Madre, CaI 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.
  • Lee from Huntsville, Alsaddened 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.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaHaving 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.
  • Mike from Baltimore, Mdi 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".
  • P.a. from Paris, FranceI 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...
  • Nunzio from Darwin, AustraliaJoe Cockers version is the Best version of theis song. A rare case of the cover being better than the original.
  • Rob from Wilkes-barre, PaCocker's live version is amazing.
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyOnce 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!
  • Jack from Boston, Ma"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
  • Craig from Madison, WiAlex 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 from Madison, WiIn 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.
  • Charles from Charlotte, NcAlex Chilton's gravel-voiced lead vocal was not his natural voice- he once attributed it to lack of sleep.
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