About the song
If you are a fan of classic rock and soul music, you have probably heard of the song “The Letter” by The Box Tops. It is one of the most iconic songs of the 1960s, with a catchy chorus, a groovy organ riff, and a raspy vocal by the young Alex Chilton. But do you know the story behind this hit song? In this blog post, we will explore the history of “The Letter”, from its creation to its impact on popular culture.
The song was written by Wayne Carson, a songwriter and musician from Denver, Colorado. He got the idea for the opening line from his father, who suggested “Give me a ticket for an aeroplane”. Carson then wrote the rest of the lyrics in about 10 minutes, based on his own experience of being away from his girlfriend. He recorded a demo tape of the song and gave it to Chips Moman, the owner of American Sound Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
Moman was looking for new material for a local band called The DeVilles, who had recently changed their name to The Box Tops and hired a new lead singer, 16-year-old Alex Chilton. Chilton was a former child actor and singer who had a distinctive voice that sounded much older than his age. Moman gave the band Carson’s demo tape and asked them to work on it.
The band arrived at the studio with little or no rehearsal and recorded “The Letter” in one take. The producer, Dan Penn, coached Chilton on how to sing the song, telling him to say “aer-o-plane” and to get a little gruff. He also asked the keyboard player, John Evans, to play an “I’m a Believer” type of thing. The whole session lasted less than 30 minutes and cost only $18.
The result was a masterpiece of blue-eyed soul that captured the urgency and emotion of the lyrics. The song also featured an airplane sound effect that was added by Penn in the mixing process. The song was released as The Box Tops’ debut single in July 1967 and became an instant hit. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 charts in the US, as well as number one in Canada and number five in the UK. It also charted in several other countries around the world.