Saturday, September 23, 2017

Today in Music (1967): The Box Tops hit #1 with “The Letter”

The Letter

The Box Tops

Writer(s): Wayne Carson (see lyrics here)

First Charted: August 12, 1967

Peak: 14 US, 13 CB, 14 HR, 1 CL, 5 UK, 11 CN, 4 AU (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 1.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 5.0 radio, 39.8 video, 119.57 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Alex Chilton, the lead singer of the Box Tops, was only sixteen when “The Letter” went to #1. Wayne Carson, who wrote the song, didn’t like the original recording because he didn’t think the boys’ voices sounded high enough. FB He thought Chilton sounded too “husky.” SF Indeed, Chilton sounds like a seasoned, veteran rocker, singing in “a gruff blue-eyed soul style.” WK The producer, Dan Penn, was convinced it was a hit record the way it was. Carson left the country for six weeks on a USO tour and when he returned the song was #4 on the charts. It turned out Penn’s instincts were right. FB

Carson also co-wrote “Always on My Mind,” which was a hit for Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, and the Pet Shop Boys. Carson was inspired to write “The Letter” based on the line “give me a ticket for an aeroplane,” which was suggested by his father. As Carson said, “He was a songwriter of sorts. He would come up with ideas and pass them on to me, and say, ‘If you can do anything with this, then go ahead.’” FB Carson wrote a song 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.” SF

Carson gave a demo tape including the song to Chips Moman, who owned the American Sound Studio in Memphis. Moman suggested a local group (the DeVilles, later renamed the Box Tops) fronted by Chilton to studio associate Dan Penn, who wanted to produce more songs. The group came to the studio to record “The Letter” with little to no rehearsal. They mostly followed Carson’s demo with Chilton singing the vocal live. WK

Penn added the sound of an airplane taking off – an effect he got from a special effects record at the library. Carson thought Penn had lost his mind, saying the jet sound didn’t make sense. SF According to Penn, Moman had a similar feeling, saying, “That’s a pretty good little rock & roll record, but you’ve got to take that airplane off it.” Penn replied, “If the record’s going out, it’s going out with the airplane on it,” to which Moman responded, “Okay, it’s your record.” WK

Not only did the Box Tops take the song to #1, but Joe Cocker had his first top-ten hit in the U.S. with his 1970 recording of it. The Arbors had a #20 hit with the song in 1969.


  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for The Box Tops
  • FB Fred Bronson (2003). The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (5th edition). Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 230.
  • SF Songfacts
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 3/13/2021; last updated 9/14/2023.

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