The Letter was written by Wayne Carson Thompson and was a worldwide hit in 1967 selling over four million copies. It was No. 1 for four weeks in the U.S. and reached No. 11 in Ireland. Thompson also wrote the band’s second single, Neon Rainbow but he is probably best known for co-writing, alongside Mark James and Johnny Christopher, Always on My Mind.
The Box Tops began life as the Devilles, a white R&B group featuring guitarists Gary Talley and John Evans, bassist Bill Cunningham, and drummer Danny Smythe. After the band’s local popularity blossomed, teenage singer Alex Chilton joined up, and the Devilles quickly caught the attention of songwriters/producers Chips Moman and Dan Penn, who were on the lookout for a Stevie Winwood-type white soul singer. Changing their name to the Box Tops to avoid confusion with a different group of the same name, they signed with Bell Records and began recording at Moman’s Memphis-based American Studio. The first single the group cut, “The Letter,” rocketed to the top of the charts in 1967, not only spending four weeks at number one but ending up as Billboard magazine’s number one single of the year. (Chilton was all of 16 at the time.) With a hit on their hands, Penn began to exert more control over the group; in the wake of “The Letter,” he frequently used session musicians on the Box Tops’ recordings, sometimes replacing the whole band behind Chilton, sometimes just individual members. Frustrated, Evans and Smythe both left the band to return to school in early 1968, and were replaced by Rick Allen (ex-Gentrys) and Tom Boggs, respectively.
The Letter mp3