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The Letter / Neon Rainbow

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Album Review

It has since been revealed that most of the music on the Box Tops' records — with the exception of (ironically) "The Letter" — was done by session men. Even as early as the first album, this method cut both ways. It ensured a Southern soul professionalism that the young band likely couldn't have conjured on their own, but also worked against the development of a solid group identity, particularly as Alex Chilton was allowed to record very little of his own material. In fact, there are no Chilton songs on this debut, a spotty affair showing every indication of having been assembled very quickly in the wake of "The Letter" soaring to number one. Although "The Letter" author Wayne Carson Thompson and the Dan Penn-Spooner Oldham team wrote most of the songs, their blue-eyed soul compositions are surprisingly journeyman, with nothing nearly as outstanding as "The Letter," save maybe the follow-up hit "Neon Rainbow." Chilton's vocals are strong and, for the most part, as gritty as those on "The Letter." Has there every been another case in pop history when a teenager sounded like a wizened adult at the outset of his career, but his voice became higher and more youthful in subsequent years? The 2000 Sundazed reissue adds four bonus tracks: the mono single versions of "The Letter" and "Neon Rainbow," the routine non-LP 45 track "Turn on a Dream," and the previously unreleased "Georgia Farm Boy." The last of these, a plaintive country-soul tune, is credited to "Newbury," presumably Mickey Newbury (the liner notes don't give a first name or initial).


Formed: 1966 in Memphis, TN

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '90s, '00s, '10s

During their brief lifespan, the Box Tops earned a reputation as one of the best blue-eyed soul groups of the '60s, even if their recorded legacy wasn't as large or consistent as, say, the Righteous Brothers or the Rascals. Today they're remembered not only for their smashes "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby," but as the launching pad for singer Alex Chilton, who went on to become one of rock's most revered cult figures thanks to his groundbreaking power pop unit Big Star. In his teenage years, Chilton...
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The Letter / Neon Rainbow, The Box Tops
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