Hey gang, we're still here.
So, lately, I have been working my way through the tremendously fascinating catalog of Wilco, with immeasurable thanks given to fellow contributor Andrew. There have been numerous back and forth discussions (if only you could read those threads) on the vagaries of their oeuvre and in the middle of one of these, I mentioned how I picked up a hint of a Big Star sound. This was agreed and then Andrew mentioned that one of Jeff Tweedy's big influences is/was Big Star leader Alex Chilton.
This got me intrigued about going back over my Chilton collection and reminded me of how much I absolutely love "The Letter" by Chilton's first band, The Box Tops. Give a listen.
Now, granted, it's not the most well constructed song ("Good Vibrations" arguably takes that distinction), nor is it the deepest in terms of content. It's the utter meaninglessness that makes it an outstanding piece of late '60's pop brilliance.
Written by Wayne Carson Thompson, who also gave us "Always On My Mind", and recorded by The Box Tops in 1967, the song hit #1 in America and gave the world its first taste of a then 17 year old Alex Chilton. Listening to his voice, you would have no idea that he's a junior in high school. Chilton takes words that are, essentially, a goofy concept (going-home-to-my-baby is nothing new, even in 1967 when rock was still in grade school) and gives them an emotional heft that conveys the feeling of urgency that young love can twist the insides of a young man.
Besides Chilton's vocal interpretation, another aspect of the song that is fascinating and, at the same time, frustrating is the violin section that comes in toward the end of the song. The tone of the violins give you the sense that you're only in the middle of the tune, when in reality you're at the fade out and it's over before you know it and it's the truncation that makes the entire song. Had this song gone on for one more verse/chorus, it would have been just a mediocre tune. By cutting it off at just under 2 minutes, producer Dan Penn unknowingly assured that it would be a pop "standard" that would be covered by a host of artists well into the new millennium. Among those that have given their version are slouches like Joe Cocker, The Beach Boys, Al Green and Peter Tosh and all-timers like Shaun Cassidy, John Davidson and Lee DeWyze.
Like I hinted at in the headline of this piece, this is a highly subjective pick. That's the beauty of music kids!