Monday, November 05, 2007

THE BOX TOPS:
JOURNEY IN THE SHADOW OF THE MEMPHIS MAFIA


Memphis Press-Scimitar Photo, Robert Tomb Collection

If there were an "Around the World in Eighty Days" whirlwind dash for the most coveted cover of Burt Bacharach's & Hal David's pocket weepie, the prize handkerchief would have to go to these five boys from Memphis.

Alex Chilton pulls out all the stops with a plaintive, raw vocal
that nudges ahead of Dionne Warwick's distinctly cooler performance by a country mile at least; if not an entire midwestern state. It's hard to believe that Chilton was just sixteen years old when this was recorded. Lester Bangs would later take cough syrup just to get high - one suspects Alex Chilton perhaps initially imbibed a linctus purely to soothe his prematurely worn larynx. Inevitably, "the harder stuff" lay just around the next bend.

Cue Elvis and "Mystery Train", if you follow my drift.

Better known for their smash "The Letter", the Box Tops were a teen phenomenon that would abruptly implode before the decade's close as the increasingly frustrated Chilton dissolved the group and went on to form the more self-aware Big Star with songwriting partner, Chris Bell - twisting a ride from New York City back to Memphis - and immediately upped the ante.

Add a liberal dose of self-prescribing.

When you're properly drunk and remorseful, this blue-eyed gem can't fail to make you cry. And that's a confession.

Recorded at American Recording Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
Produced by Dan Penn and released on Bell Records in 1967:
The Letter/Neon Rainbow (Bell 6011).

download: THE BOX TOPS: TRAINS & BOATS & PLANES


posted by ib

10 comments:

Emmett said...

Nice. Alex's vocal really brings out the latent Eastern/Raga flavors in the melody.

ib said...

Hey Emmett,

the guy could really sing and then some. This has to be one of my all-time favourite versions... Intersting, too, that Dusty Springfield recorded one of her best albums there in Memphis - in 1969 - and it nearly ended her career just as Elvis resurrected his.

Anonymous said...

i'm your biggest fan i.b hopefully you will get your own blog 'spot' up and running soooooon, you have more than a wealth of knowlege to share. r . x

(you know my name you don't need my number)

Anonymous said...

oh i love the box tops.

ib said...

Thanks to Brendan (?) from Rising Storm for providing a link back here from his own site.

If you haven't already, check out therisingstorm.net. Very cool site. There's a link on the Art Decade home page which will transport you right there.

Make sure you check out SPC's and Big B's earlier Big Star posts in the Art Decade archives before you go.

Cheers.

brendan said...

np! great job with the posts this week. really interesting and great selections.

ib said...

Thanks for the comment. Glad i got the name right! Stick with us until later in the week for a post i think
might really float your boat.

ib said...

Hats off to Retro Music Snob !

Thanks for the link back. Leave a comment so i know who you are. Love the pic of Alex and the Tops!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant song, heartbreaking performance. Many thanks. //HP

Anonymous said...

cool