The group that eventually became The Box Tops was formed in Memphis in 1963, first calling themselves The Devilles. In 1967 they changed their name, by then consisting of Alex Chilton (lead vocals/guitar), Garry Talley (guitar), John Evans (keyboards), Bill Cunningham (bass) and Danny Smythe (drums). They were then taken into the studio by songwriter Dan Penn, who was then working as assistant producer to Chips Moman at the latter's American Sound Studios. Penn was keen to produce an act all by himself, so Moman gave him The Box Tops along with a tape of demos by songwriter Wayne Carson Thompson. It turned out to be a winning formula, as together they recorded Thompson's song "The Letter". The band were new to the studio, and Penn was relatively new to producing, but with a good take in the can and some careful string and horn overdubs, they came out with a brilliant little blue-eyed soul gem, under two minutes in length. It was picked up by Bell Records, and became a surprise #1 hit.
It was quickly followed by another Thompson composition, the lighter "Neon Rainbow", which itself got to #24. A full album was recorded, featuring the American Sound session musicians filling in for the band members in places. It featured many songs by Penn and his songwriting partner Spooner Oldham, plus two by Bobby Womack (who was at the time a songwriter and session musician at American Sounds), another Thompson composition, and covers of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", John D. Loudermilk's "Break My Mind" and Burt Bacharach's "Trains And Boats And Planes". Despite clearly being rushed to follow the success of "The Letter" (and perhaps being more a product of Penn and the studio than the band themselves), it had a strong sound, a great blend of rock, pop and soul.
|> Cry Like A Baby (1968)
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