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Monday, October 3, 2011

The Box Tops - The Best Of Box Tops (1967-70 us, wondrous guitar pop, 20bit remaster edition)

The Box Tops came out of Memphis in 1967 with a sound that both explored the possibilities of rhythm and blues while mixing the sound with straight forward rock 'n' roll. Chilton's voice was flexible, capable of sounding Eric Burdon-husky (as on "The Letter") or sweetly innocent (as on "Neon Rainbow").

"The Letter" went straight to # 1 in 1967, spending four weeks in the top spot in the U. S. It was quickly followed up the charts by "Neon Rainbow", which reached # 24. In 1968, the band had its first (and only) million-selling single with "Cry Like A Baby", which rose to # 2 for two weeks ("...when I think about the good love you gave me / I cry like a baby / livin' without you is drivin' me crazy / I cry like a baby..."). Kind of a cross between the Memphis rhythm and blues of "The Letter" and classic gospel music.

The band was abused like many a band at the hands of producers and record labels --- the more popular they got, the more likely they were to lose control in the studio. Chilton has said that the band's music on record was mostly him singing lead supported by studio musicians, rather than the band (in fact, with one other exception, Chilton was the only band member to appear on the studio recordings made after "The Letter").

For a budding songwriter like Chilton, it was also somewhat discouraging, I imagine, to be told to sing songs written by people not even in the band. Many of the songs were written by Wayne Carson Thompson (including "The Letter", "Neon Rainbow" and "Soul Deep") or by the team of Dan Penn, producer of the records, and Spooner Oldham (Penn and Oldham wrote such soul classics as "I'm Your Puppet" and "Dark End Of The Street" in addition to Box Tops tunes like "Cry Like A Baby" and "I Met Her In Church").

The band charted with 10 Hot 100 singles between 1967-70. In 1968, following the Top 10 success of "Cry Like A Baby" as the year began, the group scored three additional Top 40 hits with "Choo Choo Train" (# 26), "I Met Her In Church" (# 37) and "Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March" (# 28; which remained on the charts into 1969).

Their cover version of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" (# 67) became their first non-Top 40 hit in 1969. They moved back into the Top 40 with "Soul Deep" (# 18) by late summer of that same year (" love is a river running soul deep / way down inside me it's soul deep..."). "Soul Deep" was the band's last trip into the Top 40. The next two singles quickly died on the charts ("Turn On A Dream" peaked at # 58 and "You Keep Turning Up On Me" stiffed at # 92).

Although the group did place four albums on the chart, none made the national Top 40 Album chart in Billboard. Though Chilton had his greatest chart success with The Box Tops, he is today may be best remembered for his work with the power pop band Big Star, though Big Star never charted with any single or album according to Billboard magazine. Fans of Chilton's later work will be glad that some of his early compositions with The Box Tops are on this compilation: "I Must Be The Devil", "Together", "The Happy Song" and "I See Only Sunshine".

The CD booklet The 8-page CD booklet is informative, but very lacking in the illustration department (a single, small shot of each band member; no group photos). The recordings benefit from 20 bit digital mastering done from the original master tapes.

1. The Letter (Wayne Carson Thompson) - 1:52
2. Neon Rainbow (Wayne Carson Thompson) - 3:01
3. Happy Times (Penn, Oldham) - 1:44
4. Cry Like A Baby (Penn, Oldham) - 2:32
5. Fields Of Clover (Penn, Oldham) - 2:50
6. Choo Choo Train (Fritts, Hinton) 2:50
7. She Shot A Hole In My Soul (M. Gayden, C. Neebe) - 2:41
8. People Gonna Talk (Penn, Oldham) - 4:08
9. I Met Her In Church (Penn, Oldham) - 2:41
10. Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March (B. Weinstein, J. Stroll) - 2:13
11. Together (A. Chilton) - 3:21
12. I Must Be The Devil (A. Chilton) - 3:35
13. Soul Deep (Wayne Carson Thompson) - 2:27
14. I Shall Be Released (B. Dylan) - 2:47
15. Happy Song (A. Chilton) - 1:55
16. Turn On A Dream (M. James) - 2:48
17. I See Only Sunshine (A. Chilton) - 2:14
18. You Keep Tightening Up On Me (Wayne Carson Thompson) - 2:27

The Box Tops
*Alex Chilton - Guitar, Lead Vocals
*Gary Talley - Lead Guitar, Vocals
*Bill Cunningham - Bass, Vocals
*Danny Smythe - Drums, Vocals 1967 - 1968
*John Evans - Keyboards, Vocals 1967 - 1968
*Thomas Boggs - Drums, Vocals 1968 - 1969
*Rick Allen - Keyboards, Vocals 1968 - 1969
*Harold Cloud - Bass 1969 - 1970
*Bobby Guidotti - Drums, Vocals 1969 - 1970
*Swain Schaefer - Keyboards, Vocals 1969 - 1970

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