The Letter – The Box Tops | Top 40 Chart Performance, Story and Song Meaning

Chart Performance: Pop (#1 for 4 weeks); 1967

Story Behind The Song By Ed Osborne

Dan Penn and Chips Moman were R&B evangelists, passionate about everything musical and highly opinionated. They first partnered on James Carr’s R&B classic The Dark End Of The Street (#10 R&B; 1967) and contributed Do Right Woman – Do Right Man to Aretha Franklin’s groundbreaking album that same year. In the spring Chips passed a young Memphis group over to Dan along with a demo tape that included a song by Wayne Carson Thompson called The Letter. Dan, angered by Chips’ overbearing ego (equal to his own), set about creating an in-Chips-face production that would show him not to mess with Dan. Neither Thompson, who played guitar on the session, nor Chips liked the result, especially the jet plane sound effect. Dan threatened to cut the tape to shreds if anyone touched it and that was that. The Letter – a slice of sweet Memphis soul sung by 16-year-old Alex Chilton – flew to #1, and Chips said nothing more about it.

This content and all Song Meaning articles were created and written by Top 40 Contributing Editor Ed Osborne. © 2023 Ed Osborne. All Rights Reserved. In addition to these song meaning articles, Ed has written our “Year in Music 1960s-1990s” articles.

Produced by:

  • Dan Penn

Lyrics Written by:

  • Wayne Carson


  • “The Letter” won Best Contemporary (R&R) Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental at the 1967 Grammy Awards.
  • “The Letter” was nominated for Record of the Year at the 1967 Grammy Awards.
  • “The Letter” was certified Gold by the RIAA in 1967.