Friday, May 15, 2009

The Letter

Yesterday's comment about generally liking the FIRST version we ever hear of any given song ... regardless of how many OTHER versions may, in fact, exist ... has already inspired a couple of your comments ... we'll look at two of these today in Forgotten Hits.

I must say, the Rose Colored Glass version, to me, is the single worst version of the song ever created. It is just horrible. Chart position means absolutely nothing. It just means the record company threw more money behind it. I know of thousands of absolutely killer tunes that didn't get anywhere NEAR the hot 100 charts ... it doesn't make them bad records for not charting!

The Opheus version is the best, and Hootie's is pretty good but not great, to me. I wouldn't lose any sleep if the original session master for the Rose Colored Glass version got destroyed in a flood or a fire ...
Tom Diehl

And the more I listened to all three versions yesterday, the more I liked the Rose Colored Glass version!!! Just goes to show you why music has such universal appeal ... it speaks to all of us differently ... yet still unites us all the same! (kk)

Kent -
Thank you for the thinking person’s notes on Can’t Find the Time. I grew up in New England and surely my first exposure to the song was the Orpheus version. And yes, following versions always seemed to pale to me having been imprinted at an early age by the Orpheus ballad. By the way, Orpheus’s earlier song, Brown Arms in Houston, is also lovely.

But let me offer up another song where all three interpretations appeal to me. And that is: The Letter. It was the Box Tops' inaugural hit in mid-1967. It was followed by the Ann Arbor-based Arbors slower tempo, lush sounds version that was released a year and a half later. And then, of course, the iconic Joe Cocker came out a year after that with his indelible rockin’ version. Three very different interpretations of the same song and I like / appreciate them all. By the way, when was the last time you heard the Arbors on the radio? -jsl

Amazingly, I never liked The Box Tops' version of "The Letter" ... it topped the charts here in Chicago for six consecutive weeks back in 1967, so clearly I was in the minority on this one!!! lol Ironically, I liked ALL of their other hits right out of the box (top) ... but my opinion on this one has never changed. It also seemed to be played more than any other song on the radio at the time ... part of that may simply have been the pure stature of its hit status ... but I also believe that because the song clocked in at under two minutes, it was an easy one to sneak it virtually ANYWHERE if there was an on-air gap to fill. (I can't tell you how many times I heard this song lead into the newscast back in 1967.) It's STILL one of the most-overplayed oldies on the radio and, as I said, my affection for it hasn't grown any stronger. As such, I was COMPLETELY blown away by The Arbors' version, a song we've featured a few times here in Forgotten Hits (and we played it during our last appearance on Jim Shea's Radio Show, too!) It's an absolutely AMAZING vocal arrangement that completely reinvented the song ... and, when Joe Cocker did his rocked-up, soulful live version the following year, it was yet another complete reimagination of what was (by then) a classic tune. Great example, John ... three DISTINCTLY different interpretations of a song that couldn't be any more unique.

And, just like we did yesterday with "Can't Find The Time" ... the song that inspired these comments ... we'll feature all three of these versions of "The Letter" here today ... again, an EXCELLENT example of how many different ways an artist can interpret any given song ... or should I say any GOOD song ... proving that "The Letter" has the depth ... and the legs ... to pull this off successfully THREE times!!!

DIDJAKNOW?: "The Letter" was written by Wayne Carson Thompson, who also played guitar on The Box Tops' recording session. He didn't particularly care for the finished version, stating that the record was too short and complaining to producer Dan Penn that "The boy don't sing high enough." When Penn added the airplane sound to the recording, Wayne Carson Thompson clearly thought that Penn had lost his mind. He hadn't ... several weeks later it became one of the biggest records of the '60's ... and The Box Tops went on to record ... and have hits with ... a few other Thompson compositions, including their follow-up release, "Neon Rainbow" (#24, 1967), "Soul Deep" (a #13 Hit in 1969) and "You Keep Tightening Up On Me" (their last chart hit, which peaked at #74 in 1970). Thompson didn't do too badly either ... a few years later, he won a Grammy for cowriting the Elvis Presley / Willie Nelson Hit "Always On My Mind".