My first memory of hearing the song “The Letter,” is from when I was quite young and musically unsophisticated, to say the least. But I remember hearing that voice and basic melody out of the tiny, tinny speakers of my transistor radio. And as I sit and think back today, as bad as it must have sounded, to my young ears song sounded like heaven to me.
There were those first few syncopated drum taps…tap…tap…tap, and then the first couple of guitar chords and right into those urgent sounding words….
Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane,
Ain’t got time to take a fast train.
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home,
‘Cause my baby just a-wrote me a letter.
Oh, how I loved that pop music when I was just a kid. Oh, yeah. It was pop music, but the vocals by a man who’s name I didn’t know, but now know was Alex Chilton, had a sort of sloppy desperation. How could that be. A pop song with desperation. This was something new. And I sure liked it. It was a paradoxical way of communicating that I still love today.
But this song…”The Letter,” well, it had the hooks and the melody that were essential to me for a song to be truly great song. And this is a song with a killer bridge…well, actually kind of a double bridge. In just four lines Alex Chilton gave you all the background you needed to know to understand why he needed to hit the road so fast, so bad…
Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no mo’.
Listen mister can’t you see I got to get back
To my baby once a-mo’–anyway…
Not to put too fine a point on it, but there was something about the way Chilton pleaded out the word, anyway…, man, you just knew that this was all the info the character in the song needed to hear to get him on that plane.
It was all there. All there in that letter.
Alex Chilton would go on to write a ton of other great songs…going from simply pop to power pop, in the same tradition as The Raspberries.
Chilton said when asked one time that he didn’t seek or savor fame and fortune. He was one of those frontmen who simply had a ton of soul and a love for playing. That was more than enough.