The forthcoming Box Tops compilation is a shuffle of the old BMG comp Soul Deep, minus most of the mediocrities as well as “She Shot a Hole in My Soul,” one of their most rocking numbers. It occurred to me that rock what might be what this comp is missing. Since most of the worthwhile originals wound up on singles, I’d thought I’d troll through their albums, paying special attention to the covers, and see what perked my interest (especially since “I Shall be Released” is fine but solemn, i.e. no fun). I’ll include quick judgment grades a la Tom Hull’s “Rhapsody Streamnotes.”
“She Knows How” – lesser Wayne Carson Thompson, which is better than most people’s best. I would have conceivably put this on the new compilation as filler.
“Trains and Boats and Planes” – the first of three mega-obvious covers, all from different wings of pop, which makes all the difference. Like “The Letter” this incorporates lots of sound effects, but here are totally unnecessary, unless they wanted to pad the record out another thirty seconds. Dionne W. and Chris Collingsworth did this one better – Chilton slurs this so much you can tell he wasn’t feeling it. Just noticed Carole King stole the melody for“You’ve Got a Friend” (the chorus) from this song. Lord, the outro here is abysmal.
“Break My Mind” – this one is laughable. I just noticed that this song, along with the Bacharach/David, keeps the love-threatened-by-distance-and-buying-the-ticket-for-the-transportation-of-your-choice theme going.
“Whiter Shade of Pale” – this made it onto Atlantic’s Ultimate, which I believe is Christgau’s favorite Box tops compilation. Wasn’t the only reason anyone gave a shit about this song the purloined organ solo? (Ah, there it is, sandwiched in the middle.)
“Everything I Am” – Penn/Oldham take a shit, Alex doesn’t give one.
“People Make the World ” – “…what it is,” vomit. I assume Bobby Womack did this for the drug money, though one of the good deeds he lists is “the books we read.”
“I’m Your Puppet” –I never knew who originally did this song – James and Bobby Purify, whoever they are other than a vehicle for this Penn/Oldham classic. Once again, this is filler, marred in this particular case by very strange out-of-key doorbell chimes.
“Happy Times” – this is another Penn/Oldham throwaway, marginally better than the others. This was definitely one of the ones that stunk up the room on the original Soul Deep compilation.
“Gonna Find Somebody” – another Womack non-entity.
“I Pray for Rain” — Oh, dear. Penn/Oldham pray for Chilton that it rains so that it spoils that his ex’s picnic with her new beau. I see that BJ Thomas did this one, probably on an album where all the songs had “Raindrops” are some such incorporated into the titles. What a stinker.
Verdict: I’d probably rate the album as a totality as a B-, noting that the three best songs – the two singles and “She Knows How” – are all by Carson Thompson, who had I been alive in 1967 would have pegged as a major talent, and in hindsight I guess he was. The two best cuts are both on Playlist.
Cry Like a Baby
“Deep in Kentucky” – This was written by“Bill Davidson.” That’s all I got.
“Every Time” – Lord, did these guys get Penn/Oldham’s leftovers — it’s a wonder the duo gave them “Cry like a Baby,”which is still a marvel.
“Trouble With Sam” – I was just wondering why no one threw up the whole album on Youtube, as they did The Letter. Then this song came on.
“Lost” – Mark James enters the picture, a hack as great in my mind as Wayne Carson Thompson. I like the tempo shifts on this, but other than pretty nondescript, and Reggie Young should have kept the sitar in the closet for the good ones.
“727” – yet another plane song. I can read Penn-Oldham’s mind, which must have been occupied on this for about fifteen minutes.
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” – one of Christgau’s favorites and holy shit. Not only does this totally rock out, but it’s totally deconstructed, rough and tumble rhythmically. The drums especially are quite John Bonham-esque, who I’m pretty sure was about a year away from being heard. And now he’s quoting “The End” from the Doors! And that scream at the end! Wild, absolutely wild – and I’m willing to bet this was totally unpremeditated, a total accident.
Verdict: missing a few tracks here, but assuming that “Cry Like a Baby” and the Supremes cover are the cream, this would be another B-, with “Fields of Clover” as nice filler here as it is on their compilations.
Three songs on the best-of, all very good. Also, the unjustly deleted “She Shot a Hole in My Soul.” Of these four highlights, only one of them, the batshit nuts (and totally brilliant) “I Met Her in Church” is by Penn/Oldham.
“I’m Movin On” – the Hank Snow song? It is – and it’s about trains (there’s a train on the cover of the record, and “Choo Choo Train” opens). Their country moves would never have sustained a whole record, but they’re good for a change of pace, and I really like how they bring in the R&B halfway through. An absolutely inspired choice.
“Sandman” – that fuzz guitar, so dated. A pretty good Wayne Carson Thompson ballad. With the four singles, this rounds out side A, which is undoubtedly their best side of their first three records. It can only get worse from here.
“Rock me Baby” – the BB King song, which they apparently re-recorded for Dimensions(their next record) in a nine minute version, which is the only version I can find on Youtube. That version is also onUltimate.
“I Can Dig It” – Alex expresses himself, which I’m sure Dan Penn humored because it was one less subpar song he had to write himself.
“Yesterday Where’s My Mind” – I can’t even find a writer for this one. “The transient beauty of the Dairy Queen/Going around pretending that she is clean,”or some nonsense like that. Chilton’s bellowing vocal is completely bizarre, especially compared to the sweetly conventional vocal that follows.
“If I Hadn’t Let You In” – a decent Eddie Hinton track.
Missing the Randy Newman closer here, but I’d say this is probably a weak B+.
Four songs on the best of: the angelic“Soul Deep,” the brave “I Shall be Released,” the sweetly daffy “Sweet Cream Ladies, Forward March” (their best psychedelic pastiche) and Alex Chilton’s “Together,”his best composition until Big Star. Dan Penn had no involvement in this, and you can tell – the arrangement is much less streamlined, taking risks rather than falling into them by accident (like the Supremes cut). Produced by Tommy Cogbill, who I think played bass in the studio’s house band.
“Midnight Angel” – a strangely ambitious Mark James track.
“I’ll Hold Out My Hand” – a Chip Taylor song. Journeymen helping journeymen.
“I Must be the Devil” – This Chilton blues has its many supporters – it’s been on many compilations – but I’ve never cared for it.
“The Happy Song” – This two-stepper from Chilton was on the old BMG compilation.
“Ain’t no Way” – And in comes Neil Diamond.
“Rock me Baby” – nine minutes?
I’d probably give this one a B.
Of the remaining tracks on Playlist, this leaves three culled from singles: “You Keep Tightening Up on Me” and “Turn on a Dream,” both from Mark James, and “I See Only Sunshine,” from Chilton.
Research tells me I saw the Box Tops at the House of Blues in Los Angeles on April 18, 1997.