Category Archives: The Boxtops
Our theme this week was Communication – not the deep psychic stuff, but good old fashioned talking, letter writing and, would you believe telegrams (remember them?). I was going to play M.I.A.’s ‘U.R.A.Q.T.’ about texting (“you’re fuckin’ with my man and textin’ all the time…”) but I would have been in a bit of trouble over the expletives, I’m afraid. But I did play some other excellent hip-hop during the show, as well as my usual eclectic mix of rock, pop, blues, jazz and whatever I could find to fit the theme.
We opened the show with the Marvelettes ‘Beachwood 4-5789’. They also recorded the first Motown hit, ‘Please Mr. Postman’, but I had already showcased that one during the Motown Show in January. Besides, ‘Beachwood’ was a great opener for this particular show.
The telephone, whether it be landline or mobile, talking or texting, is still probably the most prominent way we keep in touch. So ‘Hanging Up the Telephone’, sung by Blondie’s Debby Harry was not only pop-punk perfection, but it also opens with the sound of a ringing phone. How good is that? Here’s the video from 1978.
Most letter songs feature absent lovers and none convey the absolute thrill of receiving a long awaited message better than ‘The Letter’ from the Boxtops. They were known as a major ‘blue-eyed soul’ group during the 60’s. Hard to believe that Alex Chilton, who later formed Big Star and went onto a solo career, was only 16 at the time this was recorded in 1967. The song has been widely covered, most notably by Joe Cocker, but this original version still stands up well.
Sonny Boy Williamson confimed what I have always knows, (that men are the worst gossips), with his rendition of ‘Don’t Get Me Talking’ while Buddy Guy and Junior Wells contributed ‘A Man of Many Words’ to the Blues segment of the show.
My Roy Orbison song this week was a great one: ‘Communication Breakdown’. Written by Bill Dees, whose collaboration with Orbison led to a string of successful hits for Monument Records including ‘Communication Breakdown’, ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘It’s Over’, just to name a few.
And then it was onto an absolutely divine song by Nina Persson of the Cardigans, ‘Communication’ – “If this is communication , I disconnect”. If only it was that easy. Here’s a video of them doing a live performance in 2007.
‘Hello Operator’ presented mobile phone refusenik Jack White choosing to use an operator, just like in the good old days. And, as if this was even too newfangled, by the second verse he’s trying to get his message out via canary. Ah ha, rightio then.
Remember when a wedding wasn’t a wedding without the best man reading out several telegrams from absentee friends and family? I haven’t been to a wedding in ages. Tell me, do they read out emails and texts? Just doesn’t seem the same does it? In ‘Western Union Man’ Jerry Butler gives us a passionate attempt at contacting a girlfriend who won’t answer his phone calls. And Chuck Berry tries to get in touch with people who have phoned him in ‘Memphis Tennessee’. Today we would be asking why the hell aren’t they on Facebook! And then there’s Twitter, but please can we not go there? (really).
Joe Jones seemed to be talking right at me with ‘You Talk Too Much’ and I loved Crowded House’s version of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’. But how good was Hank Penny’s ‘Sweet Talkin Mama’ recorded in 1938? You can find this terrific bit of country swing on the compilation album You Done Me Wrong (Vintage Country Cheating Songs 1929-1952) distributed by Buzzola.
There are lots of songs written in the form of letters. One of the best examples of this is Eminem’s ‘Stan’, a masterpiece of escalating desperation that exploits its conceit to its fullest. Sampling Dido’s ‘Thank You’ as the chorus is a piece of genius and the result is a song of chilling elegance that recognises that a letter is always a one-sided conversation.
We followed that with a total contrast – ‘Don’t Explain’ by Billie Holliday and then it was up to Muddy Waters to elevate the mood with ‘Long Distance Call’. There were so many other great songs. I particularly liked Bonnie Raitt’s take on people who talk behind your back. Her advice? Give them ‘Something to Talk About’. Absolutely.
We finished the show with one of my favourite Aretha Franklin numbers: ‘Say A Little Prayer’. This one had me up out of the seat and dancing. And then a fantastic close from Mr. Cool Jazz himself, Chet Baker, with ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’. I loved this week’s show and I had a blast. Hope you did too.
Here’s the complete playlist:
Beachwood 4-5789 – The Marvellettes
Hanging On The Telephone – Blondie
Rikki Don’t Lose That Number – Steely Dan
The Letter – The Boxtops
Take A Letter Maria – R.B. Greaves
Please Read The Letter – Alison Krauss/Robert Plant
Don’t Start Me To Talkin’ – Sonny Boy Williamson
A Man Of Many Words – Buddy Guy & Junior Wells
A Little Less Conversation – Elvis Presley
Communication Breakdown – Roy Orbison
Communication – The Cardigans
Telephone Line – Electric Light Orchestra
Memphis, Tennessee – Chuck Berry
Hey, Western Union Man – Jerry Butler
Hello Operator – The White Stripes
You Talk Too Much – Joe Jones
Everybody’s Talkin’ – Crowded House
Sweet Talkin’ Mama – Hank Penny
Stan – Eminem & Dido
Don’t Explain – Billie Holiday
Long Distance Call – Muddy Waters
The Phone Call – The Pretenders
Ring Ring Ring – De La Soul
The Word – The Beatles
I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Paul Weller & Amy Winehouse
What’d I Say – Ray Charles
People Are Talking – Shep & The Limelites
Something to Talk About – Bonnie Raitt
Answering Bell – Ryan Adams
I Say A Little Prayer For You – Aretha Frankin
Every Time We Say Goodbye – Chet Baker
Next week, the theme is Money. Any suggestions for songs for the show, or themes for future shows, are always welcome.
Listen to Lyn at the Theme Park, Tuesdays 2-4pm, Sydney time, on BayFM 99.9 or streaming at http://www.bayfm.org