Neon Rainbow

People seem to have forgotten Alex Chilton was in the Box Tops.

Labels make a difference.  If Big Star had been on Warner Brothers instead of Ardent, if not a household word, the band would be as well known as Little Feat.  People would ooh and aah when they heard "September Gurls" or "Back Of A Car".  They might not be party staples like "Dixie Chicken", but they’d be a rite of passage, listened to by adolescent males as well as power popster gurls.  And "Thirteen" would be "Pink Moon", Alex Chilton would be bigger than Nick Drake.

But Alex didn’t die.  He’s still out there hitting the boards, still working for a living, for the modest few aware of his greatness.  But before Alex Chilton was a cult item, he was a star, in the Box Tops.

Joe Cocker did a killer version of "The Letter", still it’s eclipsed by the under two minute original.

Oh, you know it…

Give me a ticket for an aeroplane
Ain’t got time to take a fast train

As great as the song is, it’s Alex’s delivery that puts it over the top.  With a throaty urgency an adolescent Alex captures the angst of  Shakespeare, it’s a modern day "Romeo & Juliet".  It’s utterly perfect.  But it’s not the only great Box Tops song.

If you lived through the sixties, you also know "Cry Like A Baby".  A trifle follow-up back then, but a classic when heard today.  Sure, there’s a plethora of backup singers, but it’s the offhanded Chilton vocal that enraptures you.

And then there’s the magical "Soul Deep".  Which didn’t get much airplay in my market, but bridges white and black to create a number that makes you want to dance, elatedly.

But the Box Tops track that’s my favorite is the one I heard on the Bromley jukebox.  At the end of the day, when the sun had gone down, before my mom and dad rescued their newly-minted teenagers from the base lodge and took them home.

I fell in love with the Who in that out of the way alcove, "I Can See For Miles’ got regular spins.  My absolute favorite was American Breed’s "Bend Me, Shape Me".  But the third 45 I had to buy when I got home to Connecticut from Christmas in Vermont was the Box Tops’ "Neon Rainbow".

It starts off with an acoustic guitar, like off a Gerry & the Pacemakers record.  And the atmosphere has an Anglo feel, like a walk in the English rain, until they hit the chorus.

City lights
The pretty lights
They can warm the coldest nights

Lying on the floor doing my back exercises the other day I got a sudden urge to hear "Neon Rainbow".  There was something about the weather, the darkness that made me think of those days at Bromley back in ’67.  I pulled it up on my iPod and I was brought right back.

Too many of today’s hits have no mood, no darkness, you can’t unzip them and wallow inside, alone, just you and the music.  Hearing "Neon Rainbow" sets your mind free.

And the way it concludes…  It doesn’t.  The instrumental comes at the end instead of the middle.  For over thirty seconds the music plays and you’re just left with the feeling, of having heard the song.  It’s like walking home from a date.  With a bounce in your step.  You never want this mood to end.

And that’s why you play the record over again.  That’s a hit.  Something that you don’t want to let go.  You want to stay in the place the song has put you…outside the regular world, where your humanity is all that counts.

You can live without direction
And it don’t have to be perfection
And life is love

In a neon rainbow
A neon rainbow
A neon rainbow

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