Return to Sender.
“Return to Sender” is a 1962 hit single recorded by American singer Elvis Presley and performed in the film Girls! Girls! Girls! The song was written by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell and published by Elvis Presley Music.
The song peaked at #1 on the UK Singles Chart, and was the UK Christmas number one of 1962. It also reached #2 on the American Billboard singles chart, kept out of the top spot by The Four Seasons' “Big Girls Don't Cry.” However, the song reached number 1 on the rival Cash Box and Music Vendor singles charts. “Return to Sender” also went to #5 on the R&B charts. It was the first Christmas number one in Ireland, as the Irish Charts had been founded in October 1962. The single was certified “Platinum” by the RIAA for sales in excess of one million units in the US. Background and recording
Otis Blackwell and Winfield Scott were a team of songwriters who wrote songs for rhythm and blues artists such as LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown and Clyde McPhatter. To be able to make a living as songwriters, they decided to begin writing pop and country songs for the likes of Carl Perkins, Conway Twitty, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, and Elvis Presley. After Blackwell wrote Presley's hits “Don't Be Cruel” (1956) and “All Shook Up” (1957), Freddy Bienstock, vice president of the record company Hill & Range, looked to the duo to write songs for Presley's films. Hill & Range sought Blackwell to write songs for the Presley vehicle Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962); following the commercial disappointment of Presley's pop ballad “She's Not You” (1962), the record company wanted him to return to the rock and roll genre without alienating fans who enjoyed his crooning.
Scripts for Presley films would note places where a song was to be inserted into the film as well as suggested titles and genres for such songs. While other songwriters would adhere to these notes, Blackwell and Scott would not, as they were used to the creative freedom of the rhythm and blues field. The songwriters decided to write a great song without any concern for whether or not it fit into the film's storyline. After penning a track for the film about fishing entitled “Coming in Loaded” and other material they disliked, the two gave up on writing other songs until they found inspiration in a returned piece of mail. A demo that they had sent to a record company of returned to them with the words “Return to sender! No such person! No such zone!” stamped onto it. Blackwell and Scott decided to use those phrases as lyrics in a song about a failing relationship between “a spiteful woman and a heartbroken man.”
Upon finishing “Return to Sender,” Blackwell and Scott played it for producer Hal B. Wallis on a piano. Wallis liked the song and decided to release it as a single. The script for Girls! Girls! Girls! was rewritten to accommodate “Return to Sender,” much to the surprise of the song's writers. Scott said that the experience taught the duo a valuable lesson - “Write a great song - and they'll find someplace to put it”.
Recording and composition.
On March 27, 1962, Presley was handed the task of recording all thirteen songs on the Girls! Girls! Girls! soundtrack. Presley was unenthusiastic about the material he was recording and quickly recorded most of it. The Jordanaires, Dudley Brooks, D. J. Fontana, and Scotty Moore were in the studio, which the instrumentation for the album was played by Boots Randolph on saxophone, Ray Siegel on bass, Barney Kessel and Tiny Timbrell on guitar, and Hal Blaine and Bernie Mattinson on specialty drums. Then, when he began singing “Return to Sender,” he became more energetic. Presley found the song easy to perform and recorded it in just two takes. He modeled his vocal stylings on Blackwell's. While watching Presley perform the track, Moore and Fontana felt that the “old magic” of the singer's earlier work had returned.
“Return to Sender” is a pop and rock and roll song[ with a length of two minutes and nine seconds and an up-tempo, “gently rock[ing]” beat. Per Presley's decision, the lead instrument of the song's chorus is Randolph's saxophone rather than a guitar, which was more characteristic of Presley's music. According to Ace Collins in Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis's #1 Hits, the track “recaptured the happy enthusiasm and unbridled joy” of the rock and roll music of the mid-1950s. The song is about a heartbroken man who keeps sending mail to his lover. Collins also noted a contrast between the song's joyful instrumentation and its lyrics, which are those of a “woeful ballad.”
NME said that “Return to Sender” and another song penned by Blackwell, Jerry Lee Lewis' “Great Balls of Fire” (1955), stand as “some of the most enduring classics in the rock and roll canon”. In his book Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis's #1 Hits, Ace Collins says that while Blackwell wrote hits like Lewis' “Breathless” (1958) and “Fever” by Peggy Lee (1958) and influenced artists like Presley and Stevie Wonder, “it is doubtful that he ever wrote anything quite as innovative as 'Return to Sender.'” Thomas Ward of AllMusic praised the song's lyrics, production and melody, as well as Presley's vocal performance. Ward concluded his review by saying that “Although 'Return To Sender' is not a huge artistic triumph, it's a great pop song that still sounds good to modern audiences.”
Gerri Granger later recorded an answer song: “Don't Want Your Letters”. The song was arranged and conducted by Bert Keyes. It was released on the single Big Top 45-3128.
“Return to Sender” came back in vogue in 1993 when the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honoring Presley on what would have been his 58th birthday. Fans mailed envelopes franked with first-day issues of this stamp to fictitious addresses so that they would receive their letters back, marked with the words “return to sender.”
The phrase “Return to Sender” was engraved on the coffin of Freddie Starr, a comedian and Elvis impersonator.