So goes the refrain of a much-covered song from a now-defunct genre of love songs involving ‘snail mail’. Well may they call it that, with packages mailed to my sister in New Zealand taking up to 12 days to arrive. A Leunig calendar mailed to a friend in London in early December still has not arrived!
I’ve been hanging out every day for the Postie to arrive. What’s got me on Postie-alert is a series of online purchases, all of which offered free delivery via Australia Post. So far, the items have arrived on time (as alerted by text), although the first parcel took eight days to get here (including a weekend and a public holiday).
You may have noticed I had a month off social media and re-introduced myself with a selfie posting a letter (above). Not terribly original and a bit out of focus but it got some attention. What I didn’t say was the letter being posted was a return-to-sender; a marketing letter to a person who no longer lives here.
My most recent experience of return-to-sender was the return of a Christmas card to someone who moved and didn’t let me know. Several weeks elapsed between the posting and the return. I found that person’s email address and sent an electronic card, which I probably should have done in the first place.
When was the last time you got a personal, hand-written letter in the mail? People do still write letters, but by and large, personal communications have been overtaken by SMS, Messenger, email and PMS (private messages) on social media.
In the heyday of the US Postal service, hundreds of pop songs were written, exploiting the emotions engendered by (a) receiving a love letter or (b) conversely waiting for a letter which probably isn’t going to arrive.
There is no limit to the mawkishness of sentiments expressed in letter songs, as exemplified in Bill Carlisle’s 1938 tune No Letter in the Mail Today, covered by Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and others.
No answer to my love letter
To sooth my achin’ heart
Why did God ever permit
True love like ours to part
The last verse goes quite close to the man saying that if he does not get a letter he will end it all. My music historian pal Franky’s Dad (aka Lyn Nuttall), put together this Spotify playlist ,which includes three versions of Please, Mr. Postman, a number one hit for the Motown group the Marvelettes.
Wait Mister Postman
(Is there a letter in your bag for me?) Please, Please Mister Postman
(Why’s it been a very long time) Oh yeah
(Since I heard from this boyfriend of mine)
There has been speculation by reviewers and music historians that the song is a not-so subtle commentary on the Vietnam War.
There must be some word today
From my boyfriend so far away
Please, Mister Postman, look and see
Is there a letter, a letter for me?
Many of you may recall that angst-ridden time when you broke up with someone and then regretted it. So you wrote a letter, didn’t you, and fruitlessly waited for a reply.
Elvis Presley had a massive hit with that earworm of a song, Return to Sender. The man writes to his estranged love and instead of reading the letter, she writes upon it, “Return to sender, address unknown, no such number, no such zone.”
Our romantic protagonist persists, as romantics do, sending it again by special delivery and even hand-delivered. But the letter keeps coming back (to that circular chorus – “she wrote upon it…”).
Writers Otis Blackwell (who also wrote Great Balls of Fire) and Winfield Scott were not to know the US Postal Service would change its delivery system of zones to zip codes the following year, making the lyric redundant. Not that anyone cared – Return to Sender went Platinum in the US (one million copies sold) and was used in the soundtrack of Girls, Girls, Girls in 1962. Songfacts.com, my go-to source when writing about hit records, notes that this song led to the US Postal Service issuing a commemorative Elvis stamp in 1993, marking what would have been The King’s 58th birthday.
“Enterprising stamp collectors put Elvis stamps on letters that day and mailed them off with false addresses so they would be sent back marked “Return To Sender” and become collector’s items.”
Motown group The Boxtops had a hit with ‘The Letter’, a song which is the polar opposite of Please, Mr. Postman and Return to Sender. In ‘The Letter’, the man gets a letter (‘my baby she wrote me a letter’) and drops everything, saying ‘gimme a ticket for an aeroplane…’.
The song was famously re-invented by Joe Cocker in his Mad Dogs and Englishmen phase, relishing the song’s evocative, if ungrammatical bridge:
Well, she wrote me a letter
Said she couldn’t live without me no more
Listen mister, can’t you see I got to get back
To my baby once-a more
More recently Australian lyricist Nick Cave penned ‘Love letter’, kissing the seal on a letter and sending it off, having regretted something he said: “Love letter, love letter, go get her, go get her.”
Getting back to the headline, The Marvelettes, four young black women whose publicity photos of the day has them sporting beehive hairdos, first recorded Please, Mr. Postman in 1961.
It was a No 1 hit in the US, followed two years later by The Beatles. A dozen years on, The Carpenters came up with their own version of the song written by Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, and Robert Bateman.
There are many lists of songs which mention posties, the postal service or letters, though for obvious reasons Tom Waits’s classic ‘Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis’ does not make the cut.
The ones I discussed must have rung my adolescent bell in the 1960s. Tunes like Stevie Wonder’s 1970 ballad, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m yours)’, passed me by, probably coinciding with my skiffle and jug band music phase. No, I do not have the duffle coat. (I threw it out when it had more holes than cloth. Ed)
Apart from ‘dead letters’ (undeliverable items), mail sometimes goes astray because of theft or hoarding by postal employees. Recently, a 61-year-old Japanese postal worker was referred to prosecutors after investigators found some 24,000 undelivered items dating back to 2003. The Guardian Weekly’s Global Report item said the postie told police it was ‘too much bother’ to deliver the mail.
Theft by mail employees is not uncommon in the US, where billions of items are delivered every year. The US Postal Service investigated 1,364 suspected employee mail theft cases and arrested 409 employees between October 2016 and September 2017.
Incidents of postal employee stealing or hoarding mail are less common in Australia, but authorities have reported an increase in ‘porch theft’ – persons unknown stealing parcels after they have been delivered.
If you did not know, Australia Post has a service where you can collect parcels from your local post office or have them re-directed if you are not going to be home.
As I discovered with my online parcel deliveries, I received a text offering two choices: 1/ someone will be home or 2/ pick up from the post office.
Given that Australia Post delivers $4.8 billion worth of parcels a year, that’s smart use of technology.
Further reading: https://bobwords.com.au/cancel-po-box/