This Elvis Presley Hit Was Inspired by a Piece of Mail

This Elvis Presley Hit Was Inspired by a Piece of Mail

02/10/2021

The inspiration for Elvis Presley’s hits came from a variety of places, including a piece of mail. The song in question was supposed to fit snugly into one of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s musical films. However, the movie had to be rewritten to accommodate the track.

The writer of two of Elvis Presley’s biggest 1950s hits wrote another classic tune for him in the 1960s

Firstly a little background. Otis Blackwell was a songwriter behind two of Elvis’ most famous hits -“All Shook Up” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” He was also known for penning other classic 1950s tracks like Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire.” Subsequently, he would write for the soundtrack to Elvis’ musical Girls! Girls! Girls! alongside his writing partner, Winfield Scott.

In the book Restless Giant: The Life and Times of Jean Aberbach and Hill and Range Songs, Blackwell revealed there was a specific process for writing songs from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s movies. “[In] the movie script, they would suggest different titles… they would suggest different spots for a song, and different types of songs,” he recalled. “Everyone pretty much adhered to that ” He noted how this would result in songwriters composing eight or nine songs with the same title and style for those parts of the script. Blackwell rebelled against this.

How mail inspired an Elvis Presley song

According to the book Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis’s #1 Hits, Blackwell and Scott received a piece of returned mail stamped with the words “Return to sender! No such person! No such zone!” At the time, it was standard for returned pieces of mail to be stamped with these words., Blackwell and Scott used these words in a song about a failed relationship. In this relationship, the narrator sends his lover some letters only for her to reject him by writing  “Return to sender! No such person! No such zone!” on them.

The lesson Otis Blackwell learned

In Restless Giant, Blackwell recalled how Girls! Girls! Girls! producer Hal B. Wallis “came into town and heard us do it personally on piano…. he liked the song. And they made a spot for it in the movie! And not only that, they made the single, and it became the hit! So we learned a valuable lesson.” Blackwell said the lesson was that he could just write great songs and the makers of Elvis’ movies would just find a place to put them in his films.

How the world reacted to ‘Return to Sender’

“Return to Sender” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s definitely the most famous tune from Girls! Girls! Girls!, outshining the title song and the infamous “Song of the Shrimp.” Despite this, the soundtrack from the film failed to chart on the Billboard 200. To think, the success of “Return to Sender” all started with a stamp on a piece of mail.

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