143. ‘Return to Sender’ by Elvis Presley

In which Elvis does something unprecedented and – to this very day – unmatched. Two years, eight number ones singles. Four in 1961. Four in 1962. Of the 110 chart-weeks that have passed since he returned from his army-enforced hiatus, Elvis has been at #1 for forty-one of them… The record with which The King sealed this feat…?

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Return to Sender, by Elvis Presley (his 13th of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th December 1962 – 3rd January 1963

…is utter, utter cheese. Elvis wrote a letter to a girl; it came back. Return to sender, Address unknown, No such number, No such zone… They had a quarrel – a lover’s spat – and no matter how much he apologises his girl ain’t having it. That’s about it.

It’s Elvis at his most unimaginative: an early to mid-sixties movie soundtrack that got to the top of the chart by default just because it had the name ‘Elvis Presley’ on the cover. But… I love this song. Have done for years. Back when I first got my much-mentioned Elvis ‘Best Of’ as a teenager this was one of the songs I would skip to first. At the time I even went so far as to list it as my favourite Elvis song… ever. I know, I know, I was young and have since seen the error of my youthful ways. It’s not my favourite Elvis song, honest. And it’s nowhere near being his best song. But it has a charm to it, a swing and a swagger to it, that is hard to deny.

For example, I love it when the backing singers – the Jordanaires – pop up with their baritone The writing on it… before every chorus. I love it when Elvis launches into the final verse, as if impatient for it to begin: This time I’m gonna take it myself, And put it right in her ha-and… And I love the line I write I’m sorry but my letter keeps coming back… for the rasp in Elvis’s voice that went missing circa-1959, and for the fact that to someone from Scotland it sounds like he’s saying ‘Aye right, I’m sorry…’ (And therefore isn’t sorry in the slightest.)

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At the very least, Elvis sounds more alive during this than he did in his last two chart toppers – the dull ‘Good Luck Charm’ and the slightly better ‘She’s Not You’. There’s a hiccup in his voice and a wink in his eye that suggest he might even be enjoying himself here. It’s a solid pop song – very jaunty without being irritating. It sounds a bit like a mellower version of a Neil Sedaka hit. ‘Calendar Girl’, maybe.

However, this doesn’t mean that ‘Return to Sender’ is signalling an upturn in Elvis’s career. As I mentioned, this was yet another movie soundtrack tie-in – this time from ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’, which currently holds a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Sample lyric from the title track: Big and brassy, Small and sassy, Just give me one of each kind…) In fact, you could say that this hit marks the end of Elvis’s ‘Imperial Phase’. People were getting tired of the same sub-standard pop, and a star name can only get you so far – even when that star name is The One-And-Only Elvis Presley. Amazingly, after this, Elvis will score just three more UK number one singles in his lifetime!

There we have it, then. It’s weird to think that from now on every fifth number-one I write about won’t be by The King. But I’ll cope. While it’s undeniably impressive to have had four chart-toppers a year, two years in a row; when that run includes tracks like ‘Wooden Heart’, ‘Rock-a-Hula Baby’ and ‘Good Luck Charm’ then some of the shine is inevitably lost…

5 thoughts on “143. ‘Return to Sender’ by Elvis Presley

  1. badfinger20

    I like it also because I grew up listening to it. It does have a likable quality to it.
    What is frustrating is… not everything he did was bad…it’s what he could have done.

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