Return to Sender (song)

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"Return to Sender"
Elvis Return To Sender Picture Sleeve.jpg
Single by Elvis Presley
from the album Girls! Girls! Girls!
B-side"Where Do You Come from"
ReleasedSeptember 5, 1962
RecordedMarch 27, 1962
StudioRadio Recorders, Hollywood, California
LabelRCA Victor[1]
Producer(s)Steve Sholes and Chet Atkins[1]
Elvis Presley singles chronology
"King of the Whole Wide World" / "Home Is Where the Heart Is"
"Return to Sender" / "Where Do You Come From"
"One Broken Heart for Sale" / "They Remind Me Too Much of You"
Music video
"Return to Sender" (audio) on YouTube

"Return to Sender" is song recorded by American singer Elvis Presley and performed in the film Girls! Girls! Girls!. The song was written by Winfield Scott and Otis Blackwell to suit Presley's rock and roll musical style, in which the singer laments his relationship with a spiteful partner. The song released on September 5, 1962, and published by Elvis Presley Music, becoming a commercial hit and receiving praise for its lyricism and melody.

The song peaked at number one on the UK Singles Chart,[2] and was the UK Christmas number one of 1962. It was also the first Christmas number one in the Irish Singles Chart. In the United States, "Return to Sender" reached #2 on the American Billboard singles chart, kept out of the top spot by The Four Seasons' "Big Girls Don't Cry."[3] However, the song reached #1 on the rival Cash Box and Music Vendor singles charts. "Return to Sender" also went to #5 on the R&B charts.[4] The single was certified platinum by the RIAA for sales in excess of one million units in the US.

Background and recording[edit]

"Return to Sender"was written especially for the soundtrack Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), which aimed to serve as a comeback for Elvis Presley.

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 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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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".[8]

Recording and composition[edit]

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 and went through the recording process at a quickened pace. 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.[9]

"Return to Sender" is a pop[10] and rock and roll song[11] with a length of two minutes and nine seconds[10] and an up-tempo, "gently rock[ing]" beat.[9] 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.[12] 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.[13] 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."[13]

Critical reception[edit]

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".[11] 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.'"[14] 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."[10]


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.[15]

"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."[16]

The phrase "Return to Sender" was engraved on the coffin of Freddie Starr, a comedian and Elvis impersonator.[17]


Weekly charts[edit]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[18] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[19] Platinum 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 67. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  2. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. pp. 144–5. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  3. ^ "Top 100 Songs | Billboard Hot 100 Chart". Billboard. December 15, 1962. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 468.
  5. ^ Biszick-Lockwood 2010, p. 220-221.
  6. ^ Collins 2005, p. 190-191.
  7. ^ Biszick-Lockwood 2010, p. 221.
  8. ^ Collins 2005, p. 191-192.
  9. ^ a b Collins 2005, p. 194.
  10. ^ a b c Ward, Thomas. "Elvis Presley - Return to Sender". AllMusic. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Otis Blackwell Dies". NME. May 8, 2002. Archived from the original on August 14, 2019. Retrieved August 14, 2019.
  12. ^ Collins 2005, p. 194-195.
  13. ^ a b Collins 2005, p. 195.
  14. ^ Collins 2005, p. 192-193.
  15. ^ "Gerri Granger - Don't Want Your Love Letters / Ain't It Funny - Bigtop - USA - 45-3128". 45cat. Retrieved April 5, 2014.
  16. ^ Humphries 2003, p. 105.
  17. ^ Youngs, Ian (June 13, 2019). "Freddie Starr funeral: Red roses and Elvis tributes as fans say farewell". BBC News. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  18. ^ "British single certifications – Elvis Presley – Return to Sender". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  19. ^ "American single certifications – Elvis Presley – Return to Sender". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Single, then click SEARCH. 


External links[edit]