In a digital age when messages can be sent instantly at the click of a mouse, there’s something irresistibly romantic about the notion of writing a love letter to the object of one’s affections. Email, online social networks and texts allow us to communicate messages of love in real time – a boon for happy couples, a potential minefield for infatuated singles with a tendency to “drunk text” – but nothing beats the charm of a written love letter, delivered by the postman.
Communication via the physically written word of course raises its own problems. For the insecure, waiting for a reply from a loved one can prove a frustrating and even maddening experience – which is why we’ve chosen six of the best songs about the “dark side” of the love letter, the ones that tragically remain ignored and unanswered…
1) Elvis Presley – Return To Sender (1962)
Even “The King” had postal-related woman trouble, according to this catchy rock ‘n’ roll hit from 1962. Return To Sender is a song about a remorseful lover attempting to reconcile with an angry girlfriend following a lovers’ tiff, in which Elvis bemoans the fact that his letter keeps being sent back “address unknown, no such number, no such zone”.
Backed by a parping baritone sax “Big E” complains that his apologetic missive has even been returned undelivered when he tries to mail it “special D.”, causing our frustrated protagonist to pledge that he’s “gonna take it myself, and put it right in her hand”.
It’s hard not to admire Elvis’s unshakeable determination to deliver his letter – though the possibility that his persistence may result in the 1960s equivalent of a restraining order does of course cause mild concern.
2) The Beatles – Please Mister Postman (1963)
It’s a sorry state of affairs when an ill-attentive girlfriend reduces a worried lover to pestering the postman and questioning his mail-delivering abilities. That’s the tragic situation in which the protagonist of “Please Mister Postman” – a deceptively cheery cover of a song by Motown’s The Marvelettes – finds himself as he waits for a letter from a girl now living “so far away”.
It’s difficult not to feel a twinge of sympathy for our lovelorn protagonist as he asks the postman to check in his mail bag for the anticipated document “one more time”, because in spite of John Lennon’s upbeat vocal performance we’re left with the uneasy feeling that the longed-for letter is never going to materialise from the postie’s satchel.
3) Eminem (featuring Dido) – Stan (2000)
A powerful account of a dangerously obsessive fan, Stan is one of Eminem’s most popular songs and has sold more than 750,000 copies in the UK alone. The first three verses of the song are written from the perspective of Stan, Eminem’s self-proclaimed “biggest fan” who’s “got a room full” of his posters and pictures.
As the song progresses we learn more details of Stan’s disturbing infatuation with Slim/Eminem. He has a tattoo of his idol’s name across his chest, his girlfriend is jealous because he talks about him “24/7”, and he ends his twisted love letter with a disturbingly inappropriate postscript: “P.S. we should be together too”.
Increasingly irate at his idol’s apparent failure to write back, the song descends into madness as an apoplectic and intoxicated Stan commits suicide by driving his car off a bridge – with his pregnant girlfriend tied up in the trunk.
A final twist in the macabre tale reveals that Slim intended to reply all along, but had not yet had enough free time to write a letter.
4) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Love Letter (2001)
One-time Kylie collaborator and lifelong chronicler of broken hearts Nick Cave isn’t known for penning cheerful ditties – as amply demonstrated by this mournful piano-driven ballad from 2001. A melancholic account of a relationship gone sour, the song charts the frantic attempts of a remorse-wracked boyfriend to win back a deserted lover by writing her “a plea, a petition, a kind of prayer”.
Will the writer’s “handful of hopeful words” bring back his estranged love? As the sky hangs heavy with rain and “a wicked wind whips up the hill”, it’s hard not to be pessimistic about his chances.
5) Leona Lewis – Love Letter (2009)
One line in Leona Lewis’s Love Letter adds a disturbing twist to an ostensibly standard depiction of a young couple in love. Despite the protagonist of Lewis’s driving pop song expressing confidence that “through the sunshine and through the rain” her relationship will “last forever” it tragically transpires that she hasn’t actually met said lover, as he exists quite literally in her dreams.
“Even though I never met you, I still miss you” sings Lewis, creepily – staying up late to write her imaginary boyfriend a letter, before setting it on the window pane and thinking of her make-believe lover as she lets it “fly away, and away”.
6) R. Kelly – Love Letter (2010)
A crooning R & B number from 2010, Love Letter reveals a more wistful side to Mr Kelly as he tries to rekindle an old romance by despatching cards and letters to an old flame. Reminiscing about the good times they spent together, an uncharacteristically anxious Kelly repeatedly asks for reassurance that his former lover has received, read, and had her heart touched by, his love letters.
In an echo of Elvis’s frustrated correspondence nearly four decades earlier, Kelly prays that his letter “don’t come back, return to sender” – before attempting to hurry things along by proposing that his former beau reply by text message.
“All the ladies sing for me, ladies sing for me” croons Kelly as the song closes, reassuring us that his ego hasn’t been too badly dented by the ex’s failure to respond.
Which is your favourite song from our list? Can you think of any other songs about unanswered letters that we haven’t included?
Leave a comment below – and don’t forget to safely store your own love letters in a secure post box!