You’ve heard it before: “Writing letters is a lost art.” Boomers understand that statement because In the heyday of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, letter writing was a common part of everyday life. Boomers wrote letters — usually by hand — to grandparents, aunt and uncles in other states; friends who moved away; as soldiers and to soldiers; from vacation postcards to Christmas year-end news; and more. This ubiquity is evidenced by music of the era, which referenced sending and receiving letters.
I’m Gonna To Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter
Every now and then a song comes along that is so popular it is covered by numerous artists over multiple decades. In this case, the song was first popularized by Fats Waller in 1935. There were rock treatments and jazz treatments galore in the following decades, including during the boomer years, by Frank Sinatra (1954); Billy Williams (1957); Bing Crosby (1957); Bill Haley and his Comets (1957); Nat King Cole (1964) and a host of others.
Return to Sender — Elvis, 1962
Boomers fully understand the lyrics of this song, especially …
She wrote upon it:
Return to sender, address unknown
No such number, no such zone.
People who received a letter by mistake would often write on it, to tell the postman the reason — no such person at this address, return to sender, etc. It would be left in the mailbox for the postman to retrieve. The post office would then ink it with a “return to sender” stamp. Early-generation boomers also recall that postal zones were the forerunner to Zip Codes, which weren’t introduced until 1963, but weren’t widely adopted until 1967.
Mr. Lonely — Bobby Vinton, 1962
Bobby Vinton got the idea for this song about a homesick and lonely soldier while he was in the Army in the late 1950s.
Letters, never a letter
I get no letters in the mail
All My Loving — The Beatles, 1963
This song by Paul McCartney shows that lovesick boomers relied on the mail to stay in touch when they were away.
Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you
Tomorrow I’ll miss you
Remember I’ll always be true
And then while I’m away
I’ll write home every day
And I’ll send all my lovin’ to you
Please Mr. Postman — The Marvelettes, 1961
An absolute necessity in any exploration of letter songs, this one illustrates the anticipation and frustration of waiting for a letter that does not arrive. It was Motown’s first number one hit, and the only number one hit for The Marvelettes.
Please Mr. Postman, look and see
Is there a letter in your bag for me?
‘Cause it’s been a mighty long time
Since I heard from this boyfriend of mine
The Letter — The Box Tops, 1967
A quintessential “letter” song, Alex Chilton sang:
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-going home
My baby, wrote me a letter
Boomers know what effect a hand-written letter could have, especially if it was welcome news.
How about you, boomers? Have your letter-writing days been replaced by social media, direct messaging and email?