Thursday, September 10, 2020


I am so uncertain as to whether there are any songs about e-mails that I am not going to look. Any complaints about that, send me a S.A.E. for my nuanced response. I like letters, yet I cannot recall the last time I either sent or received one, other than electronically. Even birthday and christmas cards seem but a fond memory, as even aged aunts resort to social media to mark their notice of such milestones. So, what then is the purpose of a postal service, mail and mailmen (and women)? Junk, bills and amazon deliveries seems to be the answer. Given at least one of our small and loyal band of posters works in a country where such luxury no longer exists, how long, I wonder, will the rest of us be graced by the regular tap tap tap of the postman's knock? And will that demise be hastened by the opinion of the extravagantly haired buffoon (U.S. version) wanting to knock postal voting out the ocean?

Time then to remind ourselves of the power of the post: the excitement and anticipation of writing and sending a letter to a loved one, awaiting, with baited breath, for a response. And then? Tell me text is as poignant, e-mail as effective, and I'll tell you different. Far too quick, too instant: where's the build up of hope, increasing by the day, layer upon layer. And supposing then, like this song, you then get this reply?

Since the gruff tones of Alex Chilton helmed the original Boxtops version, back in 1967, this song has been covered oodles, often from similarly chalky voiced singers, most attacking the lyric at the same lick. Walking in Memphis hitmaker Marc Cohn gives it a slightly less frantic approach, a sense of quiet determination rather than the breakneck rush of the original. I like it and hope he got there safe.

But it isn't always so simple, as Richard Thompson so exquisitely describes. A rousing song he still finishes most live shows with, it has a real zydeco vibe to it, many folk learning of the song through the version by cajun squeezeboxer Jo-El Sonnier. But prior to that, swamp rocker Jerry Williams had released the featured version, again, as with 'The Letter', a less frantic version, one that swings, perhaps like a pendulum of the emotions brought on by the letter in question. I say swamp rocker because that's what Williams sounds like, and an assumption I certainly initially made. In fact, he was a Swede, most of his career based there, as early rock'n'roll enticed the youth of his homeland just as much as the rest of the world. As a bonus, here is a link to the great RT, knowing he has fans here, this being from David Sanbourn's great 80s/90s TV show, Night Music, and which features him, alongside both Thompson and the above mentioned Sonnier.

Worse still than any reply, is the spectre of no reply, insult added to by the injury of having the letter you first sent dropped back to your door. Classic Elvis is the template, obviously, but I enjoy this curiously upbeat version, coming from the possibly little known Dave Kelly. However, if you are familiar with UK blues maestros, the, um, Blues Band, fronted by ex-Manfred Mann frontman and BBC radio blues broadcaster Paul Jones, you will recognise the voice and the slide guitar of Kelly. Sticking with a mail theme, here is that band, with a Son house classic.

You can find these songs yourself, but maybe won't think of this.....

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Mail: Rikki Don't Lose That Number

purchase [ Pretzel Logic ]

It's no surprise that the first page or more of a Google search about "mail to yourself" is all about computer apps and email tips. But when Steely Dan penned this song (1974), they were singing about the USPS; the Internet was still Vint Cerf's project.

This appears to be about the only Steely Dan song that has never been appeared in SMM. We've covered the passing of Walter Becker back in early 2018 (thanks Darius) and 30 or more Steely Dan songs here at SMM over the years. In fact, of the 30 or so appearances of Steely Dan - stretching back as far as 2008 - a majority of them were posted by Darius, with a few by [interestingly] Any Major Dude and Geovicki.  And ther have been others including my mentor boyhowdy. I've done a few myself. You can type <steely> into the top right search window of the SMM site to reminisce.

And back in 2009, there was a mail-related Postage Paid theme that includes writings from several of SMM's blogging projenitors if you want to continue down the nostalgia path.

Of course, it's the line from <Rikki  Don't Lose That Number> "..send it off in a letter to yourself" that entitles me to include Steely Dan once again. What a way to keep a backup of your data! What about Google Sync?

Of note is the fact that Walter Becker is credited with vocals and bass guitar while Jeff "Skunk" Baxter gets the guitar credit. tells us it was the band's biggest hit, so here's a collection of versions from

Stanley Dee

Skunk Baxter

Bad Sneakers

Mail: Take A Letter Maria

R.B. Greaves: Take A Letter Maria 


I’ve written in the past about how I started paying attention to music in 1969. as a result of hearing WABC, the classic New York Top 40 station, in the station wagon that took me to my summer day camp. And that fall, I have a vague recognition of being in the car with my mother, and hearing “Take A Letter Maria” on our car radio, and proclaiming it a hit. I was 8 years old, and already thought that I was a music critic. And here I am, more than 50 years later, still pretending to be a music critic of sorts. 

The funny thing is that my 8 year old self was right. “Take A Letter Maria” became a No. 2 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, blocked from the top spot by The 5th Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues,” also a great song. 

I’d be shocked if anyone reading this doesn’t know the song—it is sung from the perspective of a man who had just learned of his wife’s infidelity, and dictates a letter to his secretary, the titular Maria, informing his wife of their separation. At the end, he asks Maria to dinner. It’s a surprisingly peppy song, considering the subject matter, with Latin influences and mariachi horns. I think that the narrator is supposed to come off as a sympathetic character, trying to recover from the discovery that his marriage is over, and he’s been cuckolded. And overall, I think that holds up today, despite the fact that he breaks up with his wife by letter (the functional equivalent of the uncool breakup by text), and the fact that in today’s environment, asking out Maria would raise questions of power differentials and sexual harassment. To be fair, we don’t know whether Maria accepted the invitation. Also, I have to admit that the fact that he instructs Maria to “send a copy to my lawyer” makes me happy. 

“Take A Letter Maria” was written and recorded by R.B. Greaves, and I’d be shocked if most of the people reading this knew that, and if they did, if they knew anything else about Greaves. 

Greaves, who was the nephew of the great Sam Cooke, was raised on a Seminole reservation, but moved to England in 1963. A few years later, performing as Sonny Childe, and fronting a band called The TNT, Greaves became a popular live soul/R&B act in England and recorded a few singles, before leaving The TNT during the summer of 1967. (Without Childe/Greaves, The TNT became the backing band for P.P. Arnold, probably best known for her versions of “The First Cut is the Deepest” and “Angel of the Morning.”) 

Greaves’ big hit was recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, and featured the house musicians, including Donna Jean Thatcher (probably better known from her days with the Grateful Dead as Donna Jean Godchaux), Eddie Hinton, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood. And it was produced by Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun (not even close to being best known as my ultimate boss during the summer of 1982). 

Greaves’ followup, a cover of the Bacharach/David song, “Always Something There to Remind Me,” stalled at No. 27 on the Billboard chart, and that, pretty much, was that for Greaves, although he continued recording into the 1970s. He died of prostate cancer in September 2012 at the age of 68.

Patterson Hood, of the Drive-By Truckers, who is the son of David Hood, the bass player on “Maria,” has covered the song during solo shows, sometimes with his father on bass. Here’s one such performance, in which Patterson talks about how the Rolling Stones wanted to record in Muscle Shoals in 1969, before leaving to perform at Altamont, and that on that day, Greaves recorded “Maria” during the day, and the Stones appeared at night to record “Brown Sugar.”