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Wednesday, 14 February, 2001, 12:36 GMT
Love letters straight to the charts
Eminem
In the mood for love: Eminem
By BBC News Online's Dominic Bailey

Pop stars and lyricists hoping for a sure-fire hit might want to keep hold of letters and cards this Valentine's Day.

Letters have been a popular theme for songwriters through the ages. Ketty Lester's 1962 hit - covered by Alison Moyet 25 years later - spoke of love letters "straight from your heart".

Even slick-quiffed Elvis Presley also performed Lester's track, originally written by Victor Young and Edward Heyman.

But he is much more well-known for bemoaning his efforts which came back marked "return to sender".

Songs written as letters have earned noted chart success.
Rapper Eminem recently caused a stir with his chart topper Stan.


Dear Mister-I'm-Too-Good-To-Call-Or-Write-My-Fans, this'll be the last package I ever send

Eminem - Stan
The meandering lyrics follow the paranoid letters of an obsessed fan who eventually kills himself and his girlfriend - all to the incessant sound of pencil on paper.

The performer, real name Marshall Mathers III, is heard taking time out - probably from another controversial concert tour - to write the long-awaited reply.

"I hope you get to read this letter, I just hope it reaches you in time before you hurt yourself."

Maybe the bad boy of rap does have a caring side - but then the news sinks that Stan is already dead.

Elvis Presley
Postal problems: Elvis Presley
Competing in the charts at the time was a lighter letter from the sex-obsessed Bloodhound Gang (sample album title - Hooray For Boobies) to an adult film actress in The Ballad Of Chasey Lain, which was filled with as many expletives as Eminem's effort.

The singer even politely includes a invite to meet his Mom and Dad to show them her most famous assets.

But artists putting pen to paper as a theme for their hits are not all so crude.

Eminem's future stage partner, Elton John, among others, sang about being on the receiving end of a letter starting with the infamous words Dear John.

Ian Brown
Unlucky letter: Ian Brown
The Stone Roses' Sally Cinnamon is a sugary expression of love.

"I pop, pop, pop, blow, blow bubblegum
You taste of cherryade,
There is something, hey you must show me
From what you are made
Sugar and spice, and all things nice"

The song makes it clear that Sally is the focus of the letter writer's devotion.

But the listener only finds out at the end of the song that the letter declaring love for Sally is from another girl - not Roses frontman Ian Brown - found in a jacket pocket on a train.

Travis' Fran Healy took a more literary inspiration for Writing To Reach You - a self- explanatory title.

The song was written after reading a book called Letters to Felice, which chronicles letters from Franz Kafka to his girlfriend.

The author rarely met her face to face and 99% of their communication was written.

But why do these songs stand out as memorable?

Perhaps it is the curiosity value of hearing someone's apparently secret outpourings that makes them so appealing.

Britney Spears
Page of love: Britney Spears
Or in the case of Dear John letters, perhaps the enjoyment is in the relief that knowing someone else is worse off than you.

With the advent of e-mail and text messages, what does the future hold for letterwriting songsters?

The Rah Band hinted at interstellar messaging, with an ultimatum delivered from a neglected lover to her starfighting true love in Clouds Across the Moon.

Their inter-galactic link-up breaks down before the end of the song.

But pocket pagers - as big an obsession with US youngsters as SMS messages are with their UK counterparts - were the inspiration for Britney Spears' debut hit.

When she sings "hit me baby one more time", she wants her lover to send her another pager message.

No major British hit has yet used SMS as its inspiration - but it can only be a matter of time before luv ltrs reach the 21st Century charts, whether you want them to or not.

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See also:

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14 Feb 01 | Sports Talk
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13 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
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