My song today is ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You’. This is a song by the ‘Bee Gees’ and was released as a single on 7 September 1968. It was their second Number 1 single on the ‘UK Singles Chart’ and their first US Top 10 hit.
The song is about a man who, awaiting his execution in the electric chair, begs the prison chaplain to pass a final message on to his wife. Robin Gibb, who wrote the lyrics, said that the man's crime was the murder of his wife's lover, though the lyrics do not explicitly allude to the identity of the victim. Robin said, "This is about a prisoner on ‘Death Row’ who only has a few hours to live. He wants the prison chaplain to pass on a final message to his wife. There's a certain urgency about it.
The song was written with Percy Sledge in mind to record it. Sledge did record it in February 1970 but ‘Atlantic Records’ did not issue his version in the United States at the time.
The song was the group's second UK Number 1 single and also went to Number 1 in Ireland and reached Number 8 in the United States. It was their first top-ten hit in the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ charts.
"I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You" has appeared in five versions all made from the same recording, but heard at three different speeds, faded out at three different points, and with different elements mixed forward.
In 2011, ‘The Soldiers’ recorded the song with Robin Gibb for the Royal British Legion's annual charity single. It was released on 23 October 2011 in the United Kingdom on iTunes and reached Number 75 on the ‘UK Singles Chart’. A music video to accompany the release of "I've Gotta Get A Message To You" was first released onto YouTube on 13 October 2011.
As the author of over sixty published books, the title of this song has always intrigued me. The writing, postage and arrival of a letter offer so many opportunities within a novel, along with the failure of never writing or receiving a letter communication that could change your life.
Today, letter writing would rarely be the communication method we tend to use, especially when we have ready access to phones, mobiles, computers, and trains and planes which can cross the country in a matter of hours. No more do we have to sit down at the table and compose a letter that means what we say when we can say what we mean by means of skype across the world and face-to-face and say it within minutes. It may not be many decades away before mankind is able to say what they want to whomever they want to say it without even opening their mouths and sounding a word. All future communication in our ‘Brave New World’ will probably be achievable by thought transference.
After all, that is what one’s behaviour and response pattern is comprised of. The body pattern of communication is that we think, feel and do, in that sequence. In communication terms, that translates to ‘thinks, speaks and communicates’. I reckon that before the next century arrives, science will have discovered how to ‘cut out the middleman’, making all communication with another human possible by simply ‘thinking it’. No longer will mankind have the sanctum of their private thoughts.
When I was a growing teenager in the 1950s and I wanted to get a message to a girlfriend, I couldn’t do what teenagers today do. I had to spend time and use much thought and energy to get through to my latest girlfriend. No house in the land, apart from the mansions of the wealthiest and most powerful of people had their own landline, and mobile phones were decades away from being invented. The general public had to use the Public Phone Box; a red cubicle (of the Dr Who image type). This means of public communication would be located on street corners and would either have a queue of people waiting outside in the cold, while some caller inside with a pile of tuppences to hand, was being constantly hurried by those waiting outside to get in the booth to make their call. And that was when the public phone box was working and hadn’t been vandalised.
If I wanted to get a message to my girlfriend at a time when mobiles, landlines and computers didn’t exist for the ordinary boy or girl, I could do three things only.
I could agree upon a pre-arranged time with my girlfriend to be available outside a public phone box near to where she lived and hope that the booth was empty when I rang the booth number for her to pick up. This was an almost impossible operation to achieve unless one prearranged midnight as being the hour when the booth was called. If I wanted to speak with my girlfriend before we next met, the second alternative was to walk to her house with a good excuse prepared, and just hope that her father didn’t open the door and send me packing with a flea in my ear as soon as he saw me stood on his doorstep like a wet rag that wanted wringing. The most common way to communicate with one’s girlfriend in between dates was to go to one’s room and write her a letter, and hope she’d get it the next morning (presuming her parents weren’t the first to get it, read it and burn it). If my girlfriend received my letter, I could either look forward to receiving a reply the next evening (Please note that there were three postal deliveries daily in the 1950s, in the morning, at noon and in the early evening). If I was lucky and on to a good thing, I’d get back her letter splashed with perfume before she posted it. If my luck wasn’t in though and she’d met a better-looking chap since I last saw her and had dumped me, what the postman would deliver back would be the unopened letter I’d sent her, marked ‘Return to sender’.
Many young women who had soldier sweethearts in the ‘Second World War’ years and after, mostly depended on the written letter to communicate their love for each other back and forth. Very occasionally, a pre-arranged call through the Public Telephone Box was possible. Even then, censorship of the lover’s conversation might be listened into by a prurient telephone operator who might have wanted a boring work shift ‘spicing up’. When I went to live in Canada for a few years between 1963 and 1965, it was letters from home that enabled one to feel more or less homesick
When I was planning to return home from Canada in 1965, I promised a young lady that I’d deliver a message to someone in the Liverpool area. Her previous letters had not been replied to and she was extremely worried.
When I got back to my parent’s house, I wrote to the young man in question. The young man no longer resided at the address he used to, and the upshot was that my letter was returned unopened marked ‘Not here’. Having said that I would deliver the young girl’s message, I felt obliged to do whatever I could to keep my promise.
After many enquiries over the next three months, I eventually learned where the Liverpool contact ‘might be’ as I was aware of his occupation. When I eventually identified the firm he worked at, I caught a train and travelled the fifty miles to Liverpool one afternoon. I eventually spoke with the young man at his place of employment and delivered the message from his Canadian girlfriend. He thanked me for taking the time and effort of delivering the message personally but felt it was no longer relevant.
He and the girlfriend whom I met in Canada, had seemingly been going steady (against their parent’s wishes) for nine months when suddenly, her parents and their two daughters moved to Canada. The couple had been apart for one year when I was asked to deliver the message and there had been no communication between them for the last four months. The love-sick girlfriend wanted to know what had happened and feared he might have had some bad accident.
The young man didn’t go into too much of the circumstances with me (a total stranger) but did tell me that he never passed on his new address when his parents (with whom he still lived) also moved house. The reason was that he’d found a new girlfriend whom he loved to bits and intended to someday marry.
I felt obliged to write back to the girl in Canada and tell her what I’d discovered while acting as ‘go-between’, realising that there was no way her level of disappointment could be lessened by a third party. I never received a reply from her thanking me for my efforts, but who knows the fickleness of ‘love on the hop’; she too may also have got herself a new boyfriend since I’d left Canada? They do say that those Canadian footballers come in a much larger size than their British counterpart.
Delivering that message cost me a day of my time and a good few quid in train fare and expenses, but it illustrates that in the 1950s and 1960s, if you couldn’t communicate by public phone or letter, then the only alternative was to visit in person ‘to deliver the message’. My mother used to tell me, “Billy, if it doesn’t hurt or cost, it’s probably not worth bothering doing”.
Love and peace Bill xxx