In the tale of this song, a businessman has been working overtime for a quite a while in order to make ends meet; while coming home late one night, he discovers that all the overtime had cost him his marriage. He packs up and finds another place to stay for the night. Preparing to file for divorce, he comes to work the next day and tells his secretary, Maria, to type a letter and make a copy, the original for his wife and the copy for his lawyer. He then asks Maria to have a date with him... immediately after she finishes following his business requests.
Other artists who have covered this song include Anthony Armstrong Jones, Gary Puckett, Boots Randolph, Jimmy Ruffin, Doug Stone, and Mel Tormé. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA, for above 2)
R.B. Greaves, who also wrote this song, is Sam Cooke's nephew. He had one more US Top 40 hit: "Always Something There To Remind Me." That one, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, reached #27 in 1970.
Greaves recorded this song in Sheffield, Alabama at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The studio was owned by the musicians who worked there and played on this track: guitarist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Roger Hawkins, bass player David Hood, and piano player Barry Beckett (Eddie Hinton, not an owner, played lead guitar). These musicians broke off from FAME Studios, where they played on many hits for Atlantic Records artists, and it was Jerry Wexler at Atlantic who financed their new studio. Greaves was one of several Atlantic artists sent to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, but the first to have a hit there. "Take a Letter Maria" was a very big deal for the studio, which successfully competed with FAME over the next decade, recording Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart and many other big names.
When we spoke with David Hood, he told us: "It was our first big hit. First gold record after we had gone out on our own. We were getting pretty nervous, because we thought Atlantic was going to quit using us and we were going to go broke. So it was a big relief when R.B. Greaves came along. 'Take a Letter, Maria' was just a fluke. We all thought it was good when we cut it, but we didn't think it was anything all that special. And here it becomes a hit."
The R.B. Greaves album was produced by Ahmet Ertegun, who by 1969 was running Atlantic Records. David Hood told us about working with Ertegun at these sessions: "He was a tremendous recognizer of talent and of songs. He knew music and musicians about as well as anybody on earth, but he was very hands off. He sat in the control room. While he was here he went and bought a pair of cowboy boots. He had his feet propped up on the console and had a yellow legal pad in his lap. We thought, gosh, he's making all these notes and doing all this stuff. And we go in there, and he'd just been doodling and drawing stars and stuff. So he was very non scientific. He went more on his instincts, whether he liked something or not."