Arguably the greatest song in the history of doo-wop was written while its composer had a brief leave from the military and was recorded in the basement of a church in New Haven, Connecticut, and the guy who played the saxophone solo was a parishioner there. You couldn’t make this stuff up, as they say.
Yet there is no doubt that “In The Still Of The Night” (or “Nite,” as it was also labelled) cast a long shadow over one of the predominant genres of music at around the time of the birth of rock and roll. Credited to the Five Satins, a group, like so many other harmony groups, that would change members with regularity as the years passed, the two-verse-and-a-bridge song, released in 1956, captures the wonder and awe of romance with stunning efficiency.
The fellow responsible for writing the song, Fred Parris, recalled to NJ.com back in 2010 how he found out about the song’s success while stationed in Japan, and how it gained him some mitigated credibility with his buddies. “I had told a couple of the guys I was stationed with about ‘In the Still of the Night’ — that I was a recording artist and so forth,” Parris remembered. “But no one really believed me. And one Saturday morning on the radio, the disc jockey said, ‘We’ve had so many requests for this song. It’s called “In the Still of the Night.” It’s by the Five Satins. But we don’t have a copy of that, so we’re going to play one by Ella Fitzgerald.’ Which, of course, was different from our song, ‘In the Still of the Night.’”
Regardless, Parris’ composition has long surpassed, in terms of popularity, the Cole Porter “In The Still Of The Night” song that Fitzgerald recorded and that DJ played. As for the parishioner, Vinny Mazzetta, his bluesy solo helped set the template for the rock and roll sax turns for years to come. (Mazzetta, who passed away last year, didn’t even reveal to his family for years that he was the guy who performed the solo.)
As for the lyrics, they are simple, but they get the job done. It takes very little for us to visualize the starry night in May with the two young lovers entwined. Apparently, Parris was writing about a former girlfriend who didn’t return, and there is a bit of that melancholy hanging about the melody. In the final verse, there is real desperation in Parris’ exhortations: “Well before the light/ Hold me again/ With all of your might/ In the still of the night.”
Of course, describing a song like “In The Still Of The Night” doesn’t do it any justice. Just as the circumstances behind its recording could never have anticipated its magic. No, with this one, it’s best to hold your significant other with all your might, look up at the moonlit sky, and sway along to the Five Satins immortal contribution to the doo-wop canon.