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In the Still of the Night (1937)

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Origin and Chart Information
“The song’s long, seventy-two-measure refrain was put together in such a strange fashion...that [Nelson Eddy] found the number difficult to sing and asked Cole to create another one for him in its place.”

- Charles Schwartz

Rank 209
Words and Music Cole Porter

The 1928 Broadway production of Rosalie starred Marilyn Miller and featured music by operetta composer Sigmund Romberg with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and additional songs by George and Ira Gershwin.

When a film of the musical comedy was proposed in 1937, Cole Porter was assigned to write new music and lyrics. None of the songs from the original Broadway production were used in the film, but Louis B. Mayer chose to keep the outdated book. According to Roy Hemming in his book The Melody Lingers On: The Great Songwriters and Their Movie Musicals Mayer also hired one of the book’s coauthors as producer with instructions to salvage as much footage as possible from an aborted 1930 film starring Marion Davies. Despite Porter’s music, “The film that finally emerged remains one of the dullest, drippiest, most overproduced spectacles that MGM or anyone else made in the ‘30s,” says Hemming.

 

More on Cole Porter at JazzBiographies.com
 

“In the Still of the Night” was introduced by Nelson Eddy in Porter’s Rosalie. The plot of the film revolved around a college football hero (Eddy) and a Vassar student who is really the princess of a small country (Eleanor Powell). They fall in love and when Eddy visits her country, believing her to be a peasant, the king (James Gleason) and queen (Edna May Oliver) agree to help him find the woman he loves.

Eddy objected to “In the Still of the Night” because, as Charles Schwartz reports in Cole Porter: A Biography, “The song’s long, seventy-two-measure refrain was put together in such a strange fashion...that he found the number difficult to sing and asked Cole to create another one for him in its place.” However, instead of deferring to the performer’s request, Cole decided to play the song for producer L.B. Mayer and let him decide. Mayer was so touched by the song’s sentimentality that he cried. Obviously the song stayed and Eddy not only willingly sang it but made it a part of his repertoire. The song rose to number 10 on Your Hit Parade for a week.

Cole’s lyrics express the thoughts of a lovestruck young man yearning for his girl:

In the still of the night
as I gaze from my window
at the moon in its flight
my thoughts all stray to you.

Porter’s song (not to be confused with the Fred Parris song of the same title recorded by the Five Satins or the song of the same title composed by Hoagy Carmichael) charted three times, the last in a doo-wop version:

  • Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1937, Jack Leonard, vocal, #3)
  • Leo Reisman and His Orchestra (1937, Lee Sullivan, vocal, #9)
  • Dion and the Belmonts (1960, #38)
 

Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954
 

“In the Still of the Night” was featured in the 1946 film version of Porter’s life, Night and Day starring Cary Grant. Singer Della Reese’s first release in 1953 was “In the Still of the Night” and sold half a million copies. The song, performed by the Neville Brothers, was included in the 1991 CD Red, Hot and Blue to benefit AIDS research and relief.

Vocal groups have favored the song; it’s been recorded by the Lettermen, the Four Freshmen, the Four Lads, the Four Tops, the Singers Unlimited and others. Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Betty Carter, and Charles Mingus all recorded the tune. Recent jazz interpretations have been recorded by saxophonist Eric Alexander, vocalists Carol Sloane, Stacey Kent, and Jane Monheit, guitarist Bruce Forman, and pianists David Kikoski and Bill Charlap.

More information on this tune...

Philip Furia
The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists
Oxford University Press; Reprint edition
Paperback: 336 pages


(Author/educator Furia offers an analysis of the song’s lyric in his book on great lyricists.)

- Sandra Burlingame

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