Six decades after its release, the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Nite” stands as the most beloved doowop ballad ever recorded. Its closest competitors for that title – the Penguins’ “Earth Angel” and the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” – are pillowy clouds of high, otherworldly voices and delicate arrangements.
“In the Still of the Nite” is more grounded. In fact, it was literally created underground, in the basement of New Haven’s St. Bernadette’s church. A plaque commemorating the song’s recording can be seen in the church today.
Lead tenor Fred Parris was in the US Army at the time he wrote the song (while on guard duty in Philidelphia) and he returned to New Haven to record it with the other Satins during one of his weekend leaves, just before his unit was shipped to Japan.
It was not a sophisticated production – a reel-to-reel tape recorder and three microphones were set up to record the group, accompanied by piano, drums, and a saxophone setting a wistful, nocturnal mood.
Of course with doowop classics the memorable hooks aren’t instrumental but vocal, and “In the Still of the Nite” is no exception – not only does it have excellent “sh-doot shooby-doo”s, but repeated “I remember”s and “doo-bop doo-bah”s.
It was not a particularly huge hit at the time, peaking at Number 24 on the pop charts (though it was a top five R & B hit), and a version by Nineties vocal group Boyz II Men placed much higher in 1992, reaching Number 3. (This isn’t the only Fifties classic that’s happened to – Los Lobos’ “La Bamba” topped the charts in 1987, something Ritchie Valens’ original didn’t come close to doing).
But the Five Satins’ “In the Still of the Nite” stayed with listeners after its first chart run finished. It became a minor hit again in the early Sixties when it showed up on oldies collections and has since appeared on every doowop compilation worth its salt.