In Memoriam pays tribute to those who have left this world, and the songs they left us to remember them by.
Stationed at an Army barracks in Philadelphia, Fred Parris found himself longing for his fiancée. It was the mid-50s, and Parris was the lead singer for a doowop group called the Five Satins, so he wrote a song about their time together. Later, while on leave, he and the group holed up in the basement of St. Bernadette Church in New Haven to record “In the Still of the Night.”
The track, sometimes stylized as “In the Still of the Nite” or “(I’ll Remember) In the Still of the Nite,” was a modest hit for the group, reaching number 24 on the Billboard chart in 1956. Parris, who died in January at the age of 85, never became a household name, and he never married that girl. But this song has endured as one the defining tracks of the ‘50s, earning him accolades from around the music world upon his passing.
Parris’ ballad of youthful longing, love, and nostalgia has been a staple of oldies format radio for decades, often topping New York station WCBS-FM’s list of the greatest songs of all time. As both a love song and a remembrance of things past, it presents an idealized version of how people like to remember the ‘50s.
The track has been covered by countless artists, from Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famers to Philly soul legends. It has been performed in stadiums, on The Tonight Show, and on Broadway. The song can even be heard in many films such as Dirty Dancing and The Irishman. Here’s a breakdown of some of the best (and one of the worst) covers.
Dion – In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins cover)
Many doowop groups covered “In the Still of the Night” in the ‘50s and ‘60s, including the Crests, the Fleetwoods, and the Tokens. Dion recorded this silky smooth take for his 1961 debut solo record Runaround Sue. The recording comes across as slicker than the original, probably because it wasn’t recorded in a church basement. It showcases the power of Dion’s voice, even without the help of the Belmonts.
Santo & Johnny – In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins cover)
Santo & Johnny are best known for their 1959 instrumental guitar hit “Sleepwalk.” They later released an instrumental version of “In the Still of the Night.” Given that two tracks contain the same I-VI-IV-V chord progression – common on many of the songs of the era – this cover plays like an alternate version of “Sleepwalk.” Listening to the songs side by side, it’s tough to tell them apart.
Joe Simon – In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins cover)
R&B singer Joe Simon had a career that seemed to defy geography. He was born in Louisiana, started his career in San Francisco, recorded for the Nashville-based Sound Stage 7 label, Chicago’s Vee Jay label, and later worked with Philly soul magnates Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. During his stint with Sound Stage 7 he released a cover of “In the Still of the Night” as the closing track to his 1969 album The Chokin’ Kind. Simon expertly recreated the song as an R&B tune, highlighting the natural connection between doo wop and classic soul.
The Beach Boys – In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins cover)
Several obituaries about Fred Parris noted that the Beach Boys covered the song, so with an exasperated sigh I guess I have to write about it too. Alas, the track is actually pretty terrible (and I say this as a lifelong Beach Boys fan). The group recorded it for their oddly named 1976 album 15 Big Ones, a collection of covers and originals of middling quality. The Beach Boys struggled to find their sound in the ‘70s as their lives were ravaged by substance abuse and mental illness. This track seems to play victim to the band’s troubles. Decades later, it is still cringeworthy to listen to. Play it at your own risk.
Debbie Gibson – In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins cover)
At the height of her popularity, teen sensation Debbie Gibson included a cover of “In the Still of the Night” on a live concert video. With her performance, Gibson took the ‘50s classic and somehow made it totally ‘80s. Dressed like she skipped out of a high school production of Grease, and backed by a band that looked like it stole a case of Bon Jovi’s hairspray, Gibson belts out a powerful take on the song. While time might make the presentation seem dated, her voice transcends the limits of the ‘80s.
Boyz II Men – In the Still of the Night (The Five Satins cover)
Several decades after its original release, the Philly soul quartet Boyz II Men took “In the Still of the Night” back to the near top of the charts. They did so while channeling doowop’s street corner spirit, with an a cappella rendition of the track. It was recorded for a Jackson 5 biopic and later included on the group’s Cooleyhighharmony album. The Boyz’ perfect harmonies helped introduce the classic song to a whole new generation of listeners.