On a Sunday afternoon in February 1956, four guys got together in a New Haven church basement and recorded a song their leader wrote, “In the Still of the Nite.” They called themselves the Five Satins, though only four of them sang on the record. And they decided to misspell “night” so as not to confuse it with Cole Porter’s song of the same name.
The song would outlive all of them. Rolling Stone ranked it 90 on its list of “the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” It has appeared in major films, at Disneyland, in video games, on cover versions, on a television series. And it is credited with starting the “Doo-Wop” sound — along with the Turbans’ “When You Dance.”
The song “can still raise chills however you happen to hear it,” wrote Christopher Arnott in The Daily Nutmeg.
The Five Satins’ doo-wop sound didn’t come out of nowhere. According to Arnott,
The Five Satins were far from the only doo-wop group in New Haven. (Many of the New Haven doo-woppers were high school students who practiced in school hallways or near the basketball courts, enthralled by the sound and success of the Satins.)
Doo-wop started out primarily as an African-American sound, popular among urban teenagers on the East Coast, Detroit and Chicago. In The Complete Book of Doo-Wop, authors Dr. Anthony Gribin and Dr. Matthew M. Schiff argue it had five parts: (1) vocal music made by groups with (2) a wide range of vocal parts mostly from bass to falsetto; (3) it includes nonsense syllables and (4) a simple beat and few instrumentals, as well as (5) simple words and music. One reason for the lack of instrumentation: the kids couldn’t afford instruments.
New Haven doo-wop groups included The Scarlets, The Nutmegs, The Chestnuts, The Premieres, Four Haven Knights, Roger & The Travelers, The Academics, the Barries and Nicky & The Nobles.
The doo-wop scene persisted in New Haven into the 1960s and beyond. Punk rockers revived it in the 1970s.
Story of the Five Satins
The group formed in 1954 with six original members led by Fred Parris. The other five were Lewis Peeples, Stanley Dontche, Ed Martin, Jim Freeman and Nat Mosley. Dortche and Peeples left — too soon. Al Denby joined them and soon after recorded “In the Still of the Nite.”
The members of the group came and went. some joining the military. Parris actually wrote “In the Still of the Nite” as an Army recruit traveling by train from Philadelphia to New Haven. He wrote it about a former girlfriend he hoped would come back to him. She didn’t, he shipped off to Japan shortly after recording the song, and when he returned he discovered someone else leading his group. He went to court and they reached a settlement. Various iterations of the group performed until the 1990s.
You can only hear four voices on “In the Still of the Nite,” but they called themselves the Five Satins because of the trend. Groups of four like the Four Lads and the Four Coins fell behind groups of five like the Five Crowns and the Five Royals.
In the Still of the Nite
They recorded it in the basement of St. Bernadette Church in the East Shore neighborhood of New Haven. Their manager, Marty Kugell, owned a small label called “Standord.” Kugell put “In the Still of the Nite” on the B-side of a single, “The Jones Girl.” His friend Vinny Mazzetta served as an altar boy at the church and played the saxophone. Mazzetta convinced the pastor to let the group record the song. Mazzetta played the saxophone on the record, and they used the church piano, drums, a guitar and a cello. But because the group lacked a full backup band, Parris convinced them to fill in with “shoo-doop-shoo-be-doop.”
The song got some play in Connecticut, then it was released on a bigger, New York label. It hit No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart. But it had legs, and stayed on the charts for years.
It also hung around New Haven.
“When the rock-nostalgia club Boppers ruled the downtown College Street dance club scene back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the closing-time anthem every night was The Five Satins’ ‘In the Still of the Night’,” reported Arnott.