Sep 03

JOHNNIE RAY – “Such A Night”

Popular12 comments • 2,641 views

#19, 30th April 1954

“Such A Night” stands out because it gets its content over via beat and flow rather than melody. The backing singers kick the song off on a do-be-do-be pattern with a drum kick at the end and this hardly varies through the whole track. Ray creates the interest by the way he moves his vocal around the beat, sometimes riding it for emphasis (“Now she’s gone! Gone! Gone!”), sometimes wandering off into morning-after reverie (lots of knowing “ooh”s and “oh”s, and a marvellously taken “I – I reminisce..”). It’s charming, fruity, sophisticated pop – probably the track that’s grown on me the most of everything I’ve heard so far.



  1. 1
    wichita lineman on 16 Jun 2008 #

    If Chuck Jones’ leering wolf was a song, this would be it.

    Such A Night was first cut by Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters and later by Elvis on his first post-army album Elvis Is Back, a beautiful false dawn and, I reckon, his best LP.

    Johnnie Ray had hits on the ‘race’ – or rhythm & blues – chart, which made him more of a groundbreaker in retrospect than Bill Haley, whatever Rock Around The Clock’s contemporary cinema-trashing claims.

    Maybe it was because McPhatter had given these two mischief makers such a lipsmacking start, but both Johnnie and Elvis play fast and loose with Such A Night, adding their own oohs, mmms, and slow intakes of breath to up the ante. “When we kissed… I had to fall in love” is such a deliciously leading line!

    I love the fact this went all the way to number one in the UK (it only made 19 in the US) between the spectacularly chaste pairing of Doris Day and David Whitfield; that alone goes some way to explaining Ray’s pre-rock impact. I wouldn’t call it sophisticated, and I don’t think anyone would have described it that way in 1954.

    Unsurprisingly, the BBC banned it.

  2. 2
    DJ Punctum on 17 Jun 2008 #

    As indeed they also banned another controversial top ten hit from the same year – Jo Stafford’s “Make Love To Me!” (exclamation mark as writ-TEN on the la-BEL ten points Uncle Ted). What was she thinking? Eh? Eh?

  3. 3
    rosie on 23 Jul 2008 #

    As I’m going through an exercise in playing all of them from the beginning, in order, one after the other, it screams at me that this is the first manifestation in the charts so far of what is to come. The pop I grew up with, in an embryonic form.

  4. 4
    Matthew on 10 Jan 2009 #

    What is this unlistenable noise? Kids’ll buy any old lascivious trash these days. I remember when the charts were just fields.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 19 Mar 2009 #

    Light Entertainment Watch: Johnnie Ray rarely appeared on British television. This show didn’t survive;

    SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE LONDON PALLADIUM (VAL PARNELL’S …..): with Bruce Forsyth, Johnnie Ray (1957)

    These episodes exist in the archives;

    VAL PARNELL’S SPECTACULAR: The Johnnie Ray Show (1957)

    VAL PARNELL’S SPECTACULAR: The Johnnie Ray Show (1960)

  6. 6
    intothefireuk on 3 Sep 2009 #

    Over a slight but incessant sax/vocal backing with minimal percussion Johnny prowls around like a dog on heat. Great vocal presence on this with Rays’ nuances to the fore – a pretty radical reading considering what’s gone before in this listing.

  7. 7
    Eli on 20 Dec 2010 #

    Johnnie Ray really deserves to be rediscovered – he’s another relic like Guy Mitchell or Frankie Laine these days, but his vocal style was really quite pioneering.

    Forget Elvis and Heartbreak Hotel, *this* must have sounded quite groundbreaking at the time, although I guess Ray’s earlier records had helped accustom British listeners to his style (he was heavily influenced by Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday et al). It was also quite subsersive for the time – a straightforward exclamation of sex on record must have been quite something in 1954. A fantastic record.

  8. 8
    Erithian on 31 Jan 2012 #

    You’ve never seen a performance quite like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYZlRThaoxw&feature=related

    It must have been difficult to tear your eyes from him as you never knew what was coming next! Can take or leave the song itself though…

  9. 9
    Mutley on 31 Jan 2012 #

    Re 8: This seems to be one of those tongue-in-cheek performances required for TV in the mid 1950s from the more outrageous male singers – the kids musn’t get too sexually charged. In this category, well-known examples are Elvis on TV singing Hound Dog …to a dog, or only being filmed from the waist up. I would think that Johnnie Ray’s stage performances away from the TV were something to behold. I don’t think he was helped much by the orchestra in this clip, who seem to come from a different planet.

  10. 10
    chrisew71 on 28 Mar 2018 #

    Curious to hear this and see how it compares to the Elvis version, which is pretty great.

  11. 11
    slideyfoot on 16 May 2020 #

    I’m a big fan of The Drifters (although I’m much too young to have heard them in their hey day, given I was born in 1981, I’ve listened to my fathers Greatest Hits tape as far back as I can remember), so this doesn’t have a chance displacing the version I know in my saturated Drifters brain. Good tune, though.

    Also interestingly that this is the first track so far I haven’t been able to find on Spotify. I’m not sure if that’s because Johnny Ray (not sure of the right spelling, he pops up as Johnny Ray on the YouTube version I found: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CI0wLT73nuY ) is obscure, or just licensing.

    EDIT: Scratch that, my WiFi was being stupid. Ray’s version is on there after all. In fact, two versions by him are on there. ;)

  12. 12
    Gareth Parker on 9 Jun 2021 #

    Good little write up from Tom, probably a 6/10 for me.

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