Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week) is a pop ballad written by Jule Styne with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, and published in 1944.
The song is one in a long line of songs about “Saturday night.” At least since the turn of the twentieth-century, American pop music has had a romance with “Saturday night.” The words, “Saturday night” have been used in dozens of lyrics, and are a kind of shorthand for a romantic concept that encompasses romance, or the absence of romance, or rebellion, or freedom.
In 1916, for example, George W. Meyer, Sam M. Lewis, and Joe Young wrote a song for the brash and extroverted Al Jolson in the musical extravaganza, Robinson Crusoe Jr. entitled, Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday On Saturday Night. It was one of the earliest popular lyrics to use the term “Saturday night” for connotation (It seems that even on a desert island, Saturday night was when one could cast off one’s inhibitions.) The song was a hit and other “Saturday night” songs followed.
One of those songs was Sammy Cahn’s and Jule Styne’s Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week), in 1944. The 1940s, in fact, produced several “Saturday night” songs, including Glenn Miller’s Juke Box Saturday Night, Kay Kyser’s Saturday Date, Louis Jordan’s Saturday Fish Fry, and Duke Ellington’s Saturday Night Function, to name just a few. From that early Jolson number to the Cahn/Styne anthem popularized by Frank Sinatra, such songs were bracketed by two world wars and characterized by simple romantic notions. It seems that the “Saturday night” of that period suggested something wistful (Saturday night was a night when lonely lovers pined), or escapist (Saturday night was a night when one left the troubled world behind), or naughty (Saturday night was a night when men drank and caroused to excess, and women – even dignified ladies – let loose).
In his book, Sammy Cahn’s Rhyming Dictionary, Sammy Cahn tells how he wrote the lyrics for Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week). He notes:
“It was Saturday night in New York City, Jule Styne and I each had suites in the Gotham Hotel on Fifth Avenue at 55th Street. It was seven-ish when my sister Florence and her husband, Jules Goldberg, dropped by. Seeing me in my pajamas and robe, my sister asked, apprehensively, ‘Aren’t you feeling well?’
‘I’m feeling fine!’
‘Then why aren’t you dressed to go out? It’s Saturday night!’
“I replied, ‘Saturday night is for civilians. I can go out Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but if you’re in show business, Saturday night is the loneliness night in the week.’ They seemed to understand and left. I walked to the piano and in the key of F, I picked out the melody, all the while singing to myself:
Saturday night is the loneliest night in the week
‘Cause that’s the night that my sweetie and I
Used to dance cheek to cheek
“The title, which in this case is the entire opening line, was the cadence for the second line and for the entire song.
“I waited patiently until ten-thirty for Jule Styne to return to the hotel. When he got in, I went to the piano and played the first two lines. He said, “It’s marvelous. Let’s finish it.”
“Styne went to the piano, and I went to my trusty portable typewriter.
“Since we had the long eight-bar line of eighth notes, we went almost immediately to the quarter notes and half notes for the next part:
I don’t mind Sunday night at all
‘Cause that’s the night friends come to call
And Monday to Friday go fast
And another week is past
“Then the welcome sound of returning to the first eight and eighth notes:
But Saturday night is the loneliest night in the week
I sing the song that I sang for the memories I usually seek
“And picking up the sound of the second eight for the end of the song:
Until I hear you at the door
Until you’re in my arms once more
Saturday night is the loneliest night in the week”
And the song was born – and as the old saying goes – the rest is history.
The recorded “history” of the song in 1945 consisted of four separate versions. By far, Frank Sinatra’s version was the most popular, followed in turn by recordings by Sammy Kaye, Frankie Carle, the Four King Sisters, and Woody Herman.
Sinatra’s version reached #2 on the Billboard charts and remained on the charts for twelve weeks. Sammy Kaye’s recording peaked at #6 and was on the charts for seven weeks. Pianist and orchestra leader, Frankie Carle followed in the #8 spot and was popular for eight weeks. Appearing on the charts for only a week were the renditions by both the Four King Sisters (#15) and by Woody Herman and his Orchestra (#18).
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Frank Sinatra, Axel Stordahl and his Orchestra Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week)
(Swing and Sway with) Sammy Kaye, vocals by Nancy Norman Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week)
Frankie Carle and his Orchestra, vocals by Phyliss Lynne Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week)
Four King Sisters, Buddy Cole Orchestra Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week)
Woody Herman and his Orchestra, vocals by Frances Wayne Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week)
Al Jolson Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?