Cole Porter wrote this for the 1932 Broadway musical play The Gay Divorce, in which Fred Astaire sang it. It was the last Broadway show for Astaire and the last show that he performed with his sister, Adele.
This song also featured in the 1934 film version, The Gay Divorcee (The Hays Office, Hollywood's self-censorship body, determined that the original title was too controversial). The film starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their first leading roles together. This song was the only Cole Porter musical number used from the Broadway production. Another song from the film, "The Continental," by Conrad and Magidson, won the Academy Award for Best Song that year.
Porter was coy about the origins of this song. Once, he claimed it was inspired by Moroccan drums and an Islamic chant he heard while cruising down the Nile River in Egypt. Another time he said the idea struck him on a Saturday night at New York's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and he finished it while stretched across the sands in Newport, Rhode Island, the next day. Then again, he penned it specifically for Fred Astaire's heartsick character in The Gay Divorce.
In 1946 a film was made about Cole Porter's life called Night and Day. The biography, starring Cary Grant as a heroic and heterosexual Cole Porter, was not accurate in detail or character, but Porter did not object.
Other artists to cover this include Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, The Temptations and U2.
This version of Cole Porter's standard was Frank Sinatra's first hit as a solo artist - he recorded it four times between 1942 and 1977. He was perhaps the most famous singer of Porter's songs, but the composer didn't always like Sinatra recording his music as he tended to change the lyrics.
The eclectic British duo Everything But The Girl, best known for their Dance hit "Missing
," covered this song and released it as their debut single in 1982. Guitarist and songwriter Ben Watt
spoke with us about how their version was an unintentional release. "It became a single by default," he said. "We went into the studio and recorded three songs. Cherry Red [their record label] chose 'Night and Day' as the A-side. We were quite casual about the record. Didn't really mind what they chose." He went on to explain why they actually picked to record that tune, "I had grown up listening to jazz because of my dad. I was interested in chords, harmony. 'Night and Day' just happened to be a song that me and Tracey [Thorn] both knew. We threw it down because there were 15 minutes left on the end of the session and it seemed churlish to waste them."
Not everyone was convinced this song would be a hit. When Porter first played the music for his pal Monty Woolley, a Broadway actor who starred in the stage and film versions of The Man Who Came to Dinner, Woolley supposedly criticized: "I don't know what this is you are trying to do, but whatever it is, throw it away. It's terrible."
This song opens with one pulsing note played 35 times over the first eight bars, building up to "a voice within me keeps repeating 'you, you, you.'"
Singer and pianist Steve Ross told NPR: "There is a slight maddening quality to these repeated notes I think that sets you up for the obsession that is in the song. I never really thought about that. I think that's true."
The Temptations' version of this song was featured in the 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt.
Irving Berlin, Porter's friend and fellow composer, wrote him an ecstatic letter praising this song - a far cry from Monty Woolley's withering criticism:
"'Dear Cole, I am mad about 'Night and Day,'" Berlin wrote. "And I think it is your high spot. You probably know it is being played all over. And all the orchestra leaders think it is the best tune of the year, and I agree with them. Really, Cole, it is great. And I could not resist the temptation of writing you about it. As ever, Irving.'"
Columnist Ring Lardner - who also served as editor for The Great Gatsby's author F. Scott Fitzgerald - spoofed the song's famous lyrics in a piece for The New Yorker. The original lines, "Night and Day, under the hide of me, there's an oh such a hungry yearning burning inside of me," were twisted a few different ways:
Night and day, under the fleece of me, there's an, oh, such a flaming furneth burneth the grease of me.
Night and day, under my dermis, dear, there's a spot just as hot as coffee kept in a Thermos, dear.
Night and day, under my tegument, there's a voice telling me I'm he, the good little egg you meant.
Actor John Barrowman performed this song in the 2004 Porter biopic, De-Lovely
(named for the Porter song
Before he became famous, a young Frank Sinatra performed as a singing waiter at a popular roadhouse in New Jersey called the Rustic Cabin, where he would first cross paths with Cole Porter. Charles Pignone, Vice President of Frank Sinatra Enterprises, explained in a Songfacts interview:
"He was singing at the Rustic Cabin, and he was told by one of the musicians that Cole Porter had just walked in. And to impress Cole Porter he said to the guys, 'Let's Do 'Night and Day.'' And he was so nervous that he proceeded to forget the words to 'Night and Day,' and he was embarrassed, but I think Cole Porter was very gracious about it.
And in later years Frank would say that when he got to know Cole Porter, Cole Porter would kid him about that and say, 'I remember that night when you forgot the words to 'Night and Day.'"