Why Are There So Many Night Owl Songs?

In the movie Baby Driver, Deborah (Lily James) tells Baby (Ansel Elgort) she admires his name because lots of songs are named for “Baby,” but she only knows one named “Debra,” by Beck. Baby knows one, too, “Debora” by T Rex, which singer/songwriter Mark Bolan makes rhyme perfectly with zebra, as he could speak British English fluently.

There are however at least ten songs about women named Debra or a variation thereof, including “Debbie Gibson is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child” by Mojo Nixon. Rol, a witty but “humble music fan from the north of England,” documents them in one his blog posts: http://histopten.blogspot.com/2015/11/my-top-ten-debra-deborah-debbie-songs.html
ThinkstockPhotos 182256667 300x200 - Why Are There So Many Night Owl Songs?
When I started researching songs with “Night Owl” titles, I felt a little like Baby’s girlfriend Deborah at first. You mean there’s more than a couple of Night Owl songs? Right off the top of my head I could only think of Gerry Rafferty’s “Night Owl” and the Tony Allen “Night Owl,” mainly because I knew the Frank Zappa cover.

But I soon began to feel like Mickey as the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia. Where did all these “Night Owls” suddenly come from? Doo wop Night Owls, folk rock Night Owls, hip hop/R&B Night Owls, country Night Owls, even heavy metal Night Owls. Eventually, I found more than two dozen different Night Owl songs written and recorded since 1951 — and I’m sure there are more out there. In fact, “Night Owl” song titles outnumber any other titles with the word “owl” in them, such as “Hoot Owl Boogie,” “Screech Owl Blues” and “Owl Lullaby.” (I’ll be writing about these in a separate post soon.)

So when I saw an article titled “What’s the Most Common Billboard Hot 100 Song Title?” I thought for sure “Night Owl” would make an appearance. To get mentioned in the article though, the title had to make the Chart at least 10 times since 1958. The number of times “Night Owl” made the Billboard Hot 100 — at least in the U.S., since the UK, Australia and Europe have their own charts — is exactly once.

Australia’s Little River Band’s “Night Owl” reached #6 in 1981. At least two other times though, “Night Owl” was the backside of a single that made the top 100: “Night Owl Blues” by the Lovin’ Spoonful was the backside of #2 “Daydream” in 1966; “Night Owl” by Wilson Pickett was the backside of #59 “Hey Joe” in 1969.

The earliest “Night Owl” I could find is a blues tune written in 1951 and sung by Lowell Fulson. The most recent “Night Owl” I’ve turned up is an electronic pop tune by Joseph Mount’s Metonomy released in 2016.
Between 1951 and 2016 at least 24 additional “Night Owl” songs have been recorded and released.

One of the reasons there are so many Night Owl songs is the versatility of the concept. We generally think of night owls as people who stay up late and party a lot. That’s the most popular theme for a Night Owl song. But there are several others.

The Night Owl Lovers

The first use of the term “night owl” to refer to a person was in Shakespeare’s poem “The Rape of Lucrece” in 1594.

… his guilty hand pluck’d up the latch,
And with his knee the door he opens wide.
The dove sleeps fast that this night-owl will catch
 

Human night owls may not be predators exactly, even metaphorically, but the term fits those who appreciate the freedoms of the night, the liberty to do things that daytime people are constrained from doing, to be expressive and maybe a little wild. This is the general profile of a night owl. They love the night time.

That’s what the “Night Owl” songs by these artists are about: James Taylor (folk rock), Eric Bellinger and Kito Dickson (R&B/hip hop), and even Foxes and Vaya Con Dios (pop).

But not everyone wants to be a night owl. Artists in some songs complain about being night owls, how it’s a condition their lovers have forced on them. Lowell Fulsome (blues) says, “I’m just a night owl, I roam the streets from dusk to dawn” looking for his lover. Kathleen Kruze (country) stays up all night. She can’t “get no rest,” she’s “just that obsessed.” The female voices in Little Big Town (country) sing, “I’m a night owl waiting for you.” And Metonomy’s Joseph Mount (pop) taunts his girlfriend who’s on the verge of leaving, “So let’s imagine right now/I’m just another night owl.”

Night Owl Druthers

Then there are the songs about how to deal with your night owl lover. Tony Allen (doo wop) has decided he’s had enough and tells his woman, “I know what you been putting down” and “there’s no reason to hang around. So long night owl/Be on your merry way.” Wilson Pickett (soul/R&B) issues his “night owl” a similar warning: “You gonna stick your key in my door/And you find it don’t fit no more.”

Gene Chandler scolds the teenage night owl he knows. “Your daddy told you long ago/Not to come in late no more.” Madeline Adams (folk/indie) tells her sweetie, “I don’t want to be a night owl,” and “if you love me in the day time darling/I never will.” Glen Shorrock and the Little River Band mock the night owls but can’t deny that “They have a need to rock and roll.”

The Night Owl as a State of Mind

These are the conventional night owl narratives. In 1979 though Gerry Rafferty took the night owl concept and shaped it to explain his own internal struggles. Gerry started to give the night owl concept an added dimension. Other artists who followed Rafferty would do the same, like indie folk artist Mree, rapper Phora, and death metal band Sadist. They may not even use “Night Owl” in their lyrics. The Night Owl becomes a symbol of their inner world.

The Night Owl Call to Action

Though as different from each other in style as a hawk from a handsaw, folk song writer Steve Tilston and Philo heavy metal band Slapshock have written songs about taking a stand. Steve Tilston’s lyrics use the night owl’s return as the signal to the people of Northeast England in the 10th century that it’s time to take arms and resist the Viking invaders. Slapshock likens its pride and resilience to the ubiquity of owls in the night.

The Wise Night Owl

Howard Tate wants advice on how to get his girl back in his soulful “Night Owl.” John Sebastian pays tribute to the famous Night Owl Cafe in Greenwich Village where he and others like James Taylor got their start in the ’60s. And folk singer Willie Aames actually wrote a song about a real night owl, capturing a rat to enjoy eating back in his nest.

I’ve written detailed entries about each Night Owl song, including the three instrumentals, in groups of chronological order. Also, here is a list of the songs by genre hyperlinked to their entries:

Blues

1. (I’m a) Night Owl – (1951) Lowell Fulson (blues)
2. The Sad Nite Owl – (1961) Freddy King (blues)
3. Night Owl Blues – (1966) Lovin’ Spoonful (blues)

Country

1. Night Owl – (2011) Kathleen Kruze (country)
2. Night Owl – (2012) Little Big Town (country)

Doo Wop

1. Night Owl – (1955) Tony Allen (doo wop)
2. Night Owl – (1961) Gene Chandler and The Dukays (doo wop)

Folk Rock

1. Night Owl – (1972) James Taylor (folk rock)
2. Night Owl – (1979) Gerry Rafferty (folk rock)
3. (The) Night Owl – (1981) Little River Band (folk rock)
4. The Night Owl Café – (1993) John Sebastian (folk rock)

Indie Folk

1. Night Owl – (2011) Madeline Adams (indie/folk)
2. Night Owls – (2013) Mree (indie/folk)
3. The Night Owl Homeward Turns – (1997) Steve Tilston (folk)
4. Night Owls – (2014) Tiny Ruins (indie folk)

Pop

1. Night Owls – (1990) Vaya Con Dios (pop)
2. Night Owls Early Birds – (2014) Foxes (pop)
3. Night Owl – (2016) Metronomy (pop)

R&B Hip Hop

1. Night Owls – (2014) Phora (R&B/hip hop)
2. Night Owl – (2014) Kito Dickson (R&B/hip hop)
3. Night Owls – (2014) Eric Bellinger (R&B/hip hop)

Soul/R&B

1. Night Owl – (1969) Wilson Pickett (soul/R&B)
2. Night Owl – (1968) Howard Tate (soul/R&B)
3. Night Owl Walk – (1965) Booker T. & the MG’s (soul/R&B)

Night Owl Songs – 1951-66 Early Classics

1. (I’m a) Night Owl – (1951) Lowell Fulson (blues)
2. Night Owl (1955) – Tony Allen (doo wop)
3. Night Owl – (1961) Gene Chandler and The Dukays (doo wop)
4. The Sad Nite Owl – (1961) Freddy King (blues)
5. Night Owl Walk – (1965) Booker T. & the MG’s (soul/R&B)
6. Night Owl Blues – (1966) Lovin’ Spoonful(blues)


1. (I’m a) Night Owl – (1951) Lowell Fulson

This 1951 song is the earliest instance I can find of an American popular song with night owl in the title. “I’m a Night Owl” follows the 12-bar blues AAB formula in structure and message. As such, the song is a series of short one line verses repeated twice, followed by a refrain, with both parts rhyming. Lloyd Glenn is credited as the author, but like most blues writers he borrows heavily from traditional blues lyrics and concepts.

His lover is gone and he’s got the blues again. If that wasn’t bad enough, the whole world seems to be turning on him. It’s a typical blues trope. Complaints about duplicitous, unfaithful or treacherous women told with self-pity and whining about loneliness are staples of early blues. Bluesman Robert Johnson (1911- 1938) was particularly fond of writing these kinds of songs.

One of the nice features of this recording is the lush saxophone work of Stanley Turrentine. Ray Charles also played with Lowell Fulson in the early 50s and that is likely him on piano. In the 2004 film Ray, Lowell Fulson is portrayed by blues musician Chris Thomas King.

In the “Encyclopedia of the Blues,” Gerhard Herzhaft says, “[Lowell Fulson] along with T-Bone Walker is the creator of modern California blues. He is still close to his rural roots, although he borrows many inflections form jazz and the ballad … Lowell Fulson recorded some of the most beautiful postwar rural blues.”

Fulson is probably best known today for his raunchy 1970 recording of John Lennon’s “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”

In 1965 BB King recorded the same song. He sings the original two verses but drops the last two, which underscored the artist’s neediness. King ends his version with a sly question to his lover about whether she’s happy or not, because he doesn’t think they’ll ever meet again.



 
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2. Night Owl (1955) – Tony Allen

In Lowell Fulsom’s song he’s not a night owl by choice. The only reason he’s “roaming the streets from dusk to dawn” is to find his lover. She’s made him codependent.

The title of Tony Allen’s “Night Owl” refers to his lover, not himself. She’s a night owl — and he doesn’t call her that as a compliment. The piano bangs out chords in triplets. Somebody shouts “who, who” like an owl every now then. The backup singers wail “Ooh, Night Owl” and “shoo bee wah.” When Tony Allen greets his lover, there’s no self-pity or even chastisement in his message. He’s not having any more of it. “So long, night owl,” he says. And he sends her on her “merry way.”

The story behind “Night Owl,” according to what Tony Allen himself wrote on the Doo-Wop Society of Southern California’s website in 1999 is that:

“Night owl was a name my ‘mother’ Nila had for me because I was always staying out late at night. I turned that phrase into a little song and recorded it on July 4, 1955, at Master Recorders in Hollywood, with The Chimes singing behind me, even though they were billed on the record as The Champs. [The Chimes were a doo-wop group from Brooklyn.]

“Thanks to “Night Owl” being such a big hit around Southern California and other parts of the country, I’m always singing somewhere these days. I’ve sung at five or six Doo-Wop Society shows. My favorite was the time Gaynel Hodge, Richard Berry, Eugene Church and I formed a vocal group together, a one-time-only group, and sang our asses off.”

There are at least six covers of this song.

Dick Dale and the Del-tones covered it on their first album, “Surfer’s Choice,” in 1962. Although arguably the first surf rock tune, “Let’s Go Trippin,'” appeared on this album, the Del-tones version of Tony Allen’s “Night Owl” stays true to the doo-wop style.

Frank Zappa loved doo-wop and he does a brilliant cover. Ray Collins’ falsetto chorus reminds me of “Stay” by Maruice Williams and the Zodiacs.

Tim Timebomb made this cover in 2012 sounding like a mafia don telling his Molly she’s off the goombah payroll. She can still work at the Bata Bing but now she’s got to find a pole to dance with.


Here are some of the notes Tim Timebomb included with his cover:

“This was done at Ryan Foltz’s place in Cleveland with the Ohio Ramblers. I’ve heard three versions of this song, and I dig them all. One is by Tony Allen and The Champs from the 50s, another is by Bobby Paris, which was a Northern Soul hit in the 60’s, and there’s a great reggae version by Horace Andy from the early 70s. Our rhythm is like the Bobby Paris version, and our chorus is more like Tony Allen’s. If I ever met Horace, I’d ask him what version he was influenced by. I feel this is the kinda song where everyone adds something to every new version as it floats down the river of music. Our addition to the ‘Night Owl’ was our call and response Outro.”

There is also a cover by Soul Hooligan from 1997

Sorry for all the covers I’ve embedded. I like them all for different reasons. And I just love the song.


 
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3. Night Owl – (1961) Gene Chandler and The Dukays

In 1961, Eugene Dixon (Gene Chandler) wrote both “Night Owl” and the song he’s best known for, “The Duke of Earl.” But according to an interview, Dixon gave to Tom Popson of the Chicago Tribune in 1985, Dixon had a problem. Even though “Night Owl,” which Dixon had recorded with the Dukays on the Nat label, was climbing up the charts, Nat was not interested in recording “Duke of Earl.” Vee-Jay Records was interested in buying “Duke of Earl” from Dixon, but because he was under contract to Nat, he wouldn’t be able to record the song for Vee-Jay — unless he quit Nat and came over to Vee-Jay. Which he did. Because his Nat contract did not permit him to record under his own name for any other label, he adopted the name Gene Chandler (after his favorite actor, Jeff Chandler). Vee-Jay also purchased the rights to “Night Owl,” and the song is available on both labels.

Like Lowell Fulsom’s “Night Owl,” Dixon’s song with its sassy tenor solo is a doo-wop classic, with a . But the year is 1961 and R&B lyrics are more urban now. The night owl in Dixon’s song is a teenage boy, being scolded by another family member, probably his younger brother or sister. He doesn’t listen to his father because he thinks “that he’s a square.” The instrumentation is minimal, with a simple, steady drum beat. The lyrics are conversational with lots of words repeated and nonsense syllables in the backup chorus.

The Tren-Dells, a white Louisville, KY group, also recorded Chandler’s tune in 1962. There’s a sassy tenor sax at about 1:30.


 
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4. The Sad Nite Owl – (1961) Freddy King

In 1961, Freddy King’s instrumental “Hide Away” reached number five on the R&B charts and even busted into the pop charts at number 29. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jeff Healey would later record covers of it — Healey’s version was nominated for a Grammy in 1988. After the success of “Hide Away,” King’s producer at Federal Records encouraged him to record more instrumentals. Over the next three years, King and his band recorded 30 instrumentals including “The Sad Nite Owl.”

Freddy King is often referred to as one of the “Three Kings” of electric blues guitar, along with Albert King and B.B. King. Freddy King was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.

In his book, “Obsessions of a Music Geek,” Ted Drozdowski writes: “King’s instrumentals crossed over more effectively than those of his blues contemporaries because of his compositional intellect. He wove a sophisticated sonic tale into the 12-bar form, employing arrangements rather than jams, with hooks melodies, bridges and distinct movements.”

Guitar teachers often start students who want to learn the blues with King’s “Sad Nite Owl.” It’s a standard instrumental for many blues groups.


 
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5. Night Owl Walk – (1965) Booker T. & the MG’s

As the house band for Stax records in the 1960s, Booker T. & the M.G.’s laid down a distinctive funky soul backup heard on hundreds of R&B recordings by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus Johnson, Bill Withers, Albert King and others. They also recorded instrumentals under their own name, featuring Booker T on the Hammond organ. Booker T explores the Hammond’s rich, breathy tones, playing short, staccato bursts, sustained chords over multiple bars and nice little blues and jazz runs up and down the keyboard.

Most people know the band’s 1962 hit, “Green Onions.” If you like “Green Onions,” you’ll like the “Night Owl Walk.”


 
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6. Night Owl Blues – (1966) Lovin’ Spoonful

Back in the early 1960s, The Lovin’ Spoonful began appearing at the Night Owl Cafe on West 3rd Street in the Village. The music they and others were playing started to be called folk-rock, reflecting the changes folk music was undergoing under the influence of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and others.

Unlike the Byrds and other folk artists of the time, such as Joan Baez and even bands like the Jefferson Airplane, the Spoonful’s music carried no political messages. This and the quality of their music appealed to the producers at NBC-TV and Screen Gems Productions and they tried to persuade the band to come to Hollywood to be in a TV series revolving around life as members of a youth rock band. The Spoonful prized their freedom too much and declined. So Hollywood created the Monkees instead.

The “Night Owl Blues,” a sassy blues instrumental, is a tribute to the Spoonful’s Greenwich Village venue. It was released as the backside of the Spoonful’s big hit, the old-timey, laid back “Daydream,” which reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966. John Sebastian opens with some sweet harmonica riffs, followed by a couple of bluesy guitar choruses by Zal Yanovsky while Joe Butler keeps time on drums. Many years later, in 1996, John Sebastian would write another song dedicated to the Night Owl Café, this time including lyrics. (See #13)

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Night Owl Songs – 1968-90

7. Night Owl – (1968) Howard Tate (doo wop)
8. Night Owl – (1969) Wilson Pickett (soul/R&B)
9. Night Owl – (1972) James Taylor (folk rock)
10. Night Owl – (1979) Gerry Rafferty (folk rock)
11. (The) Night Owl – (1981) Little River Band (folk rock)
12. Night Owls – (1990) Vaya Con Dios (pop)


7. Night Owl – (1968) Howard Tate

In this Night Owl composition, the singer can’t find his woman again. But he shares his troubles with the “wise night owl” and pleads for “Help.”

Howard Tate croons the lyrics in a jumping, funk style, punctuating his lines with shimmering falsetto trills. He gets solid backup from a rhythm section of guitar, electric bass, vibes, organ, piano and drums; and a horn section — trumpets, saxes and a trombone — that stabs and wails in counterpoint riffs and chords, James Brown style.

The song’s authorship is credited to his producer Jerry Rogovoy, who also wrote “Time is on My Side,” made popular by the Rolling Stones. Rogovny also co-wrote “Piece of my Heart,” made famous by Janis Joplin.

Log Cabin Music Critic Rob O’Connor has said the fact “that Howard Tate isn’t a household name is a true crime. Tate is on par with the greatest soul singers, from Marvin Gaye to James Brown.”


 
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8. Night Owl – (1969) Wilson Pickett

Don Covey’s lyrics to this Night Owl effort start from the same premise as Tony Allen’s — his lover is a night owl — but Wilson Picket isn’t sending her off on her “merry way.” Not just yet. She had better “get her program right” though. “Night Owl” was the backside of Pickett’s cover of “Hey Joe,” which reached #29 on the R&B charts and #59 on the pop charts in 1969

Electric guitar and Hammond organ play riffs on top of each other, while the horn section wails long sustained chords against Picket’s staccato phrases. Sometimes it’s just Pickett and the drums working together building momentum until the horns, organ and guitar come back full force. You’ll recognize this sound if you’re a Blues Brothers fan. After being mentioned several times in the first Blues Brothers film in 1980, Wilson Pickett appeared in the 1998 Blues Brothers 2000. He performed “634-5789’ with Eddie Floyd and Jonny Lang. “If you need a little lovin’, call on me.”

By the time Wilson Pickett recorded “Night Owl,” he had already enjoyed huge success with “In the Midnight Hour” (1965; #1 R&B, #21 US pop) , “Land of 1,000 Dances” (1965; #1 R&B, #6 US pop) and “Mustang Sally” (1966; #6 R&B, #23 US pop).

 
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9. Night Owl – (1972) James Taylor

Taylor’s “Night Owl” is the first instance I’ve found of an artist taking ownership of the night owl mantel. He’s not complaining about anyone he knows being a night owl. He himself is a night owl and he’s proud of it. Most folks “like the good day time,” but not Taylor.

Taylor was inspired to write “Night Owl” when he performed at the Nite Owl Café in Greenwich Village. He, like John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful, also played there in the mid-1960s.

There are several covers of the song, including by Cleo Lane (1971), his older brother Alex Taylor (1971), Carly Simon — who would soon be married to Taylor for a short time — with backup vocals by Paul and Linda McCartney (1972), Pamela Knowles (1996), and Ile Kaillio (2007).

 
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10. Night Owl – (1979) Gerry Rafferty


In his lyrics to “Night Owl,” which reached #5 on the UK Billboard chart, Gerry Rafferty evokes the same sense of disconnect and alienation as in his major hit “Baker Street,” released two years earlier in 1977 (#2 US #3 UK).

When night comes he feels alone and looks for solace in the bars and alcohol and “in a space and time” of his own. Losing himself in dreams and shadows he finally regains his sense of life’s flow. We feel the longing in Rafferty’s isolation. But the flow of the music undercuts the alienation of the words and we lose ourselves in the Rafferty’s warm vocal, the swaying rhythm, and Raphael Ravenscroft’s sweet Lyricon solo (he had played the signature sax riff on “Baker Street”).

In a significant way with Rafferty, artists start to bend the concept of the night owl to reflect their very personal struggles and perceptions. The words “night owl” don’t even appear in the lyrics. Rafferty uses night owl to describe a state of mind. Until now artists had used the night owl only as a metaphor in a commentary. The night owl was an external phenomenon. In Rafferty’s song, night owl represents an existential dilemma.

The folk rock rhythm and chords, too, are a departure from the blues tradition that had framed Night Owl songs until now. The underpinnings of the 12-bar blues are gone. The song switches between major and minor chords in the verse, with most of the chorus in two major chords. Rafferty was greatly influenced by his Scottish folk traditions, the Beatles and Bob Dylan, as well as other UK bands of the 70s.

 
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11. (The) Night Owl – (1981) Little River Band

Remember “Night Owl” by the Dukays? That song upbraids a teenager for being out night-owling all the time. When songwriter Graeham Goble wrote his “Night Owl” for the Australian group Little River Band many years later, he might have been thinking about the further adventures of this kid. Gerry Rafferty’s “Night Owl” might have also come to mind.

Little River Band’s night owl is slightly delusional, but that’s his fate. He finds a bar where he can hang out, show off his dance moves and win the girl. He stays up late and works his craft. He’s determined he’ll score because, well, he’s hot stuff. But he’s not really. And besides, he has a “need to rock and roll.”

The situation in Little River Band’s tune is not that different from Gerry Rafferty’s need to resolve his alienation.

When Michael H. Little reviewed “The Night Owl” in a recent Vinyl District column, he called the song “the idiot love child of the Eagles and REO Speedwagon and worth its weight in chuckles.” Little is right about the lyrics, of course, but I think it was Goble’s intent to make his night owl somewhat pathetic and a bit laughable — and mortal. Note the sexual double entendre in the second line.

“The Night Owls” was on the Billboard US pop chart for 20 weeks in 1981 and reached #6.

 
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12. Night Owls – (1990) Vaya Con Dios

The Night Owl song written in 1990 by Belgian singer/lyricist/producer Dani Klein and the other two members of her trio, Vaya Con Dios, takes a sociological perspective. The night owls have been sleeping all day but they “come alive at night” “dressed to the nines.”

The men and women hang out in groups where they calculate moves on their next victims. Sexual seduction is one goal, but so is getting high. Women seduce men with sex, men seduce women with drugs. But a good time is had by all. It’s what you do at night. Party time.

The lyrics are playful but cynical. Most importantly, it’s a great dance tune. “Night Owl” is up-tempo jazz rock played with brassy gypsy flair. Of course, there’s the obligatory owl chorus: “Who, who, who, yeah.” In the video, sultry Dani Klein in a tight yellow dress sways and dances and there’s no doubt everybody’s loving it.

Another song on the same album as “Night Owl,” “Nah neh nah,” which reached #7 on the Belgium (Flanders) charts, has a sassy jazz rock gypsy groove similar to “Night Owl.” “Night Owl” peaked in Belgium at #42.

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Night Owls Songs – 1993-2011

13. The Night Owl Café – (1993) John Sebastian (folk rock)
14. The Night Owl Homeward Turns – (1997) Steve Tilston (folk)
15. Night Owl – (2010) Sadist (death metal)
16. Night Owl – (2010) Willie Ames (folk)
17. Night Owl – (2011) Kathleen Kruze (country)
18. Night Owl – (2011) Madeline Adams (indie/folk)


13. The Night Owl Café – (1993) John Sebastian


John Sebastian channels his nostalgia for the old Night Owl Café at the corner of 3rd and MacDougall in Greenwich Village into a bittersweet lament to its demise. It’s a tribute song, much like John’s classic “Nashville Cats” was a tribute to the “Mothers and the music of Nashville.” Sadly though, since 1993 there’s been “no more music at the Night Owl Cafe.”

The song reflects John’s casual relaxed attitude and has a nice folk – country – rock style, plus one of John’s sweet harmonica solos.

 
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14. The Night Owl Homeward Turns – (1997) Steve Tilston

It’s probably only fortuitous that Steve Tilston’s song is a Night Owl song since the title is simply the first line of his folk song about the English resistance to Viking invaders in the 10th century: “The night owl homeward turns.” For the only role of the night owl is how it marks the dawn by returning to its nest, signaling the English to gather forces and defend their land.

In this way, though, it’s like one other Night Owl song I found, Slapshock’s “Night Owl,” which I’d also say is a call to action song. Of course, though the themes are similar, the two songs and artists couldn’t be more different from each other in style.

In the video, Maggie Boyle sings the song accompanied by Steve Tilston.

Tilston’s “Night Owl” is often sung by people protesting for rights, as in Ireland and in the women’s rights movement in the U.S.

 
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15. Night Owl – (2010) Sadist

[This is the full album; “Night Owl” starts at 22:10]

The Italian techno-progressive death metal band Sadist has composed a terrifying Night Owl. If you’re not that familiar with death metal or its many sub genres (me, not much), this music will take a few listens to get used to. But Sadist’s “Night Owl” is quite interesting.

As the “Night Owl” track on the album begins, the first thing we notice is how the rapid broken chord figures sounding like chimes that underscores most of the album has stopped. But the atmosphere isn’t any less chilly for the change. We are entering a blizzard. Following a short jazz chord progression, vocalist Trevor Nadir and the band explode with sound. He screams blood-curdling grunts and snarls against a free-for-all of pounding cymbals and drums, guitar chords and ascending four note runs. Eventually, the drums and rhythm section assert a triple meter rhythm.

The intensity is too much to keep up though and soon, the force of that explosion dissipates and there’s a brief calm. The bass plays rapid figures against synth chords and light cymbal drumming. We start to discern an eerie voice calling out. It must be the night owl. But then, chaos returns. We hear snarling vocal lines again, the triple rhythms are back, accompanied by increasingly frantic drumming.

Finally, guitar and synth join in harmony for a sweet melodic passage which for a brief moment makes us wonder if the song will transition to something soft and jazzy. No, here comes chaos again, though with less force this time. It fizzles quickly, as Nadir’s snarls end with a roar and the sound of the night owl returns. Underneath the owl’s moaning we hear the bass play little eighth note patterns and the drummer taps his cymbals lightly with drumsticks.

Just as the music presents a varied and often violent soundscape, the words paint a world of unsettling images and extreme contrasts. Sadist’s “Night Owl” is about lost innocence, a theme which is to death metal what nostalgia is to country music. Though others dance and rise and fall to the music, the song of the bent man is gone. Maybe because he’s dead. The only song in this world is the night owl’s. It kills everything. Just another day in death metal hell.

Even if you listen very carefully and though the lyrics are in English, it’s impossible to make them out. This, however, suits the band’s intent, to make you focus on the sounds and the feelings they arouse, not cognitive understanding. Each cut of the album, including “Night Owl,” is a journey through strange unpredictable soundscapes.

Gerry Rafferty created a Night Owl world that represented his state of mind. In that sense what Sadist has created is no different. Sadist creates its sonic world by pushing limits. That spooky night owl chant we hear is a reminder of our mortality, our lost innocence and even the meaninglessness of life. Darkness, despair, pessimism? Well, the band’s name is Sadist.

Here’s another take: In 2010, the Encyclopedia Metallum reviewed the concept album Season in Silence, which “Night Owl appears on and said this: “The album consists of a dazzling exhibit of inner torments as Sadist free[s] the very spirit from your being through a graceful aggression of chugged guitars, popping bass and smooth, corporeal solo work. … ‘Night Owl’ flows like a stream of cold melancholy through a room full of low-key 80s progressive rock dreamers, their music store branded t-shirts tucked deep into their clean blue jeans, their mullets and thin ‘staches flexing against the inevitable breakout of monstrous thrashing that Sadist will often explode into out of almost nowhere.”

 
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16. Night Owl – (2010) Willie Ames

Willie Ames’ 2010 “Night Owl” is the only Night Owl song I’ve ever heard that’s actually about a night owl. Ames was probably inspired by the film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, also released in 2010. His music video includes clips from the film.

Ames finger picks his acoustic guitar, singing about the night owl looking for a kill, “it’s rodent’s guts he’s hungry to spill.” The night owl soars through the air, locates his prey with the help of his powerful hearing, scoops up a rat and brings it to his nest. Afterward, the night owl displays some anthropomorphic behavior (asserting his unwillingness to “share” with others, “getting laid,” “providing a nest”) and gets a “full days rest” after a “hard night’s work.”

It’s not clear what’s become of Willie Ames the past couple of years. There are no posts to his website or his Facebook after 2015, but his Night Owl single and the other tunes on his Night Owl album were well received by critics.

 
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17. Night Owl – (2011) Kathleen Kruze

Kathleen Kruze is a night owl because she thinks about her lover all night long. She can’t “get no rest,” she’s “just that obsessed.”

The song opens with a sugary piano played Nashville style that reminds you of Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t You Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” There’s no signature piano hook, though, like the one Hargus “Pig” Robbins created for Gayle’s song, which really made that song work so well. Plus, the country piano keeps morphing into cocktail jazz.

“Night Owl” has a bluesy vibe and while Kruze’s voice is smooth and silky, we’re not convinced she’s troubled much about her night owl obsession. Her voice is so soothing you get the impression she’s not complaining about her lover’s lack of attention. More likely she’s doing a little buttering up, testifying about her devotion, putting her insomnia to good use.

I was shocked that the YouTube video had received only 6 views since it was posted in 2014. It’s a sweet little tune.

 
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18. Night Owl – (2011) Madeline Adams

Madeline, a folk singer from Athens, Ga, doesn’t want to be a night owl. Night owl life is a party scene and she wants no part of that. It bores her.

Her voice on “Night Owl” is clear and strong. She sounds a like a southern Carly Simon, but back in the 70s at least, Carly didn’t mind being a night owl. Madeline, on the other hand, will go to bed with someone who loves her but basically, she’s there to sleep. Not party.

She also has a lot of “don’ts” for her lover, the first being that she doesn’t want to be a possum. That’s a curious comparison, I thought. I looked up possum in the Urban Dictionary and found two definitions that might fit here. The top definition of possum is “a great drinking game where players have to sit in a tree, like a possum and consume a pack of 24 beers, preferably Speights [a New Zealand beer], until they fall out of the tree from drunkenness.” I could see how that’s not a party game she’d want to repeat often. She also says “I don’t want to act a fool,” so there’s that too.

And there’s also this possum definition: “The act of a girl faking she is asleep after 1-2 drinks at a party to avoid the creepy guy in the corner that has been trying to get with her all night.”

I am labeling this the definitive anti-Night Owl song.

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Night Owl Songs – 2012-16

19. Night Owl – (2012) Little Big Town (country)
20. Night Owls – (2013) Mree (indie/folk)
21. Night Owls – (2014) Eric Bellinger (R&B/hip hop)
22. Night Owls – (2014) Slapshock (heavy metal)
23. Night Owls Early Birds – (2014) Foxes (pop)
24. Night Owls – (2014) Tiny Ruins (indie folk)
25. Night Owls – (2014) Phora (R&B/hip hop)
26. Night Owl – (2014) Kito Dickson (R&B/hip hop)
27. Night Owl – (2016) Metronomy (pop)


19. Night Owl – (2012) Little Big Town


Country music vocal group Little Big Town’s “Night Owl” is a sentimental ballad about lovers yearning to be reunited. The man drives home while the woman waits patiently. They’re both so anxious.

Even before the first strum of the acoustic guitar, the female voices (Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman) softly coo “ooooo oooo” like night owls. Then both male and female members of the group start an exchange of verses. The male voices (Jim Westbrook and Phillip Sweet) are first, singing about counting the signposts and landmarks they pass as they drive home. They’re hoping to see their sweethearts soon. The female voices reply, they’re dreaming of their lovers, waiting and staying up like night owls until they see the “bright headlights coming over the hill.”

 
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20. Night Owls – (2013) Mree

Mree (Marie Hsiao) is an indie folk singer-songwriter from New Jersey. Her voice on “Night Owl” from her album Winterwell is soft, relaxed and dreamy.

With images of the sun and darkness, she explains how in her heart she resolves the tension between having feelings for someone and realizing those feelings are not mutual. Her words are vague but I take them to mean that she withdraws to her inner world, her creative space. The light like the truth is harsh, so she finds solace in shadows and darkness, where she can work things out. She is the night owl, loving the darkness. But she admits that her retreat does not change the fact she will still love the person who caused these conflicted feelings.

Under her breathy singing, Mree strums a gentle ostinato figure while shimmering background voices and sometimes mellow horns fade in and out, creating a wispy, dreamy mood. Mree likes to create moods. She explains her approach to creating Winterwell: “I wanted these songs to be able to put you in a state of mind where you can not only hear, but feel the music … To place you, for example, in the middle of the hollowed echoes and beautiful bitterness of winter in the middle of the summer.”

“[This music] shows Mree taking a new direction,” said music critic Leah Herrick on his blog when Winterwell was released in 2013. “Overall I loved Winterwell. I was surprised by the difference between Mree’s previous work and this new sound, but it was a risk that paid off. Mree shows a creativity and self-awareness that’s sometimes beyond more seasoned musicians. Winterwell leaves very little to be desired and I would recommend it to any one in the mood for something a little different.”

 
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21. Night Owls – (2014) Eric Bellinger

Songwriter and singer Eric Bellinger, Jr has written songs for Usher, Drake, Justin Bieber and others.

He sings “Night Owls” on his mixtape Choose Up Season. The song has a sexy R&B beat and some nice falsetto improvising in the chorus. Bellinger’s night owl is one of those party guys that Vaya Con Dias sings about and Madeline doesn’t want to have anything to do with.

Since the song is part of a mixtape, though, you have to consider it in context. Things always start off superficially for night owls, but after a whle, things can settle in and get “awkward,” as Bellinger puts it in his notes to the mixtape:

“The single life in LA is wild. And the ‘CHOOSE UP’ can get very real. After you choose up, it’s time to leave the club and get your car from [the] ‘VALET’ before continuing the turn up with a ‘HOUSE PARTY’ at the crib. If things go right, you know she’ll [be] pulling out the ‘NIGHT BAG’ and talking to ‘THE PILLOW’ while the two of you become ‘NIGHT OWLS.’ However, it’s usually agreed upon in the beginning that the two of you will ‘NEVER BE TOGETHER’ and that things are just ‘CASUAL’ until one of them catches feelings and things instantly get ‘AWKWARD.”

 
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22. Night Owls – (2014) Slapshock

Filipino heavy metal band Slapshock sings a pulsating hard driving “Night Owl” full of angst and rebellion. They “just keep coming back.” In spite of what people think, what the media says, their dreams are alive. They are strong, “ready to attack.” They will “never die.” They are “Like a dark owl in the night.”

As a call to action, Slapshock’s “Night Owls” is in some respects like Steve Tilston’s “The Night Owl Homeward Turns.” But Tilston’s message is somber, fateful and earnest. The people are called to arms, but reluctantly. “We must push tears from our eyes.” The “young men’s talk is brave” but “their courage [flows] from a jug.” There’s no circumspection for Slapshock. Their words are full of defiance, purpose, pride and righteousness. In Jackie Dosmanos’ review of “Night Owl” for ABS-CBN News, he said, “On the title track, the singer declares, ‘We will survive/We will never die.” It would appear schlock coming from any other artist. Slapshock, however, make it sound like survival is their collective destiny.”

 
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23. Night Owls Early Birds – (2014) Foxes

Foxes is the stage name of Louisa Rose Allen, a British singer, songwriter and actress. Her “Night Owls Early Birds” could have been on Eric Bollinger’s mixtape Choose Up Season if he wanted to include a female perspective. Carl Willfott in Idolator describes her music as “darkly elegant synth-pop.” She calls it “experimental pop.”

Foxes’ “Night Owl Early Birds” is a savvy, world-weary dance tune. She starts by describing the embarrassment of being a night owl early bird leaving someone’s flat to “do the walk of shame” home “in your best dress.” There’s a nihilistic inevitability about how night comes and “we’re all under the ground/can’t be found.” The “save me save me” chorus is catchy. But the plea is rhetorical. She wants to let the fire burn and “feel the embers warming.” She wonders why she looks like she’s “wear for worse?” Redemption someday maybe.

 
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24. Night Owl – (2014) Tiny Ruins

Tiny Ruins is an indie folk ensemble from Auckland, New Zealand, led by Hollie Fullbrook.

Their “Night Owl” is a soft, slow paced peaceful meditation on arriving “home,” where there’s no fear of “the clambering day,” of “laying low,” “forgiveness,”

And the sound of my heart turning the days
Bitter blood into a haze

Time to rest and unwind after a bad day at the office. The song is so restful you might fall asleep, the way a lullaby lulls you to sleep.


 
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25. Night Owls – (2014) Phora

Phora (Marco Archer) raps a Night Owl song of pride, defiance and social commentary. The words “night owl” don’t appear in his song, but what night owl means to him is the same as what night owl means to Hollie Fullbrook and Tiny Ruins: a time to unwind.

Before he begins his “Night Owls” video, we see Phora walking down some poorly lit urban street past parked cars and empty sidewalks. He gives us a short intro, saying, “Yeah, it’s that late night early morning type shit, you know. Just got to get some shit off my chest.” Then he begins. He raps about how he’s not interested in “fancy cars” or the “system” or “the haters.” He can take care of himself, too. He can “fill a clip and pull the trigger so quick” “that you won’t hear the click.” Archer has creds. He’s survived a stabbing and two shootings.

 
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26. Night Owl – (2014) Kito Dickson

Kito Dickson and his crew want to “make it happen” and “party like we’re nineteen” because he’s a “Night Owl.”


 
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27. Metronomy – (2016) Night Owl

I hear a breakup song in Metronomy’s “Night Owl.” The narrative is mocking, sarcastic and petulant. But there’s a lot of good lines: “I’ll take the feelings that I wish I never had/You take your favorite band, that shit was always bad.” His girlfriend is on the verge of leaving him, so he taunts her about getting right back into the night owl scene. “So let’s imagine right now/I’m just another night owl.”

It’s wicked funny and you get the impression Mount isn’t the only one slinging verbal assaults around. He likely gets back as good as he gives. It’s probably what gives him the energy to keep punching out word thrusts.

I’m not sure I agree completely with the Guardian’s Phil Mongredien’s assessment of Summer 08, released in 2016, the album that “Night Owl” appears on. But he explains the premise and makes some good points:

“Joseph Mount looks back to 2008 and the release of Nights Out. The resulting Summer 08 captures that record’s sleek, quirky synthpop with an eye out for sincerity, saving it from falling into that nostalgic trap of lacking self-awareness, but simultaneously keeping it away from real revelations. …

Witty, sarcastic self-awareness and winking nostalgia have always been a part of the Metronomy equation. Mount once called Nights Out “a half-arsed concept album about going out and having a crap time,” after all. … After starting strong, Summer 08 fizzles out, much like a failed night on the town — especially a failed night for someone already eight years removed from their prime “going out and having a crap time” nights. The beats start to slow and blend together, much like nights at the club remembered years later. But remembering shitty nights at the club has its own special sort of self-schadenfreude. Mount has a good time mocking himself and loving the music, and both come through loud and clear.”

I do agree that Mount has a good time mocking himself and loving the music.

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