Article

The Night We Called It A Day: Sinatra, to Dylan, to Letterman

Words By: Roland Ellis | May 20th, 1965

The Night We Called It A Day: Sinatra, to Dylan, to Letterman

Frank Sinatra recorded “The Night We Called It A Day” during his inaugural studio session as a solo artist on January 19, 1942. He was 27 years old.

1942 was a break out year for Sinatra. Tracks like “The Night We Called It A Day” pushed him to the top of both Billboard andDown Beat magazines’ male singer polls. Moreover, his appeal to the teenage market--to teenage girls, in particular (or ‘Bobby Soxers’ as they were called at the time)--revealed a whole new audience for popular music.

“The Night We Called It A Day”, written by Matt Dennis and Tom Adair, found its ideal counterpart in Sinatra, whose voice draws a fine balance between soul, heartache, and gusto on the recording. Also notable is Alex Stordahl’s musical direction: the string arrangements match Sinatra’s delivery to a tee.

Take heart, then, Mr. Letterman, for although Bob didn’t provide you with any press-pap, he did mark the end of your stellar career with an iconic send-off ballad; and, in-turn, he tipped his hat to you in true Bob Dylan style.

A review in Billboard called the track “a sparkling example of song”.

Last night, Bob Dylan performed “The Night We Called It A Day” on the second to last instalment of The Late Show With David Letterman. Letterman introduced Dylan as follows:

“I spend a lot of time driving around with my son, Harry... Sometimes you take an opportunity to teach him or reinforce things for him, and I say, ‘Harry, what are the two most important things to know in the world?’ He says, ‘One, you have to be nice to other people.’ And I say, ‘What’s the other?’ He says, ‘The greatest songwriter of modern times is Bob Dylan.’”

Can’t argue with you there, Harry.

Watch Bob Dylan perform "The Night We Called It A Day" above.

It does seem strange, then, that Dylan played someone else’s song for his final performance on Letterman’s show; and, let’s face it, probably his final performance on national television period. Undoubtedly the performance will have disappointed many fans. I mean, who wouldn’t have loved to see him send Letterman off with a timeless classic of his own--“Forever Young”, or “When The Ship Comes In”, or “God Gave Names To All The Animals”? We all know this list goes on forever.

But Bob doesn’t roll that way, and we should all understand that much about him by now. That is, he’ll evade everyone’s expectations every single time. And that’s because he’s not like the rest of us. He’s not even like other pillars of the entertainment industry, à la David Letterman: one could’ve reasonably expected Dylan to relent a little when Dave walked to the stage to say thanks before drawing the curtain on the night’s show; after all, the two men are both bona fide icons of their respective industries, and you’d think that if Dylan was going to find some common ground--going to be even slightly chummy--with anyone on camera, it’d be with a fellow icon who’s upon the precipice of saying fare thee well to the entertainment world. But, no. In fact, Dylan resembled something of a frightened animal when Letterman approached him and offered his hand. There was no indication of the pair’s history of working together on the Late Show; and there was certainly no passing over a ‘job well done’ salute on Dylan’s behalf. Instead, Bob tottered awkwardly after the singing was done, and he glared at the camera, the crowd and Letterman alike, with that famously unknowable aspect that seems to say, “This is all alien to me.”

Bob’s son, Jakob Dylan, once remarked upon telling his Dad that he liked British punk band The Clash. Bob apparently responded with little more than a grunt. But the following morning, Jakob spied his Father reading the liner notes to a Clash album, and he knew that was his way of showing that he cared. Take heart, then, Mr. Letterman, for although Bob didn’t provide you with any press-pap, he did mark the end of your stellar career with an iconic send-off ballad; and, in-turn, he tipped his hat to you in true Bob Dylan style.

What more could a man ask of a higher power?


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