Single Stories: The Drifters, “Save the Last Dance for Me”
58 years ago today, The Drifters went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with a song that had been relegated to B-side status until a certain Bandstand man steered things in a different direction.
Written by Doc Pomus, “Save the Last Dance for Me” was – according to his friend and onetime collaborator Lou Reed – penned by Pomus on his wedding day, inspired by the fact that he was in a wheelchair and watching his new bride dancing with their guests. When The Drifters recorded the track with producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, it was originally going to be the B-side of the song “Nobody But Me,” but that plan changed as a result of Dick Clark listening to the single and declaring “Save the Last Dance for Me” to be the stronger song.
As history reveals, Clark was spot-on with his impression of the song, since it went on to top the Hot 100, but what was arguably more important for The Drifters at the time was that it helped cement their commercial success in the wake of Ben E. King’s departure from the group. Of course, King was still in the group when the song was recorded, so his absence required some fancy footwork to keep The Drifters from missing out on the momentum that the single provided them, but they pulled it off well enough to score several additional top-10 hits, including “Up on the Roof,” “On Broadway,” and “Under the Boardwalk.”
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