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Save the Last Dance for Me

by

The Drifters



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song tells the story of a couple at a dance. He tells his wife that she is free to dance and socialize with other men throughout the evening, but she should not forget that she is going home with him. Inspiration for the song came from a very personal experience.

The songwriting team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman wrote this song. In Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus, Alex Halberstadt explains that one night, Pomus found a wedding invitation in a hatbox, and back came his most vivid memory from his wedding: watching his brother Raoul dance with his new wife while Doc, who had polio, sat in his wheelchair. Inspired, he stayed up all night writing the words to this song on the back of the invitation. Shuman had played him a soaring Latin melody that afternoon, and he wanted the words to sound like a poem translated into English - something along the lines of Pablo Neruda. By the second verse, a hint of jealousy and vulnerability creeps in with the lyrics, "If he asks if you're all alone, can he take you home, you must tell him no." Pomus ended his night of songwriting by writing down the words that would become the title: "Save The Last Dance For Me."
Pomus and Shuman were writers for Atlantic Records, where they worked with the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who produced this song. Leiber and Stoller were great with Latin rhythms, which is what they used here and what Pomus had in mind with the flow of the lyrics. Leiber and Stoller were using The Coasters to record most of their songs at the time, and had asked Pomus and Shuman to write songs for The Drifters.
The Drifters lead singer for this song was Ben E. King, who a few months later started scoring solo hits with "Spanish Harlem" and "Stand By Me." When they were recording the song Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun told King how the song was inspired by Pomus watching his wife dance with another man at his wedding, and King drew on that story to wring out the emotion in his vocals.
In a rare bonehead move by Atlantic Records honchos Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, they relegated this song to the B-side of another Pomus/Shuman composition called "Nobody But Me." It was Dick Clark who broke the song when he flipped the single and played "Save The Last Dance" on his show American Bandstand. The song gave The Drifters their only #1 hit.
It was three years after his wedding to Willi Burke that Doc Pomus wrote this song. Willi was a tall and beautiful actress - quite a contrast to the rotund Pomus. They had a daughter together, prompting Pomus to focus on songwriting, which was much more stable and lucrative than singing. Their marriage fell apart in the mid-'60s, when they separated.
For a while, Lou Reed lived in the same neighborhood as Doc Pomus, and they became close friends. Reed has said that Pomus' daughter gave him the wedding invitation containing the words Doc started writing for this song.
Emmylou Harris in 1979 and Dolly Parton in 1984 have had Country hits with this song, and Michael Bublé reached #99 in the US with his version. Later in 1960, the Texas soul singer Damita Jo released an answer song called "I'll Save The Last Dance For You," which hit #22 in the US.
A 1974 version by The DeFranco Family, who had a big hit the year earlier with "Heartbeat - It's a Love Beat," hit #18 in the US, and was their last hit.
The Drifters
The Drifters Artistfacts
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More songs written by Mort Shuman and/or Doc Pomus
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More songs that were hits for more than one artist

Comments (10):

On April 28th 1974, "Save The Last Dance For Me" by the DeFranco Family featuring Tony DeFranco entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #84; and on June 16th, 1974 it peaked at #18 (for 1 week) and spent 13 weeks on the Top 100...
The family group had two other top 100 hits; "Heartbeat - It's A Lovebeat" (#3 in 1973) and "Abra-Ca-Dabra" (#32 in 1974)
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Although "Lonely Avenue" is well researched and complete it suffers from the same stereotypes as many biographies of disabled people--namely, the authors consider their subjects' disabilities to be a tragedy. A more realistic perspective of Doc Pomus and his disability is explored by Ken Emerson in his 2006 book "Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era." Emerson portrays Pomus as a savvy and assertive singer and songwriter who considered his disability to be an aspect of his identity like race or social class. "Save the Last Dance for Me" is remarkable in its willingness to show both vulnerability, "You can dance-every dance with the guy who gives you the eye," and self-confidence, “But don't forget who's takin' you home and in whose arms you're gonna be,” particularly for a disabled man in the 1950s.
- Anthony, Penngrove, CA
It wasn't just any wedding invitation or any dance. It was written by Doc Pomus after his own wedding where he couldn't even dance with his own wife because he was crippled by polio.

The book "Lonely Avenue: The Unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus" is excellent, and when you read the full story of this song, you will cry -- just like the lead singer of the original band did when he was told the full story during the recording session.
- Harry, Baltimore, MD
In late 1960 Damita Jo released an answer song; "I'LL SAVE THE LAST DANCE FOR YOU"; it peaked at #22 and stayed in the Top 100 for 12 weeks...
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
On October 31st, 1960 "Save the Last Dance For Me" reached #1 on the R&B chart; the song it replaced at the top spot was "Kiddio" by Brook Benton, it had been #1 for nine consecutive weeks!!!
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
They played Michael Buble's version of this song at my 8th grade dance last night as in May the 8th. It waz alot of fun:D
- Claire, Miller's, MD
Doc Pomus had polio and needed crutches and a wheelchair to get around so he wasn't able to dance. He was at a dance with his wife and after watching her dance that evening wrote this song.
- John, New York, NY
This is a true gem of the period, and I'm not just saying so because one of the songwriters shares my last name! (No relation--honest!) In fact, I never knew who wrote this until just now. But having heard this many times, still, it always seems welcome to my ears. Great message, great tune, great delivery, great arrangement, what more is there to say? *** Pierre/Chelsea,PQ/Can--I'm not familiar with which songs are their work, but if they wrote a bunch of the Drifters' hits, then you're absolutely right!
- Fred, Laurel, MD
What a great team : somebody should write down of the whole bunch of hit those guys have signed in the past. Same greatness with Leiber - Stroller...
- Pierre, Chelsea, Quebec, Canada
A very beautiful song of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. In the 70's Mort Shuman came to France to make a second career as a singerand he sang a very soft/slow French version of this song. Nevertheless I prefer The Drifters' version.
- Teresa, Mechelen, Belgium
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