"Save the Last Dance for Me"
(Music: "Save the Last Dance for Me" by The Drifters)
October 17, 1960 - October 23, 1960
October 31, 1960 - November 13, 1960
There have been 30 different singers who, at one time or another, were members of the group known as the Drifters, and there have been two completely different sets of Drifters --- the original group, which formed in 1953, and a new group which came together in 1959 to record "There Goes My Baby."
The original Drifters formed around Clyde McPhatter, lead tenor of Billy Ward's group the Dominoes, who had an early R&B hit in 1951 with "Sixty Minute Man." When Clyde left the Dominoes in 1953 (to be replaced by Jackie Wilson), he was signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegun. McPhatter recruited members of a gospel singing group, the Civitones, to form a new outfit, and because they had all drifted in and out of different groups, they called themselves the Drifters.
Hits like "Money Honey' and "Honey Love" did well on the R&B charts, but in 1954 McPhatter was drafted into the armed forces. He recorded with the Drifters when he was on leave, but he also did some solo sessions, and when he was discharged in 1956, he decided to leave the group and pursue a solo career. He only had two big hits on his own ("A Lover's Question" and "Lover Please"), and he died on June 13, 1972, at the age of 38.
There were six different lead singers after McPhatter, and the group continued recording until 1958, when disagreements with manager George Treadwell led to the entire group being fired. Treadwell owned the Drifters' name, but he had one small problem: in 1954, he signed a contract with Harlem's Apollo Theater stipulating that the Drifters would appear there twice a year for ten years. Now, there were no Drifters.
Treadwell was at the Apollo one night when he saw a group called the Five Crowns. They were low on the bill, but he was impressed with their lead singer, Benjamin Nelson. With help from Atlantic's Jerry Wexler, Treadwell persuaded the group to change their name to the Drifters.
Nelson changed his name, too, to Ben E. King. Atlantic Records put producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in charge of the Drifters' recording sessions, and their first single, "There Goes My Baby," is considered to be the first rock and roll single to have a full orchestral backing.
After writing a couple of hits for the Drifters, Leiber and Stoller turned to other songwriters for material, including Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. Pomus and Shuman had already written songs for the Five Crowns and knew King's voice: they fashioned "This Magic Moment" for him, and then "Save the Last Dance for Me." Many Phil Spector fans believe he assisted Leiber and Stoller with "Save the Last Dance for Me." The truth may never be known, but Phil was apprenticed to them at the time, and the production sounds enough like early Spector to lend credence to this legend.
Spector did work closely with Ben E. King when he left the Drifters right after "Save the Last Dance for Me," co-writing and co-producing "Spanish Harlem."
Rudy Lewis replaced King as lead singer of the Drifters, beginning with "Some Kind of Wonderful." He's also the lead voice on "Up on the Roof" and "On Broadway," but he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1964. Johnny Moore, who had been in the earlier incarnation of the Drifters (from 1955 - 1957), assumed lead vocal duties beginning with "Under the Boardwalk."
After Treadwell died in 1965, his widow, Faye, took over management of the group. She signed them with Bell Records in the United Kingdom in 1972, and they had a succession of British-only hits over a four-year period, including "Like Sister and Brother," "Kissin' in the Back Row of the Movies" and "There Goes My First Love."
"Save the Last Dance for Me" went to number one on October 17, 1960 for one week, and returned to the top for two more weeks on October 31.
Reprinted from The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, copyright © 2003 by Fred Bronson.