“Save the Last Dance for Me”: The Story Behind the Song


On this date in 1960, the song “Save the Last Dance For Me” by The Drifters hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Here are some things you might not have known about the song.

It’s a song you’ve probably heard a million times, but if you listen to the lyrics, the song tells an extraordinary story.

It’s about a man who tells his wife or girlfriend that she can dance with whomever she wants throughout the evening, but to remember that he’ll be the one taking her home at the end of the night. Why is the narrator dropping off the woman he loves to dance without him? Well, the story that makes a bit more sense if you know the background of the man who wrote it.

The lyrics were written by Doc Pomus, who along with Mort Shuman, also wrote “A Teenager in Love” by Dion and the Belmonts, “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley, and “This Magic Moment,” also by The Drifters. It’s Pomus’ story that led to “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

Pomus, whose real name was Jerome Felder, contracted polio as a boy, forcing him to use crutches to get around. According to musician Lou Reed, who worked with Pomus, the song was written on Pomus’ wedding day while watching his bride dance with their guests. His wife, Willi Burke, was a B roadway actress and dancer.

However, unlike the song, the real story doesn’t much of have a happy ending. Pomus and his wife split up about five years after “Save the Last Dance For Me” hit No. 1. After falling down a flight of stairs and suffering from post-polio syndrome, he was reliant on a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

He gave up songwriting in the mid 1960s and became a gambler, a career which ended when two masked gunmen robbed him in 1975.

He returned to songwriting and worked primarily with performer Dr. John for the next decade and a half. Doc Pomus died in 1991 at the age of 65.

Our question: Who was the lead singer of The Drifters when they recorded “Save the Last Dance for Me”?

Today is World Statistics Day and World Osteoporosis Day.

It’s unofficially International Credit Union Day, Miss American Rose Day, and National Brandied Fruit Day.

It’s the birthday of actor Bela Lugosi, who was born in 1882; baseball legend Mickey Mantle, who was born in 1931; and Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson, who is 79 today.

As you know from the first half of the show, this week in 1960, the top song in the U.S. was “Save the Last Dance for Me” by The Drifters.

The No. 1 movie was “Spartacus,” while the novel “Hawaii” by James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

Which two performers originated the role of Eva Peron in “Evita” in London and on Broadway?


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2 responses to ““Save the Last Dance for Me”: The Story Behind the Song”

  1. Somepeople say the song originally was composed by Farid Elatrash (Good night my darling), in 1959.

  2. I met “Doc” many times growing up, when he came over to the house. I only wish my father had properly introduced us. Back then, I only knew him as “Doc”, with no idea of his connection to music. I am glad to know more about him and that he wrote one of my favorite songs, that I always thought was produced by my father (Phil).

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