About the song

Ah, yes, The Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me” (1960). A true gem of doo-wop and rhythm and blues, this song transcends genres and generations. Released in the early days of the rock and roll revolution, it captures a very specific moment in American music history, but its themes of love, longing, and bittersweet joy resonate to this day.

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The Drifters, of course, were a legendary vocal group, known for their smooth harmonies and soulful sound. Originally formed in the 1940s, they went through numerous lineup changes, but the 1960 iteration with Ben E. King on lead vocals is widely considered their golden era. King’s voice, a rich baritone with a touch of vulnerability, perfectly embodies the song’s protagonist – a young man torn between letting his love enjoy herself at a social gathering and yearning for her return.

Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, the songwriting duo behind “Save the Last Dance for Me,” were masters of crafting relatable narratives. The lyrics paint a vivid picture – a bustling dance floor, the laughter of friends, the intoxicating rhythm of the music. Yet, beneath the surface lies a current of anxiety. The narrator, about to leave for an unspecified reason (possibly military service, a common theme in the doo-wop era), implores his sweetheart to have fun, “But don’t forget who’s taking you home / And in whose arms you’re gonna be.” The line, “Say the last dance for me,” is both a plea and a concession. He wants her to have a good time, but a small part of him longs for a final, intimate moment before their separation.

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Musically, “Save the Last Dance for Me” is a masterclass in simplicity and effectiveness. The gentle strum of the acoustic guitar sets the mood, while the doo-wop backing vocals – a hallmark of The Drifters’ sound – provide emotional depth. The melody itself is deceptively simple, but King’s soulful delivery elevates it to something truly special. The song builds to a powerful climax in the bridge, where King’s voice soars above the harmonies, expressing the depth of his love: “Baby, don’t you know I love you / So much, never, never let you go / Love you oh so much.”

“Save the Last Dance for Me” was an instant success, topping the Billboard charts in 1960. It has since become a timeless classic, covered by countless artists across genres. From the smooth stylings of Emmylou Harris to the contemporary pop of Michael Bublé, the song continues to resonate with listeners. It’s a testament to the enduring power of love, longing, and the bittersweet beauty of young love. So, put on your dancing shoes, and let the music transport you back to a simpler time, where a single song could capture a whole spectrum of emotions. Just remember, save the last dance for someone special.

Video

Lyrics

“Save The Last Dance For Me”

You can dance
Every dance with the guy
Who gave you the eye
Let him hold you tight

You can smile
Every smile for the man
Who held your hand
‘Neath the pale moonlight

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But don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me, mmm

Oh I know
That the music is fine
Like sparkling wine
Go and have your fun

Laugh and sing
But while we’re apart
Don’t give your heart
To anyone

But don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me, mmm

Baby don’t you know I love you so?
Can’t you feel it when we touch?
I will never, never let you go
I love you oh so much

You can dance
Go and carry on
Till the night is gone
And it’s time to go

If he asks
If you’re all alone
Can he take you home
You must tell him no

‘Cause don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me

‘Cause don’t forget who’s taking you home
And in whose arms you’re gonna be
So darlin’
Save the last dance for me, mmm

Save the last dance for me, mmm
Save the last dance for me