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Fifty Years Ago, “Last” Was First

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Seven members of The Drifters were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988. That may seem like a lot but several dozen or more musicians have passed through the group since the early fifties. At one time there were two competing groups with the same name.

It was the fifties and sixties Drifters who would become the most famous and place 36 singles on the American pop charts, and 26 with five number ones on the R&B charts. Their lead singers were Clyde McPhatter, Rudy Lewis, Johnny Moore, and Ben E. King. Once they moved beyond the R&B voice of McPhatter, they became a very smooth vocal group that garnered wide appeal.

It was Ben. E. King who would provide the lead vocal for their only number one pop hit, “Save The Last Dance For Me,” which topped the American singles charts in 1960 for three non-consecutive weeks. Considering it replaced the novelty song “Mr. Custer” by Larry Verne, it was a welcome change of pace. It was written by the popular team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and produced by the equally legendary duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

The lyrics tell the story of a person who allows the love of his life to socialize during the course of an evening but to make sure that when all is said and done, to save the last dance for him. It all added up to one of the better number one songs of the pre-Beatles era.

The Drifters would produce many memorable hits such as “There Goes My Baby,” “Up On The Roof,” “On Broadway,” and “Under The Boardwalk.” But only “Save The Last Dance For Me” made it to the top, which was fifty years ago this week.

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