On May 19, 1956, The Drifters recorded a song originally intended as a B-side until a gentleman later known as “America’s oldest teenager” had his say in the matter.
Penned by Doc Pomus on the day of his wedding - he used a wheelchair due to polio, and could only watch his new bride dancing with their guests rather than with him - “Save the Last Dance for Me” was produced by a couple of gentlemen who were at least as iconic as the track’s songwriter: Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who'd written and produced hits for Elvis Presley and The Coasters.
The song was originally intended to serve as the B-side for The Drifters’ next single, “Nobody But Me,” but after a fellow by the name of Dick Clark - yes, the famed American Bandstand host - gave both songs a spin, our man Dick declared that “Save the Last Dance for Me” was the one best suited for the A-side.
As history reveals, of course, Clark’s instincts were spot-on: not only was it a hit, but it was a full-fledged chart-topper. This would’ve been good news for The Drifters under any circumstances, of course, but it was particularly fortuitous at this point in their career, as it served to cement their success in the wake of Ben E. King’s departure from the group.
Mind you, King was actually still in the group when The Drifters recorded the song - in fact, that’s him singing! - but that didn’t mean that the group wasn’t able to utilize the momentum earned by the song’s success: despite King’s departure, they still managed to find their way back into the Top 10 on several occasions, including with “On Broadway,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Up on the Roof.”