In a 1990 interview, songwriter Doc Pomus tells the story of the song being recorded by the Drifters and originally designated as the B-side of the record. He credits Dick Clark with turning the record over and realizing "Save The Last Dance" was the stronger song. The Drifters' version of the song, released a few months after Ben E. King left the group, would go on to spend three non-consecutive weeks at #1 on the U.S. pop chart, in addition to logging one week atop the U.S. R&B chart. In the UK The Drifters' recording reached #2 in December 1960. This single was produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two noted American music producers who at the time had an apprentice relationship with a then-unknown Phil Spector. Although he was working with Leiber and Stoller at the time, it is unknown whether Spector assisted with the production of this record; however, many Spector fans have noticed similarities between this record and other music he would eventually produce on his own.Damita Jo had a hit with one of the answer songs of this era called "I'll Save The Last Dance For You". On September 9, 1965, the group performed the song live at the Cinnamon Cinder with Charlie Thomas lip-syncing the lyrics of Ben E. King vocals, along with fellow Drifters Johnny Moore and Eugene Pearson on backing vocals.
In the song, the narrator tells his lover she is free to mingle and socialize throughout the evening, but to make sure to save him the dance at the end of the night. During an interview on Elvis Costello's show Spectacle,Lou Reed, who worked with Pomus, said the song was written on the day of Pomus' wedding while the wheelchair-bound groom watched his bride dancing with their guests. Pomus had polio and at times used crutches to get around. His wife, Willi Burke, however, was a Broadway actress and dancer. The song gives his perspective of telling his wife to have fun dancing, but reminds her who will be taking her home and "in whose arms you're gonna be."
Garde-moi la dernière danse is the eighth album by European pop star Dalida. The title song of the album, a French cover of the American hit "Save the Last Dance for Me", was released as a single. The background orchestra music was led by French composer and orchestra leader Raymond Lefèvre.
Emmylou Harris covered the song in a country/bluegrass style in 1979, including it on her Blue Kentucky Girl album. Also released as a single, her version reached the top ten on the U.S. country singles chart in mid-1979.
In 1983, Dolly Parton recorded "Save the Last Dance for Me," releasing it as a single in late November; the song subsequently appeared on Parton's album of 1950s and 60s covers The Great Pretender, released in January 1984. Reaching the top ten on the country singles chart in late February, the single also crossed over, reaching #45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
The DeFranco Family (featuring Tony DeFranco) released Save The Last Dance For Me in 1974 as a single and the title track of their 2nd album (20th Century Records); the single peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #8 on Canada's RPM 100 chart. The B-side of the single was "Because We Both Are Young," written by Tom Bahler and Harry Shannon. Initially, Tony was reluctant about recording a remake; however, producer Walt Meskell convinced Tony that the song would be a hit. The single sold just shy of 1 million copies, proving that Walt was on the right track.
"Save The Last Dance For Me" was later covered by Canadian crooner Michael Bublé, and released as the third and final single from his second major-label studio album, It's Time. The song was heavily remixed for its release as a single.
For its release as a single, the song was heavily remixed, with mixes from producers including Ralphi Rosario and Eddie Baez. All of the chart positions for the single are for each of the remixed versions of the song respectively. The single first peaked at #22 on the BillboardHot Dance Club Play Chart in September 2005. After Bublé performed the album version of the song during the closing credits of the film The Wedding Date, this version was released to radio, peaking at #5 on the Billboardadult contemporary chart, as well as reaching #99 on the Billboard Hot 100. The music video for the track was once again directed by Noble Jones, who directed the videos for both of the album's previous singles – Home and Feeling Good. The music video was choreographed by Raymondo Chan, a Salsa Latin dance coach and performer. It was shot in Vancouver, Canada.
In December 1960 Polydor Records published a German cover version featuring singer Ivo Robić. Kurt Schwabach's German lyrics are no English translation, but he titled it "Mit 17 fängt das Leben erst an" ('At 17 life is only just beginning') to deal with a young girl's first encounters with 'that thing called love'.
Also in 1960, Dion recorded the song for inclusion on his album Alone With Dion.
The String-A-Longs recorded a version at Norman Petty Studios in Clovis, NM (where Buddy Holly started!), in 1960-61, released in the Phillippines under Tiara Records (Tiara 001).
Billy Joe Royal released a version of the song on his 1967 album, Billy Joe Royal Featuring Hush.
During the Get Back/Let It Be sessions of January 1969, the Beatles played a short, impromptu variation of this song in the original lineup of songs to possibly be included on the developing album that would become Let It Be, though it was later scrapped. Nevertheless many bootleg releases include their version, such as the 2-LP set "The Black Album" (not to be confused with their official released The White Album previously issued).
In 1969, British arranger and band leader Johnny Arthey arranged and conducted for John Rowles to record his 7" vinyl release on the MCA-UK label the following year.
The Walkmen did a cover of Pussy Cats which included "Save the Last Dance for Me". Also in 1974, Canadians the DeFranco Family reached #18 on the Billboard pop chart with their version of "Save the Last Dance for Me", with lead vocals sung by 14-year-young Tony DeFranco.
In 1976, Ramona Wulf, a singer with German disco group Silver Convention, recorded a disco version of the song.
Patti LaBelle included a disco-flavored cover of the song as the lead track on her 1978 album, Tasty.
In 1977, John Davidson reached #22 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart and #44 on the Canadian AC chart.
In 1982 Mud featured the song in their album Mud Featuring Les Gray.
In 1983 Herbie Armstrong included a haunting version of the song on his solo album 'Back against the wall'.Mort Shuman himself endorsed it, certain it would be a hit. Sadly the distribution company went bust and only 800 copies of the CD were ever distributed.
The song was translated into French by André Salvet and François Llenas and recorded by, among others, Petula Clark, Dalida, and Mort Shuman himself.
In 1960, American female R&B singer Damita Jo recorded an "answer record" to "Save the Last Dance for Me". Her song, entitled "I'll Save the Last Dance for You", built around the original song's melody and thus credited to Shuman and Pomus, peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart in December 1960.
The original version of "Save the Last Dance for Me" as performed by the Drifters is featured in the first-season finale of the North American version of Queer as Folk. In a memorable scene from this episode, Brian Kinney dances with Justin Taylor to this song at Justin's senior prom, which is immediately followed by Justin being brutally attacked by a homophobic classmate in the parking garage outside the prom. The song also signifies a turning point in their relationship, as Brian was previously unwilling to admit that Justin was more than a one-night stand.