I could write an entire book about the Drifters. I just checked Amazon and there are no books about this great group, so maybe I will. Did you know that there were three different Drifters groups. There have been over 30 members of the Drifters over the years (I have read the number could be as high as 60.) That’s how they got their name. The people just seemed to drift in and out of the group. There have been a couple of pretty famous names associated with the Drifters.
The first one was active in the early Fifties, forming together in 1953 with Clyde McPhatter as their lead singer. Clyde McPhatter first sang with Billy Ward and His Dominoes from 1950 until 1953, when he joined the Drifters. He stayed with them one year before being drafted into the armed forces. When he returned, he left the group and started a solo career. You may remember “A Lover’s Question,” and “Lover Please” which were done by McPhatter. A fellow named George Treadwell was the manager of the Drifters and in 1958, there was so much disagreement among the members of the group that Treadwell fired them all. He still held the rights to the name “Drifters,” and he had signed a ten year contract with the Apollo Theater in New York for a group called the Drifters to sing every year. Now, he needed a new group.
He heard a group sing called The Five Crowns who were led by Benjamin Nelson. He liked their sound and asked them if they would like to be the new Drifters. They agreed and Wilson even changed his name to become a Drifter. He was now known as Ben E King. Their first hit was “There Goes My Baby” in 1959.
“Save the Last Dance For Me” was their fifth hit and first number one with Ben E. King on lead vocals. The song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. The song was originally the b-side of the record. But Dick Clark is credited for turning the record over and playing “Save the Last Dance For Me” resulting in a big hit. The producers of “Save the Last Dance For Me” were Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two writers who are responsible for some of the greatest songs of the Fifties. There is a rumor that Phil Spector also worked on the record, but no one knows for sure if that is true.
“Save the Last Dance For Me” debuted on the pop charts on September 19, 1960. It spent one week at number one on October 17, then slipped out the number one spot for one week, only to return to number one for two weeks on October 31, for a total of three weeks at number one.