The Drifters, Save The Last Dance For Me

Lenny Kaye

By Lenny Kaye

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

The Drifters can do no wrong. In the early '60s, they had their pick of the best Brill Building tunesmiths — Lieber-Stoller and Pomus-Shuman and Goffin-King and Mann-Weil — and their supremely expressive lead singers, including a poignant Rudy Lewis (who tragically passed away in 1964), gave their appellation a life of its own. For those unable to follow the labyrinthine twists and turns of the Drifters 'personnel incarnations over their many ensuing decades, one thing remains: the music. Whether the original Clyde McPhatter-led group or a re-badged Five Crowns fronted by Ben E. King or the various permutations helmed by Bill Pinckney and Johnny Moore and others, their trademark (and manager George Treadwell saw to that literally, owning the copyright to the name, hiring and firing at will) sense of smooth, urbane vocalizing provides a continuity throughout all the comings and goings, the lawsuits, the hydra-headed Drifters that seem to populate oldies shows like a road company of an "On Broadway" play. As with any good branding, what matters is that the product(ion) tastes and feels and emotes the same, no matter who is stepping into the cast, understudy or revived original.

Smooth, urbane vocalizing and classic material overcomes all personnel changes.

This album, originally released in 1982 in an England that never seems to tire of the group, lives up to its title, harking back to the great dance marathons: who will be the last Drifter standing? And will they sing "There Goes My Baby" or "This Magic Moment?" Why, of course, they will, and we'll listen, because the images of making love "Up on the Roof" or "Under the Boardwalk," of strolling through Times Square on "Another Saturday Night" looking for a little "Money Honey" are timeless and universal and part of our common currency. Save the Last Dance adds songs that might as well be part of the Drifters 'canon (Ben E. King's "Stand By Me") or that you might have always wished to hear interpreted by a Drifteresque voice — "Sam Cooke's "Cupid" and "Wonderful World," Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," even Bob Seger's "Night Moves" — and if the arrangements are not quite as innovative as the ones sculpted for them in their Atlantic Records heyday by such as Lieber-Stoller (who likened the baion rhythms of "There Goes My Baby" to listening to two radio stations at once) or Bert Berns, not to mention a young apprentice named Phil Spector, the immediacy of the material glimmers, like sunlight shining through the cracks of the boardwalk, on the lovers beneath.