October 17

This Day in History

Music

Oct 17, 1960:

R&B legends the Drifters earn a #1 pop hit with "Save the Last Dance For Me"

The Drifters top the U.S. pop charts on October 17, 1960, with "Save the Last Dance For Me."

While many famous pop groups saw changes in lineup over the course of their careers, none saw as many as the Drifters. From 1953 to 1956, the original lineup of the Drifters established themselves as R&B giants, scoring a #1 R&B hit with "Money Honey" (1953) and launching the solo career of the legendary Clyde McPhatter. When McPhatter left the group, he sold his 50-percent ownership stake in the Drifters' name and song copyrights to his sole partner, the group's manager, George Treadwell. And from that point forward, Treadwell ran the Drifters as a business in which the group's singers were paid a modest weekly salary but did not share in royalty earnings. This arrangement did little to encourage longevity among group members, but Treadwell's ear for talent kept the group relevant and successful for many years to come.

Following McPhatter's departure in 1956, Treadwell ran through six different lead singers in two years before firing the entire group in 1958 and starting over from scratch. Version 2.0 of the Drifters was a group centered around lead singer Benjamin Nelson and originally called the Five Crowns. With that group taking on the new name "the Drifters," and with Nelson changing his to Ben E. King, a new era of success for the group began. Placed in the hands of producer Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller by their label, Atlantic Records, these new Drifters scored immediate hits with "There Goes My Baby" (1959) and "This Magic Moment" (1960) followed by the song that topped the Billboard pop charts on this day in 1960, "Save The Last Dance For Me."

But this was not the last lineup of the Drifters to enjoy success. Following Ben. E. King's departure in 1960, group member Rudy Lewis took over lead singing duties on the hits "Up On The Roof" (1963) and "On Broadway" (1963), and following Lewis's death in 1964, Johnny Moore took over and scored yet another hit with "Under The Boardwalk" (1964).

Considering the group's track record, it was little wonder that voters for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame selected the Drifters for induction in 1988 alongside the Beatles, the Supremes, the Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. The thorny question was, "Which Drifters to induct?" From among more than 30 singers who had been Drifters up to that point in time, the Hall of Fame selected seven for induction, including all four of the aforementioned lead singers: Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore.

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