You Can Dance Every Dance

The first time I heard Save The Last Dance, I'm embarrassed to say, was on a gig.  

This happens to me more than I'd like to admit.  I knew the title but it sat on the endless list of "classics" I just had to know.  And in the canon of hundreds (thousands) of jazz and pop standards we all have to know are several thousand songs I don't know, but heard the title referenced somewhere. 

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Any time I hear a song referenced, in literature or in conversation, I'll search my pretty-vast-but-actually-very-tiny internal catalog for familiarity.  I look for a match.  Do I know this song?  And usually I don't, which is fine unless you're a professional.


You can dance every dance with the guy
Who gives you the eye
Let him hold you tight

I was playing bass for Philip Hamilton back in 2000 and he called this tune as an encore.  Trio gig, packed house, and I'm scribbling out the changes right before the set.  He and Etienne Stadwyck (the keyboardist) both looked at me sideways for not knowing the tune already and I pretended not to be faking it.  Phil slays this tune (as a ballad!) but my first time playing it with him was a trial by fire.  

Needless to say the song has been etched in my DNA ever since.  

You can smile, every smile for the man 
Who held your hand
Beneath the pale moonlight

The lyricist, wheelchair-bound Doc Pomus wrote it on his wedding day while watching his bride dance with a succession of men.

But don't forget who's taking you home
And in whose arms you're gonna be
So darlin, save the last dance for me

I love the way these words roll off the tongue.  I love the happy-sad vibe and phrasing.  The melody soars a little bit but not dramatically.  Anyone can sing this song.  I've played it at many gigs, many weddings, I play it in the subway and for myself.

Oh I know that the music's fine like sparkling wine
Go and have your fun
Laugh and sing, but while we're apart don't give your heart
To anyone

Love is such a mystery, we're often caught between longing and the longing for freedom, the desire to be longed-for but also to celebrate our lover's freedom.  Dance is the ultimate expression of this paradox, and who hasn't lived some version of this moment?  Watching from the sidelines, aching with love, he can't dance, so he sings about dancing.

Baby don't you know I love you so
Can you feel it when we touch
I will never ever let you go
I love you oh so much

Sadly, Doc's marriage didn't last.  But this song will live forever.

Read D.P.'s story in colorful detail here.

Trevor ExterComment