John Lennon and Harry Nilsson Covered ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ Even Though a Bubblegum Pop Band Beat Them to It

During the 1970s, John Lennon produced some of Harry Nilsson’s covers of classic songs. One of them was a version of “Save the Last Dance for Me.” John decided he didn’t care that a famous bubblegum pop group covered the song first.

Harry Nilsson with a cigarette
Harry Nilsson | Stan Meagher / Stringer

John Lennon worked on Harry Nilsson’s cover of ‘Rock Around the Clock’

Outside of his fellow Beatles, John only collaborated with a handful of other rock stars. He famously worked with David Bowie on “Fame” and Elton John on “Whatever Gets You Thru the Night.” John also produced Nilsson’s album Pussy Cats. The album features a handful of covers of classic songs, including “Rock Around the Clock” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

According to the book Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, John discussed these covers during a 1974 interview. “[Nilsson] wanted to do ‘Rock Around the Clock’ because he thought it would be good fun, and he said nobody’s ever covered ‘Rock Around the Clock,'” John recalled. “We open Billboard and there it is, 108, by Bill Haley, you know, while we’re doing it.”

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What John Lennon thought when The DeFranco Family covered The Drifters’ ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’

Subsequently, John discussed Nilsson’s “Save the Last Dance for Me.” “We’re doing ‘Save the Last Dance for Me,’ which he played me a tape of some of his songs he’d written, which wasn’t many, and also just a sort of demo tape of him singing ‘Save the Last Dance for Me.’ 

“And it was really beautiful, and it was like we did it on the album, only because we orchestrated it and put a lot of other stuff on it,” John continued. “And it was just very nice the way he did it, and we were very excited doing it.” John learned the DeFranco Family made a hit cover of “Save the Last Dance for Me.” He decided to make the cover anyway and he was proud of it.

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How the 2 versions of ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ performed on the charts in the United States

The DeFranco Family’s “Save the Last Dance for Me” became a modest hit. It reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100, staying on the chart for 13 weeks. Their version of the song appeared on the album Save the Last Dance for Me. The album did not chart on the Billboard 200.

Nilsson’s version of the song became a single as well. Despite this, it did not reach the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s parent album, Pussy Cats was a minor hit. The album reached No. 60 on the Billboard 200, staying on the chart for 12 weeks.

“Save the Last Dance for Me” is a classic song to the point where it was covered by multiple popular artists.

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