1977 – Phil Spector, Doc Pomus, & Leonard Cohen Hang Out In Los Angeles

Doc Pomus

Today’s post is a followup to Why Leonard Cohen Covered “Save The Last Dance For Me” At The 2012 Ghent Concerts, which focused on the origins of ”Save The Last Dance For Me, a song popularized in 1960 by Ben E. King with The Drifters, and how it come to be covered by Leonard Cohen in his 2012 Tour.

This excerpt from the New York Times1 describes how Doc Pomus, who had contracted polio as a child and spent the rest of his life on crutches or confined to a wheelchair, came to pen the lyrics to “Save The Last Dance For Me:”

The crowning achievement was the Drifters’ sublime “Save The Last Dance For Me.” In a story straight out of Hollywood, Pomus actually wrote the lyrics on the back of an invitation to his own wedding, remembering how it felt to watch his bride dance with his brother, knowing that he himself was unable to navigate a dance floor. “Under his pen,” Halberstadt writes, “the simple declaration of love he set out to write wavered, giving way to vulnerability and fear.”2

The Doc Pomus – Leonard Cohen Connection

In that earlier post, I speculated  on possible connections between Leonard Cohen and Doc Pomus:

In addition to being a colleague of Lou Reed, who worked with and was a close friend of Pomus and told the story of how Pomus wrote the lyrics, Leonard Cohen was also associated with at least one other individual linked to the song – Phil Spector.

Spector, who worked together with Cohen to produce the Death Of A Ladies’ Man album, was an apprentice of sorts with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at the same time they produced “Save The Last Dance For Me.” While it is unknown if Spector had any input on the production of this single, Wikipedia notes that “many Spector fans have noticed similarities between this record and other music he would eventually produce on his own.” And, in 1966, Spector did revise the song, producing the Ike and Tina Turner version of the hit.3

Reading “I’m Your Man,” the biography of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons, sometime after publishing that post,  I came across two references to Doc Pomus.

One was a quote by Hal Wilner, who reported that he, then an intern at CBS, and Doc Pomus “loved that record ["Death Of A Ladies' Man," the Phil Spector - Leonard Cohen collaboration] …; we used to listen to it all the time.”

The other alluded to Doc Pomus, “Spector’s friend,” visiting Spector’s home while he and Cohen were working on “Death Of A Ladies’ Man.” A bit of research turned up this more extensive description from He’s a Rebel: Phil Spector, Rock and Roll’s Legendary Producer  by Mark Ribowsky (Da Capo Press, January 9, 2007):  click on scan to enlarge

That Doc Pomus spent a month at Spector’s home in 1977 when Spector and Cohen were engaged in creating “Death Of A Ladies’ Man,” an album Doc Pomus loved and to which he and a young Hal Wilner often listened does not, of course, necessarily mean that the interactions that then took place between the Canadian singer-songwriter and one of the writers of “Save The Last Dance For Me”4 somehow led to Leonard Cohen covering that song during the 2012 Tour.

But it would seem to improve the odds that a personal liaison between the two men influenced Leonard Cohen’s choice to add “Save The Last Dance For Me” to his standard concert set list.

Bonus:  A.K.A Doc Pomus – Official Movie Trailer 2012

 

  1. This Magic Moment by Alan Light. New York Times, March 25, 2007 []
  2. Unsurprisingly, there are several versions of this story. During an interview on Elvis Costello’s show Spectacle, Lou Reed, who worked with Pomus, said the song was written on the day of Pomus’ wedding while the wheelchair-bound groom watched his bride dancing with their guests. In his biography of Pomus, Alex Halberstadt reports that some time after the wedding, Pomus found the wedding invitation in a hatbox, which brought back his most vivid memory from his wedding: watching his brother Raoul dance with his new wife while Doc, who had polio, sat in his wheelchair. Inspired, he stayed up all night writing the words to this song on the back of the invitation. []
  3. Source: Best Phil Spector Productions []
  4. It appears there was at least one other set of contacts between the two men.  From The Untold Story of Pomus & Shuman: “We also hear about Doc’s philanthropic side; he regularly held writers’ workshops for budding musicians in his apartment, which attracted guests like Lou Reed, Robert Plant, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen.” [emphasis mine] []

6 Responses to 1977 – Phil Spector, Doc Pomus, & Leonard Cohen Hang Out In Los Angeles

  1. Ah, an update to the update. thanks

  2. sorry mate, I hope you don’t mind my parasiting your posts with my “two cents’ worth”

  3. It is, unequivocally, a benefit. You may have to send me the reference for the Doc Pomus warning since I can’t seem to track it down. Thanks again

  4. I will Allan (it’ll take time though; I am traveling) – but I definitely will

  5. at goldstar studios, doc pomus took lc aside & exhorted him not to work with spector – doc pomus couldn’t have been more explicit — I haven’t seen this fact mentioned too often in the various accounts because it doesn’t fit into the we’re-all-a-big-family fiction that people like to hear — people always prefer unrealistic fiction :-)