25 years ago, Save The Best For Last became Vanessa Williams’ third Number One single on the Soul Charts. The song stayed at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 for five weeks in spring of 1992 and it ranked Number Four for the year. The song also went to Number One on the Adult Contemporary and R&B charts. It was an international hit too. It remains the biggest success of Williams’ musical career.
I have to say, I find Save The Best For Last rather irresistible after all these years. It has become a Lip-Sync For Your Life favorite, and it is used so upliftingly by the queens of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), bringing out the loneliness and isolation of their colorful careers during the closing credits of that landmark film.
The American Society Of Composers, Authors And Publishers (ASCAP) named it Song Of The Year, meaning it was performed more than any other song in 1992. It received a Grammy Award nomination for Song Of The Year and Record Of The Year.
The song is a smooth ballad about unrequited love for a single guy friend, as the singer stands by and watches as the object of desire goes through years of dating other people, before he finally unexpectedly decides to choose the singer at last.
Save The Best For Last was written by the team of Phil Galdston, Wendy Waldman and Jon Lind in 1989. They had written many hit songs over the past two decades for artists like Madonna, Celine Dion and Earth Wind & Fire. They shopped the song around to many different singers who all turned it down. Williams’ label, Mercury Records, brought it to Williams who loved it immediately.
It remains Williams’ signature song. The lyrics especially resonated with Williams’ own life story. She had put together a recording career following her earlier Miss America scandal. You might be too young to remember, but in 1983, she represented New York State in the Miss America pageant and became the first African-American to be crowned the winner. But, her triumph was sadly short-lived. At the start of her career, Williams had posed for nude photos for Penthouse Magazine, and when they published them in 1984, it created a scandal that forced her to resign as Miss America. Now, that sort of thing can make you First Lady, but in the 1980s no one expected such thing from their Miss America, much less from Nancy Reagan.
Williams rebounded nicely, not only putting the scandal behind her, but putting out a series of slick, sophisticated R&B tinged hits, starting with The Right Stuff (1988), that made her one of the most popular Adult Contemporary singers of the era. She then had a string of successful albums and singles, including her latest jazz-tinged albums. She found even greater success working as an actor, first with the film Soul Food (1997) and then becoming a Gay Icon with her portrayal of Fashion Diva Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty (2006-10) and naughty Renee Perry on Desperate Housewives (2004-12). In 1994, Williams starred on Broadway in the lead role of Kiss Of The Spider Woman; her vocals can be heard on a re-recorded version of the cast album. In 1995, William recorded Colors Of The Wind the theme from the Disney film Pocahontas; another huge hit. It won the Academy Award for Best Song, but it left me wondering what color was my wind? She earned a Tony Award nomination for the 2002 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods.
Williams has been a longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community:
“I am one of the lucky people; growing up, my mom had gay friends. So, I grew up having my mom’s relationships with gay men something that was completely normal, natural, fun, and exciting. Even high school, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when people, especially in high school, were not out, there were my couple of friends that were not out that would always hang out with the black girls and eventually came out.”
Last year, the CEO of the Miss America Organization, Sam Haskell, offered Williams a public apology at the start of the Miss America pageant, where she was serving as a judge:
“You have lived your life in grace and dignity, and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984, when you resigned. Though none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize to you. I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be”
He saved the best for last.