#RSFlashback – 30 Years Ago, The Number One Ballad ‘Save The Best For Last’ Gave Vanessa Williams Back Her Crown
The timeless track has also become an adult contemporary staple, and is a part of weddings as well as love song compilations
In early 1992, Vanessa Williams seemed to have many fans but still hadn’t gotten the mainstream success she deserved. She had already been thoroughly embraced at black radio, scoring 6 Top 10 Hits in a row with 2 number 1s. While she managed to secure a Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 hit with “Dreamin’” from her debut album The Right Stuff, for the most part, Williams failed to generate much love at Top 40 radio while her contemporaries like Jody Watley, Neneh Cherry and Karyn White managed to get attention.
That all changed when in January of 1992, 30 years ago this month, Williams released her third single from her second album The Comfort Zone. It was the ballad “Save The Best For Last,” written by Phil Galdston, Wendy Waldman, and Jon Lind. Legend has it that the song was initially offered to Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler but Williams heard the demo and had to have it. What resulted was Williams’ first #1 hit on the Hot 100, Grammy nominations for Song and Record Of The Year and the single becoming the artist’s signature hit.
But it did more than just give Williams the real mainstream breakthrough she had earned. It was also a nearly nine-year battle to accept the larger audience’s full and complete love back. After winning the Miss America title in 1983, Williams managed to mostly skate by her reign without much controversy until Penthouse magazine decided to publish nude photographs of her. Forced to resign from her title within 72 hours, that infamous moment was permanently attached to her.
While Williams apologized and managed to secure a major record label deal, there seemed to be some reservation at radio stations about playing her music despite so many of her contemporaries having similar-sounding records chart well and high. Thankfully, black radio didn’t seem to mind and gave the budding singer a break—giving her four Top 10 hits from her debut album.
Her ballad “Dreamin’” went all the way to Number One on black radio, helping the song to also crossover to the Hot 100, giving the artist her first Top 10 hit. While there was hope that Williams would finally get the love she deserved, it still didn’t happen.
Cut to “Save The Best For Last,” a ballad too strong for any radio programmer to not play across adult contemporary, R&B and Top 40 radio, especially given the extremely high marks it got from critics. The well-orchestrated ballad seemed to fit Williams’ voice like a glove. Critics thought this song finally felt like the right intersection of sexuality, softness and sophistication for the artist to achieve the mainstream success she deserved. At a time when many female singers were beginning to overemphasize vocal histrionics, Williams’ classy affair felt warmer and mature.
The song single-handedly transformed Williams’ music career and her place in the media. From one timeless melody to the next she hopped, from “The Sweetest Days” followed by “Colors Of The Wind” from Disney’s Pocahontas. Her success in music also helped Williams then finally land big screen roles, which in turn would lead to a long-standing successful multi-hyphenated career.
Without any doubt, Williams is the most successful Miss America winner in the history of the pageant. While 1983 may have been the year she first wore the crown, 1992 is the year she truly reigned supreme. “Save The Best For Last” topped the charts around the globe, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year and the decade.
The timeless track has established itself as an adult contemporary staple. It is still played rampantly at weddings galore, it continues to be one of the most featured ballads on any romantic compilation and is also one of the most-karaoked tunes of the Nineties.
On a very personal note, the single also happened to be one of my mother’s most favorite songs. Like me, music was everything for her. I’d often find her humming the melody over the years or I’d find her sitting at the piano playing along. For me, the song has taken on new meaning in the last 11 years, as upon her passing, we sang this song at the conclusion of her life’s celebration. Yup, thanks to Williams’ hit, we went and saved the best for last.