Song of the Day: Stand by Me by Ben E. King

I spy Big Bear by PascalCampion

Stand by Me” is a song originally performed by Ben E. King and written by King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, inspired by the spiritual “Lord Stand by Me,” plus two lines rooted in Psalms 46:2–3. There have been over 400 recorded versions of the song. The song is featured on the soundtrack of the 1986 film Stand by Me.


When the night is cold
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me, stand by me, yeah

Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me

Darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me


“Stand By Me” was the name of a gospel hymn written by the Philadelphia minister Charles Albert Tindley in 1905. His hymn became popular in churches throughout the American south and was recorded by various Gospel acts in the 1950s. The most popular adaptation was by The Staple Singers, who recorded it in 1955. It was this version that Ben E. King heard. According to the documentary History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Ben E. King had no intention of recording the song himself when he wrote it. King had written it for The Drifters, who passed on recording it. After the “Spanish Harlem” recording session, he had some studio time left over. The session’s producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, asked if he had any more songs. King played “Stand by Me” on the piano for them. They liked it and called the studio musicians back in to record it.
Stoller recalls it differently:
I remember arriving at our office as Jerry and Ben were working on lyrics for a new song. King had the beginnings of a melody that he was singing a cappella. I went to the piano and worked up the harmonies, developing a bass pattern that became the signature of the song. Ben and Jerry quickly finished the lyrics … 

After leaving The Drifters, King auditioned for the legendary songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, singing a few popular songs before doing what he had of “Stand By Me,” which was just a few lines of lyrics with some humming to fill in the words. He agreed to collaborate on the song with Leiber and Stoller, who gave it a more contemporary sound and polished it into a hit. The bassline at the beginning was Stoller’s idea.

The song was credited as being written by Leiber, Stoller and King. Charles Albert Tindley, who composed the original hymn, was left off the composer credits as his work had been sufficiently transformed. This wasn’t the first time Tindley was omitted from the credits of a song he originated: he also wrote a song called “I’ll Overcome Someday,” which eventually became “We Shall Overcome.”

In an interview with the TV station WGBH, Jerry Leiber explained: “Ben E. is not a songwriter, he’s a singer, he might have written two songs in his whole career. I would guess that this comes out of church. The whole ‘stand by me’ and the way the release takes out, it sounds like a gospel-type song.”

King’s record went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and was a Top Ten hit on the U.S. charts twice—in its original release in 1961, when it peaked at No. 4, and a 1986 re-release coinciding with its use as the theme song for the movie of the same name following its appearance in the film, when it peaked at No. 9, and also in an advertisement for Levi Jeans. It also reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1987 after its re-release, mostly because of the jeans spot, originally reaching No. 27 on its first release.

The song was not released on an album until it had been out as a single for two years. The song appeared on King’s Don’t Play That Song! album.

“Stand by Me” was ranked 122nd on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century, with about seven million performances.

On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that “Stand by Me” would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and that King would be honored with the 2012 Towering Performance Award for his recording of it.

“Stand by Me” was used in the 1986 movie of the same name starring River Phoenix. The film was based on a short novel by Stephen King called The Body, but that title was a little to gruesome for a movie hoping to appeal to a wide audience. Rob Reiner, who directed the film, got the idea to use “Stand By Me” as the title and incorporate it into the movie when he heard the song one day at his house. This played up the friendship of the young boys in the film and downplayed the role of the dead body they find, which was a good move at the box office. The movie was a hit and propelled the song back to the charts, introducing the track to a new generation.

Notable covers

There have been over 400 recorded versions of “Stand by Me”. Some of the more notable ones are:

  • Little Milton recorded a version for We’re Gonna Make It (1965), his first album released on Chess Records.
  • Spyder Turner’s 1967 version climbed to No. 3 on the U.S. Billboard Black Singles chart and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
  • Muhammad Ali (then still named Cassius Clay) recorded the song in 1964.
  • Otis Redding recorded a version for his album Pain in My Heart.
  • Ry Cooder recorded a gospel/norteño version for his album Chicken Skin Music in 1976.
  • John Lennon recorded his version of the song for his 1975 album Rock ‘n’ Roll. Lennon’s cover was his last hit prior to his five-year retirement from the music industry. This version had a more rock sound than R&B. The B-side of the single was “Move Over Ms. L,” a rare and raucous track also covered by The Who drummer Keith Moon.
  • Maurice White. White’s remake peaked at number 6, 11 and 50 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, Adult Contemporary and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.
  • Prince Royce recorded a bachata version of the song as his debut single, changing parts of the lyrics into Spanish. This version peaked No. 8 on Hot Latin Tracks and No. 1 on Tropical Airplay. At the Latin Grammy Awards of 2010, Royce performed a live version of the song along with Ben E. King. Royce’s cover received a Lo Nuestro award for “Tropical Song of the Year”.
  • A version of the song released by American R&B group 4 the Cause in 1998 was a #1 hit in Switzerland, reached No. 2 of the Austrian and German singles charts and number three in New Zealand, and was a top-ten hit in several other countries.
  • Stephen King and Warren Zevon recorded a version for the charity compilation album Stranger than Fiction.
  • Joel Burleson, better known as Ki:Theory, recorded a version, used by The Following in the 3rd episode of season 2, entilted “Trust Me”.

in 1986 and 1988, Hong Kong Singer George Lam and Anita Mui covered this song in Cantonese.

Ben E. King

Birth name Benjamin Earl Nelson
Also known as Ben E. King
Born September 28, 1938 (age 75)
Henderson, North Carolina
Origin Harlem, New York
Genres Soul, rhythm and blues
Occupations Singer, songwriter, record producer
Instruments Vocals, Guitar, piano,keyboards
Years active 1958–present
Labels Atco Records
Atlantic Records
Associated acts The Drifters
The Five Crowns

image by PascalCampion
via wikipedia [songfacts]

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2 Responses to Song of the Day: Stand by Me by Ben E. King

  1. Pingback: Videogalería | 10 versiones de ‘Stand by Me’ | Blog Informativo de ProfesionalesPanama

  2. Pingback: Videogalería | 10 versiones de ‘Stand by Me’ |

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