Week 41: “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King

A lot of recent entries on this list have been hidden gems by lesser-known bands, so this week we’re going with a classic.

“Stand By Me” was written by King with help from Mike Stoller, who also wrote “Hound Dog”, “Love Potion #9”, and “Jailhouse Rock”, among many others. Apparently, King wrote this one for The Drifters, but they passed on the song, so he recorded it himself in 1961. Nothing against The Drifters, of course, but that particular decision was not what you’d call a good business move.

Interestingly enough, this tune was a top-ten hit twice; first in the early 60s after it was released, and again twenty years later when it appeared on the soundtrack for the film of the same name. Twenty years after that, it was back, this time as the main sample in the decidedly inferior “Beautiful Girls” by auto-tuned quasi-reggae singer Sean Kingston.

So if history is anything to go by, it’ll be back in the top ten sometime around 2027. Until then, let’s enjoy it in all its 1961 glory.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The bassline. How can a song be so groovy and so beautiful at the same time? When you hear the first few bars, it’s hard to decide whether you should start dancing or making out. Throw in the triangle hit on every fourth beat, and that catchy little “ffft!” noise, and the song’s a success before King has sung a single note.

2. The back-up vocals. I didn’t notice them until recently. Ben E. King’s voice is powerful and awesome in this song, but when the softly humming choir starts up just after the first minute, it’s the perfect contrast.

3. The string eruption at 1:54. Okay, it’s a bit melodramatic, and makes the song sound a bit supermarket-ish. But with King belting it out for most of the song, one of the instruments had to step up and belt back at him. I like to imagine the lead violinist standing up at this point, putting his violin behind his head like he’s Jimi Hendrix, and just going to town.

Recommended listening activity:

Bringing someone breakfast in bed.

Buy it here.