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Don Black and Walter Scharf wrote this for the 1972 movie of the same name. It was the sequel to a movie called Willard, which was remade in 2003 starring Crispin Glover. Ben is a pet rat. In the movie, a young boy befriends the rat, but the rat turns evil and recruits other rats to attack humans. In the remake of Willard, Ben becomes an enormous super-rat.
Despite being about a rat, the lyrics are touching and sentimental, and make no reference to rodents. A lot of people were very moved by the song.
According to the book Jacksons Number Ones
, this was intended for Donny Osmond, but Don Black suggested Jackson, who got the song instead.
The song's co-writer Don Black has written many movie themes, including the hits "Diamonds Are Forever" (for the James Bond movie) and "Born Free." At his 2007 induction in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame, he said of "Ben," "When it came to writing about a rat, I said, 'You can't write about a rat.' I mean, I'm not going to use words like 'cheese.' I thought the best thing to do is write about friendship."
This song is one of Michael Jackson's favorites, and it was his first #1 hit as a solo artist. Motown recorded him as a solo artist when The Jackson 5 stopped selling well.
Jackson was 14 when he recorded this. He became the youngest artist to top the US charts both as a solo artist and as a member of a group (The Jackson 5).
This was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. Jackson sang it at the ceremony in 1973.
Part of this song was used in a 1991 episode of The Simpsons
, where Jackson guest stars as an overweight, white mental patient who sings it to Homer. While Michael Jackson voice all the talking parts for the character, the singing voice was someone else, which caught the rest of the cast by surprise. Harry Shearer
, who does several voices on the show, told us: "Michael did all the vocal parts when we read it again at the stage. The character in the show sang special lyrics to 'Ben,' and when it came time to sing, Michael sat back, nodded, and a guy that we'd not noticed before, a white guy sitting across from him at the table, started singing in a ridiculously accurate Michael Jackson voice. And I thought about it for a minute, and then I realized, I guess we paid enough for the talking Michael Jackson, but not enough for the singing Michael Jackson.
The guy who did the singing was Kipp Lennon, who often did singing parts for the show.
Pearl Jam has a song called "Rats," which is a reference to this. It's on their 1993 release Vs..
At Michael Jackson's 2001 tribute special, young Country singer Billy Gilman performed this with Marc Anthony.
This song was used in an episode of Queer as Folk where Michael Novotny is trying to win back lover Ben Bruckner. (thanks, Allison - Portales, NM)
After Jackson's death, his family sued the promotion company that planned his comeback tour. In testimony, his mother, Katherine, revealed that Michael did enjoy the company of certain rodents: he once smuggled a mouse into a Beverly Hills restaurant.
Charlie Benante of Anthrax
The drummer for Anthrax is also a key songwriter. He explains how the group puts their songs together and tells the stories behind some of their classics.
Joe talks about the challenges of of making a Duke Ellington tribute album, and tells the stories behind some of his hits.