Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: Don't Play That SongReleased: 1960Charted:
Ben E. King recorded this shortly after leaving The Drifters in 1960. It gave him a solid reputation as a solo artist.
"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 Staples Singers, who recorded it in 1955. It was this version that Ben E. King heard; he pushed The Drifters to record it, but the group's manager rejected it.
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."
This 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.
When this was first released in 1960, it charted US #4 and UK #27. When it was re-released to coincide with the movie, it hit US #9 and UK #1. It found a new audience who had never heard it before and proved to be a timeless classic.
In England, this was used in commercials for Levi's jeans in 1987 before the movie was released there. The exposure helped lift the song to #1 UK. "When A Man Loves A Woman
" by Percy Sledge, used in the same group of Levi's ads, went to #2 at the same time.
Dionne Warwick sang backup on this song as part of a trio known as The Gospelaires. Soon after, songwriter Burt Bacharach helped Warwick launch a successful solo career. (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
A cover by John Lennon hit #20 in the US in 1975.
This was not released on an album until it had been out as a single for two years.
Cassius Clay (who would later change his name to Muhammad Ali
) recorded this in 1963 on an album called I Am The Greatest!
. In 1964, when he beat Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight boxing champ, Clay's version of "Stand By Me" was released as a single, with his spoken-boast song called "I Am The Greatest" as the flip side. The single made the Billboard
charts, bubbling under at #102 on the Hot 100.
During an interview with Spinner UK
, King was asked if he had any favorite cover versions of this song. He replied: "David Ruffin from the Temptations did a great version of it. And, of course, the one that held up in my head the most was John Lennon's version. He took it and made it as if it should have been his song as opposed to mine. Now there's a [Dominican] singer named Prince [Royce] - he has a version out there that I think is brilliant. And then there's Sean Kingston, with 'Beautiful Girls
' [chuckles] - that's another one that did well. So many of them have done well. As a songwriter, it pleases me a lot - you don't always have a chance to write a song that people can relate to."