Stand By Me: The Perfect Song-Movie Combination

by Amanda Flinner

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No, I won't be afraid
Oh, I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

"I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
Almost everyone has heard of the coming-of-age movie Stand By Me and the soulful title song by Ben E. King. A perfect marriage of film and song, one would not exist without the other, at least not in the way we know them today. Sure, "Stand By Me" was already a classic for over two decades before director Rob Reiner appropriated it, but its association with the movie propelled it back to the Top 10, introducing a new generation of listeners that might otherwise have abandoned it to the oldies stations. And without the song, the movie might never have found an audience.

By 1986, Stephen King's reputation as the master of horror had long transcended his novels with big screen adaptations of some of his most chilling tales, including Carrie, The Shining, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Firestarter and Children of the Corn. Surely moviegoers would expect something gruesome from The Body, a dramatic novella taken from the 1982 anthology Different Seasons (which also included two other stories destined for film adaptations: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and Apt Pupil).

But this story was far from supernatural, instead following four young boys on their journey to find a dead body, while finding themselves dealing with their own issues along the way. Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton) is a budding writer who is largely ignored by his parents after the death of his older brother. Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) carries the reputation of his bad family and worries he won't be able to escape their legacy. Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman) has a love-hate relationship with his abusive father who nearly killed him. Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell) is terrified of his older brother, not to mention his own shadow. As the adult Gordie (Richard Dreyfuss) narrates the story, he realizes that summer on 1959 would set each of them on the paths they would take to adulthood. And for those few days, all they had was each other. Cue Ben E. King.

Reiner knew he needed a new title that would dispel any assumptions that the movie was a horror flick yet give the audience a glimpse to what it was actually about. One afternoon, he was listening to records and heard "Stand By Me," an old favorite. He knew it would be perfect for the film, alongside quintessential '50s tunes from bygone icons, like The Chordettes' "Lollipop," Buddy Holly's "Everyday," The Coasters' "Yakety Yak," and Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire."

Just hearing the title would automatically bring the right connotations better than any tagline. It evoked the nostalgia of the era but the lyrics about friendship were universal and cut to the heart of the movie.

Reiner said in a Hitfix interview: "If the movie is just about the time, it becomes an inside joke to the people of that time. It has to transcend that to where the feelings and that the characters are going through are universal to where everybody can connect with it."

The same could be said for the song choice. Stand By Me didn't need to twist the meaning of the song to fit its story, nor did the meaning of the song change based on how it was used in the film. If anything, the film deepened its sentiment and proved the timelessness of its message of friendship and loyalty. But no one expected the movie to be a hit, let alone bring an oldie back to the top of the charts. Made on a shoestring budget with mostly unknown actors filling the principal roles, it would be lucky to get a short theater run with maybe a few nods from critics. Instead, it raked in over $52 million at the box office, putting it at #13 for the year, and became an enduring classic. It even made Stephen King cry – how's that for a tagline?

Plenty of other movies have nicked their titles from already-famous songs, but none has matched the commercial and artistic heights of the Ben E. King/Stand By Me partnership. For a look at some of them, check out Song Titles That Inspired Movies.

May 21, 2015
More Song Writing

Comments: 1

  • from Olympia, WashingtonThank you, Amanda Flinner. I could name a dozen movies that have included our Fleetwoods' hits, but I was especially pleased, proud and touched that our "Come Softly To Me" was included in such a fine film as STAND BY ME, enhancing the scene where the boys are in the woods at night, around a campfire, and from the transistor radio, our sweet voices are heard.
    "Come Softly", BTW, was the first song I wrote - at age 18 - and then arranged in counterpoint to the street corner humming ('n doo be doo DOM DOM') of a classmate, with another singing harmony to my melody and lyrics. It became the #1 Hit in the USA and throughout the world. I was thrilled when a fan sent me over 50 different versions of the song, including the one from GRETCHEN'S SWEET SIXTEEN (Suite 16), a Billboard critics' Pick for 10 Best Albums of the Year (hear Sound Samples at - and enjoy!)
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