Sunday, May 8, 2011

50 years ago: Ben E. King charted with “Stand by Me"

Stand by Me

Ben E. King

Writer(s): Ben E. King/Elmo Glick/Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller (see lyrics here)

First Charted: May 8, 1961

Peak: 4 US, 3 CB, 6 HR, 16 RR, 10 AC, 14 RB, 13 UK, 11 CN (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 492.2 video, 550.41 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Of this song’s origins, King says he modified it from Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers’ “Lord, I’m Standing By” TC but that his end result was completely different. “All the romantic bits came from me.” KL He wrote “Stand by Me” while he was still the lead singer for the Drifters, but their manager said, “not a bad song, but we don’t need it.” RS500 It didn’t resurface again until King went solo.

During the recording sessions for “Spanish Harlem,” producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller asked King if he had any more songs since they had some studio time left over. He played a piano version of “Stand by Me.” WK They did an arrangement on the spot, creating the song’s distinctive percussion by turning a snare drum over and stroking the springs against the drum skin. TC

The way the arrangement builds throughout, with more instruments added at each stage, was “pure Leiber-Stoller.” MA It also offered a glimpse of the kind of work to come from Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland and Phil Spector, a Leiber-Stoller protégé. MA

Twenty-five years later, the song proved its timelessness. In the mid-‘80s, director Rob Reiner was working on a film and needed a song for the title sequence. He went through his old records and settled on “Stand by Me” not just for the opening, but for the name of his movie. KL

It didn’t just make for a bit of nostalgia, though; the song re-entered the top 10 on the pop charts and made its first appearance on the adult contemporary charts. It was also used in a Levi Jeans ad, helping it to top the UK singles chart, WK where it originally peaked at #27 in 1961.


  • DMDB Encyclopedia entry for Ben E. King
  • TC Toby Creswell (2005). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time. Thunder’s Mouth Press: New York, NY. Page 367.
  • KL Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh (2005). 1000 UK Number One Hits: The Stories Behind Every Number One Single Since 1952. London, Great Britain: Omnibus Press. Page 321.
  • MA Dave Marsh (1989). The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. New York, NY; New American Library. Page 51.
  • RS500 “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time
  • WK

First posted 7/8/2012; last updated 11/6/2021.

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