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, 2 GR, 6 HR, 16 RR, 10 AC, 14 RB, 13 UK, 11 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): --
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 7.0 radio, 492.2 video, 550.41 streaming
Awards (Ben E. King):
Click on award for more details.
Awards (U2 & Bruce Springsteen):
Awards (Playing for Change):
About the Song:
Regarding “one of the great pop songs of all time,” LW Ben E. King said he modified “Stand by Me” 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 Author Alan Lewis said the songwriting pair “exemplify Tin Pan Alley rock ‘n’ roll,” LW a reference to the famed songwriting out of New York in the early part of the 20th century. Critic Greg Shaw said, “They were the true architects of pop/rock.” LW “Stand by Me” 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.
The song has been covered multiple times. Personal favorites include a live version from 1987 featuring U2 with Bruce Springsteen and a version recorded in 2008 by a collaboration of artists around the world under the Playing for Change banner.
First posted 7/8/2012; last updated 11/23/2022.