Stand By Me • Theme Song • Ben E. King

!The best soundtracks&movies of all time! Soundtrack from the 1986 Rob Reiner film “Stand By Me” with Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell.

Stand by Me” is a song originally performed in 1961 by American singer-songwriter Ben E. King and written by him, along with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who together used the pseudonym Elmo Glick. According to King, the title is derived from, and was inspired by, a spiritual written by Sam Cooke and J. W. Alexander called “Stand by Me Father,” recorded by the Soul Stirrers with Johnnie Taylor singing lead. The third line of the second verse of the former work derives from Psalm 46:2c/3c.

It was featured on the soundtrack of the 1986 film of the same name, and a corresponding music video, featuring King along with actors River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton, was released to promote the film. It was also featured in a 1987 European commercial of Levi’s 501 jeans, contributing to greater success in Europe. In 2012, its royalties were estimated to have topped $22.8 million (£17 million), making it the sixth highest-earning song as of its era. 50% of the royalties were paid to King. In 2015, King’s original version was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, just under five weeks before his death. Later in the year, the 2015 lineup of the Drifters recorded it in tribute.

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There have been over 400 recorded versions of the song, performed by many artists, notably Otis Redding, John Lennon, Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), 4 the Cause, Tracy Chapman, musicians of the Playing for Change project, Florence and the Machine, and the Kingdom Choir. A-League club Melbourne Victory FC play this song before home matches, while fans raise their scarves above their heads and sing the lyrics.

History and production

In 1960, Ben E. King was inspired to update the early 20th-century gospel hymn “Stand by Me” by Charles Albert Tindley, which was based around the psalm, “will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”

According to the documentary History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, King had no intention of recording the song himself. King had written it for the Drifters, who passed on recording it. After the “Spanish Harlem” recording session in 1960, King had some studio time left over. The session’s producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, asked if he had any more songs. King played it on the piano for them. They liked it and called the studio musicians back in to record it.

Stoller recalls it differently:

I remember arriving at our office as Jerry and Ben were working on lyrics for a new song. King had the beginnings of a melody that he was singing a cappella. I went to the piano and worked up the harmonies, developing a bass pattern that became the signature of the song. Ben and Jerry quickly finished the lyrics … .

In another interview, Stoller said:

Ben E. had the beginnings of a song—both words and music. He worked on the lyrics together with Jerry, and I added elements to the music, particularly the bass line. To some degree, it’s based on a gospel song called “Lord Stand By Me”. I have a feeling that Jerry and Ben E. were inspired by it. Ben, of course, had a strong background in church music. He’s a 50% writer on the song, and Jerry and I are 25% each…. When I walked in, Jerry and Ben E. were working on the lyrics to a song. They were at an old oak desk we had in the office. Jerry was sitting behind it, and Benny was sitting on the top. They looked up and said they were writing a song. I said, “Let me hear it.”… Ben began to sing the song a cappella. I went over to the upright piano and found the chord changes behind the melody he was singing. It was in the key of A. Then I created a bass line. Jerry said, “Man that’s it!” We used my bass pattern for a starting point and, later, we used it as the basis for the string arrangement created by Stanley Applebaum.

The personnel on the song included Romeo Penque on sax, Ernie Hayes on piano, Al Caiola and Charles McCracken on guitars, Lloyd Trotman on double bass, Phil Kraus on percussion, and Gary Chester on drums, plus a wordless mixed chorus and strings. Songwriting credits on the single were shown as King and Elmo Glick—a pseudonym used by Leiber and Stoller.

King’s record went to number 1 on the R&B charts and was a Top Ten hit on the US charts twice—in its original release, entering the Billboard chart on May 13, 1961 and peaking at number 4 on June 16, 1961, and a 1986 re-release coinciding with its use as the theme song for the film of the same name following its appearance in the film, when it peaked at number 9 on December 20, 1986 – January 3, 1987. The song is also heard in the televised advertisement of Levi’s 501 jeans. In the commercial, a man wearing a black denim jeans is able to enter a nightclub whose policy is “no blue jeans”. The song also reached number one on the UK Singles Chart in 1987 after its re-release, mostly because of the jeans commercial, originally reaching number 27 on its first UK release.

The song was not released on an album until it had been out as a single for two years. The song appeared on King’s Don’t Play That Song! album.

The song was ranked 122nd on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century, with about seven million performances.

On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that the song would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and that King would be honored with the 2012 Towering Performance Award for his recording of it. Smooth Radio in February 2019 called it one “of the best love songs of the 1960s”.

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