Feb 10

BEN E KING – “Stand By Me”

FT + Popular59 comments • 5,071 views

#585, 21st February 1987, video

If the Levi’s Jeans advertisers counted as a single artist they would have six Number Ones – more than Bowie or Britney, as many as Queen, Rod or Slade. Their biggest successes came as tastemakers picking new music hits in the mid-90s, but prior to that they’d helped push the late 80s soul revival out into the casual singles market, and Ben E King was the biggest beneficiary. In the US the Rob Reiner movie was the main driver of “Stand By Me”‘s revival, but in Britain the jeans ad was the deal-maker.

Music of the 50s and 60s appealed to advertisers looking to hit notes of authenticity, integrity, and timelessness – valuable coin in an era of self-conscious new wealth. But the conmercials erased the music’s historical context and development: for someone like me, only beginning to discover old music, they made soul seem hollow and predictable, pre-chewed by the admen. It was another decade before I really dug into soul music, and before I understood anything about its timelines and tensions and where these old songs fitted in.

Not that “Stand By Me” itself really needs a lot of context. The song is resolutely self-contained, a sealed bubble of togetherness, one built to withstand the end of everything if it has to. The unfussy strings, the zizz of the guiro, and King’s rich but measured voice come together as a monument to steadiness and trust, just as the song intends. And the swells of orchestration and the occasional breaks in King’s delivery are all that hint at the effort and strength that kind of steadiness requires.



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  1. 31
    thefatgit on 17 Feb 2010 #

    @30…not sure about slide rules, but I was using digital vernier calipers to measure stainless steel tube filters within .01mm tolerance, around this time.

  2. 32
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Feb 2010 #

    I knew what a slide rule was for in 1986 and I still do.

  3. 33
    Steve Mannion on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Re Crush On You and Intro, if you haven’t already seen it here’s a nice video where Alan Braxe explains how he dunnit


  4. 34
    Alan on 17 Feb 2010 #

    “despite Phil Gould’s usual clunky lyrics”

    i really liked Running in the Family at the time. it was on my summer 87 mixtape i recall fo sho.

  5. 35
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Take my pro forma pro-Levs rant as read. THEY ARE NEVER NOT TEH AWESOEM.

  6. 36
    Pete Baran on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Slide rules in full.
    a) Whoever is first in the queue gets to go down the slide.
    b) When you have finished sliding you should exit the slide as soon as possible.

    Failure to follow the slide rules meant I got badly told off as a child and did not get a Zoom lolly when we left the park.

  7. 37
    Alan on 17 Feb 2010 #

    d) you *can* go back up the slidey bit, instead of the ladder, but only if nobody else is queuing up to slide down and you do not have mud on your shoes

  8. 38
    Tom on 17 Feb 2010 #

    e) if you get a shoe in the face as a result of corner-cutting on d) don’t expect more than the most cursory sympathy from yr parents.

  9. 39
    lonepilgrim on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Urban (myth?) slide rule:

    Check for razor blades on slide before sliding

  10. 40
    Pete Baran on 17 Feb 2010 #

    #39 Especially on Waterslides http://bit.ly/99clGT

  11. 41
    Tim on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Pete, I have no memory of that post whatsoever. Weird. And disgusting!

  12. 42
    Martin Skidmore on 17 Feb 2010 #

    I wasn’t bothered by their use in ads at all, and many of you know I love old soul records above anything else, but this was never a huge favourite of mine. Yes, it is dignified and classy and so on, but I was never very thrilled by it, so I go along with Tom’s mark on this one.

  13. 43
    wichita lineman on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Apocalyptic lyric aside, Stand By Me has always felt slightly empty and even a little rushed to me – so I’ll join the small band whispering that they admire it but don’t LOVE it.

    Sat against The Drifters’ There Goes My Baby (also wr. Leiber/Stoller, voc. Ben E King) I’d go for the latter. Recorded in 1959, it was the first R&B record to incorporate strings. It genuinely sounds like two different records playing at the same time. Ben E King’s lead vocal is wayward, piercingly lonely. A booming baion drum alone guides him through this uncharted landscape.

    Compelling, and one step from chaos, it nevertheless opened a new world of pop possibilities – one that Stand By Me capitalised on – by blending Latin rhythms, orchestral sweetness and raw teenage passions. Cosmopolitan, very New York, it filled the void between classic r’n’r’s demise and ‘Soul’ as a defined genre. A lot of my all-time favourite records fall into this area.

  14. 44
    Izzy on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Gee thanks, #39 and #40 – another latent horror not diminished in the slightest by being past sliding age (except when nobody’s looking)

  15. 45
    Rory on 17 Feb 2010 #

    #29 – possibly a combination of that and being pre-internet, when spreading the word was in the hands of record companies and radio stations rather than punters themselves.

  16. 46
    AndyPandy on 17 Feb 2010 #

    The term “soul-boy(s)” keeps cropping up quite a bit but actually appears to cover 2 groups of people.So for those who weren’t around back then or are non-British…

    When used in the context of this Popular entry it seems to denote people who would have been into soul music per se quite possibly writing for one of the style magazines/music press or mixing in similar circles coming from a similar direction and who would have had a prior knowledge of early-60s soul such as Ben E King or Sam Cooke etc.

    But in the UK and especially back in the 70s/80 (up until about 1987/88 when the massive cultural change wrought by acid house rapidly killed it off as any mass identity)it invariably meant a group of clubbers whose musical tastes did include a bit of modern soul (approx post early-mid70s)but who were far more readily identified with funk,certain jazz and especially jazz-funk (some fictitious amalgam of Maze, Roy Ayers, Players Association, Donald Byrd and possibly early Level 42 would give the best idea of what they were into musically for the layman).

    It also often involved Caister weekenders,wedge haircuts, baggy jeans, white socks, Cortinas, Capris and XR3, Robbie on Radio London on Saturday mornings, “If It Moves Funk It” sun-strips and “I’m A Gold-Miner” car-stickers and “tribes” with such wholesome names as the Hemel Lechers, the Groovin’ Gropers and the Hounslow BA Funkers (who incidentally contained one Brandon Block).

    They provided the foundation (djs, early converts, first dance pirates, dance specialist shops etc)for much of what became Acid House but unfortunately didn’t have much interest/knowledge about 60s soul unless of course Bob Jones stuck one such track on in the jazz room at a weekender.

  17. 47
    Mark M on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Re 46: seconded. I always use soul boy in the latter sense; I think the former group probably best referred to as the Real Soul faction.

  18. 48
    Mark M on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Re 46/47: There’s some degree of overlap, I think, at least in persons of Bob Elms & the Kemp brothers, and probably others going one way, and some of the Wellerites the other.

  19. 49
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2010 #

    I’d rather have the Levi’s advert in my head when I listen to the song than that awful John Lennon version.

    These campaigns clearly worked for me as I wore Levis for the next 15 years or so, ceasing to wear jeans or trainers anymore when I became 30, though I switched from blue to black as I got older, and then a Richey Manic-style white for most of the 1990s. I once managed to find a red pair in 1995 – How cool was I? I was never cool enough to look for red stitching, though.

    Did anyone else ever buy vintage imported Americana jeans, etc in Flip in Covent Garden at this time. I wonder when that closed.

    I look at the jeans that the undergraduates I teach wear – either flapping square things or comedy leggings skinny, and I do miss the cut of the old model and feel that this was one thing when my generation had the best of it, I must say.

    I saw the Rob Reiner film at the time, disliked it as sentimental, and reflected that life was nothing like that for me when I was 12. Not a popular position with my peers, who felt that I should get over myself.

    The only Levis single I ever bought was the 12″ of ‘C’mon Everybody’ in 1988 though – very well chosen b-sides.

  20. 50
    Billy Smart on 17 Feb 2010 #

    Light Entertainment watch: Most of the missing UK TV appearances are from King’s sixties heyday;

    THE HAPPENING: with Ben E. King, Malcolm Hardee, Punt & Dennis, Tony Hawkes, Vic Hanley, Ian Saville, Kym Mazelle, Will Downing (1990)

    READY STEADY GO!: with John Leyton, Eden Kane, Ben E. King, Manfred Mann, Kiki Dee, The Kinks, Denny Seyton and the Sabres (1964)

    READY STEADY GO!: with Lulu, Ben E. King, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, The Fortunes, Dusty Springfield, Graham Bond Organisation (1965)

    READY STEADY GO!: with Little Richard, Donovan, Ben E. King (1966)

    READY STEADY GO!: with Sandie Shaw, Ben E. King, Paul & Barry Ryan (1966)

    THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS: with Brian Matthew, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Dusty Springfield, Jimmy Henney (Guest Disc Jockey), The Undertakers, The Karl Denver Trio, Danny Williams, Johnny Sandon, The Zephyrs, Ben E. King (1964)

    Two comeback appearances survive, though;

    THE HAPPENING: with Ben E. King (1991)

    SEASIDE SPECIAL 87: with Val Doonican, Ben E. King, Mike Burton, The Wytchwoods, Charlie Daze (1987)

  21. 51
    Snif on 18 Feb 2010 #

    “I’d rather have the Levi’s advert in my head when I listen to the song than that awful John Lennon version.”

    That’s me banished to The Fringes, then…I quite like the Lennon version (it’s the saxes)

  22. 52
    giat dien thoai on 30 Oct 2013 #

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  23. 53
    hectorthebat on 25 Jan 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Consequence of Sound (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2012) 70
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 1
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 72
    Greil Marcus (USA) – STRANDED: “Treasure Island” Singles (1979)
    Paul Williams (USA) – Rock and Roll: The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1993)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 117
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 25
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 121
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 122
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 21-100
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 89
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 95
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 18
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of NME’s Lifetime (2012) 41
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1960s (2012) 34
    NME (UK) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2014) 65
    Neil McCormick, The Telegraph (UK) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2009) 30
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 150 Singles of All Time (1987) 48
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 43
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Helsingin Sanomat (Finland) – 50th Anniversary of Rock (2004)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 40
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 461
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 199
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The Best Singles of 5 Decades (1997)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 138
    Peter Holmes, The Sun-Herald (Australia) – 100 Best Songs of All Time (2003) 25
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  24. 54
    Tom on 14 Apr 2015 #

    RIP Percy Sledge, kept off the top by his fellow jeans-shifter in 1987. Bit of a feeble place for a memorial, but better that than a Robson & Jerome cover.

  25. 55
    enitharmon on 14 Apr 2015 #

    Can’t remember how high Percy’s Greatest Hit climbed on its original release but it was one of those songs that made 1966 such a monumental year for pop; the greatest ever IMHO.

  26. 56
    flahr on 1 May 2015 #

    And Ben E has followed him. RIP.

  27. 57
    Drilling Club on 8 Dec 2016 #

    One (minor) point in Final Fantasy XV’s favour has been how it’s gotten this back in the phone playlist. The Florence Welch version in the game is passable but obviously doesn’t compare to the Ben E King version. That being said the cover’s a weirdly fitting soundtrack to a boy band pushing a broken car down a Route 66 esque desert road in what is ostensibly a scifi fantasy JRPG and not sure the original would’ve worked so well in context.

  28. 58
    Alan Connor on 22 May 2018 #

    Since this is the journal of record, I will note that I too was certain that the hook noise is a guiro — but in the course of putting together a piece about its use at the recent royal wedding, I heard BEK say that it’s a brush being pulled across an upended snare. That is all.

  29. 59
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    I would go up to 8/10 here. Classic single imho.

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