The Story of... 'Stand By Me' by Ben E King

26 May 2021, 18:29

Ben E King's Stand By Me is a soul anthem
Ben E King's Stand By Me is a soul anthem. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Ben E King's 'Stand By Me' is a timeless soul classic that celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2021.

First released in 1961, it's still a beloved song by millions of people around the world, and has become an anthem of love and hope across the decades.

But what inspired the original version by soul icon Ben E King?

Who else has recorded it? What records has it broken? Here's all the big facts about the 1960s gospel anthem.

  1. Who wrote 'Stand By Me'?

    Ben E King
    Ben E King. Picture: Getty

    Singer Ben E King wrote the soul classic with songwriting partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

    After a session one day, Leiber and Stoller asked King if he had any other songs, and he started playing what turned into 'Stand By Me'.

    Stoller later said: "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."

  2. What inspired 'Stand By Me'?

    According to King, the title is derived from, and was inspired by, a spiritual song written by Sam Cooke and JW Alexander called 'Stand by Me Father', recorded by the Soul Stirrers with Johnnie Taylor singing lead vocals.

    The third line of the second verse of the original song derives from 'Psalm 46:2c/3c'.

    Meanwhile, 'Stand By Me' was also the name of a gospel hymn written by Philadelphia minister Charles Albert Tindley in 1905.

    His hymn became popular in churches throughout the American South and was recorded by various gospel acts in the 1950s.

  3. Ben E King didn't want to record it

    According to the documentary History of Rock 'n' Roll, Ben E King had no intention of recording the song himself.

    He had actually written it for his former group The Drifters, who passed on recording it. 

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    Amazingly, after its original release in 1961, the song reached number 4 in the US, and only number 27 in the UK.

    However, the song cemented its position as an all-time favourite when it reached number one in the UK in 1987.

    This was mainly due to its use in the movie of the same name the year before, as well a Levi's jeans advert at the time.

  5. Who has covered 'Stand By Me'?

    The song has been covered at least 400 times ever since its original release. These include:

    • John Lennon
    • Muhammad Ali
    • Maurice White
    • Florence + the Machine
    • 4 the Cause
    • Skylar Grey

    Ben E King once said: "David Ruffin from the Temptations did a great version of it. And, of course, the one that held up in my head the most was John Lennon's version.

    "He took it and made it as if it should have been his song as opposed to mine."

  6. It was used heavily in the film of the same name

    The song was used in the 1986 movie Stand By Me starring River Phoenix. The film was based on a short novel by Stephen King called The Body, but that title was a little too gruesome for a film hoping to appeal to a wide audience.

    Read more: Where are the cast of Stand By Me 35 years later?

    Director Rob Reiner met the song's co-writer Mike Stoller at a party, and convinced him to play some of his classic songs on a piano while Reiner sang along.

    Several months later, Reiner wanted to use 'Stand By Me' as the title and feature it in the movie when he heard the song at his house.

    This signified the friendship of the young boys in the film and downplayed the role of the dead body they find, which was a good move at the box office. The movie was a hit and saw the song back to the charts.

  7. It was performed at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding

    'Stand By Me' has been a wedding favourite for decades, but none more notable than the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018.

    Before exchanging their vows in Windsor Castle, Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir performed a gospel version of the song, which was chosen by the couple.