Originally made No. 27 in summer 1961, re-charted at No. 19 on 10th February and "501"-ed its way to the top the following week. It was still firmly at No. 1 in early March.The otherwise impenetrable verb "501" is of course a reference to the use of this song in a jeans commercial starring Eddie Kidd, although to be honest that's not something I'd have remembered were it not in the sleevenote. I do remember that the song was used in the film of the same name, as the video that got shown at the time was the one made to tie in with the film, showing a 48-year-old King incongruously miming to the vocal he'd recorded half his lifetime ago, while Will Wheaton - before he became the world's most famous Google+ user - shows his dance moves.
A surprisingly small hit on initial release, 'Stand By Me' (written by the ex-Drifter himself with legendary writers and producers Lieber & Stoller) became something of a standard, with both Kenny Lynch and John Lennon having charted versions of the song as well. It's one of those songs that always seemed to have been around and I don't recall being especially surprised to see an oldie do so well at the time - it was in the higher end of the charts around the same time as Freddie Mercury and Boy George's retro covers and the re-issue of 'I Get The Sweetest Feeling'. The sound of early 1987 was, to a great extent, the sound of the past. It does stand out by dint of its understated production, even compared to the simple but boisterous 'Reet Petite'. There aren't a lot of instruments on there, but every one counts. Even the guiro. It makes for a very intimate atmosphere as King calls upon the listener to stand by him and implicitly promises to stand by them too. A song of strength and tenderness that deserves to be listened to more closely than I usually do, but that's the price of success.
I was quite pleased to find that Ben E. King (or Benjamin Nelson, as he was born) is still alive and continued to perform into this century. Of course the recording of 'Stand By Me' has now passed into the public domain, so those writing royalties are all the more important now.
Available on: Stand By Me - 32 Original Recordings