The late American singer and songwriter, Benjamin Earl King was a giant in the space of R&B and Soul music. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 76, but his music will endure for generations to come. Ben E. King’s 1961 single “Stand by Me” is a song that has stood the test of time and still draws the same emotions of love it did 60 years ago. In this article, we pay tribute to “Stand by Me” and dig into the song’s inspiration and meaning.
“Stand by Me” was released as a single from Ben E. King’s third studio album ‘Don’t Play That Song!’ (1962). It is King’s most popular song to date. The song reached #1 in the UK Singles Chart, #9 in the US Billboard Hot 100 Chart, and broke the top 10 in several other countries. Estimated sales of the song are around 3 million copies globally.
One of its biggest accolades is being inducted to the ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ list by Rolling Stone magazine at #122 spot.
However, its greatest accomplishment is being inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, just under five weeks before Ben E. King’s death.
Inspiration behind “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
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.’ However, the real inspiration for the song is said to have been derived from King’s love for his real-life partner, Betty Nelson. Further, the third line of the second verse of the original song derives from ‘Psalm 46.’
Ben E. King penned the song, with the support of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, to be recorded by The Drifters group, in which King was the lead singer. However, The Drifter’s management refused to take it on, and King ended up recording it for himself.
Listen to “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King
“Stand by Me” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
The intro beat has become as iconic as the song itself.
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
These iconic opening lines set the mood and theme for the song. While King paints a scene of nature engulfed in the darkness of the night, it also has a translation into their lives. King is likely talking about a dark time in his life and there is very little ‘light’ or hope around him.
But he is not worried. He is not scared to face the darkness or the bleak future, as long as he has his partner by his side.
The singer invites his partner to stand by him through thick and thin. While standing by him might sound like a little gesture, but it has a long-lasting context. The invitation is to stand by him for life.
So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me
Oh, stand by me
In a world full of change and inconsistencies and betrayals, it is nice to know that there is at least one person on whom you can rely blindly.
Ben E. King paints an almost apocalyptic scenario–skies tumbling down and mountains getting washed down to the sea. Even in the face of such disasters, the singer is fearless since he has the one person he wants by his side.
These lyrics are also a reference to the Bible’s book of Psalms, specifically Chapter 46, verse 2, which reads; “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”
At the very end of the song, Ben E. King tweaks the lyrics ever so slightly to make this song the perfect love song. All throughout the song, so far, he was asking his partner to stand by him to support him. In the last lyrics, he adds a line “Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me.” This flips the song on its head. With this line, King tells his wife that whenever she needs support, he will be there for her, too.
The song is a sweet tribute to the singer’s partner in life. Just being there for each other through thick and thin is really the key to a successful life.
Let us hear what you think about this song in the comments below. What are your memories of this song?
Check out the complete lyrics of the song on Genius.