This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #458: Stand By Me by Ben E. King
“Stand By Me” is one of those songs that seems to transcend time. It was written, recorded and released in the 60s, saw itself be reborn in the 80s (thanks to the movie of the same name) and, since then, pops up on a fairly regular basis as background music for TV shows or commercials. The lyrics are familiar to young and the not-so-young, alike. The opening bass notes are among the most instantly-recognizable notes in all of music history. But, did you know that this song “Stand By Me” is one of the few songs on this list of 500 great songs to draw its inspiration directly from The Bible?! Well, it did. Here is the story of how this came to be.
The 1950s in the US were a time of racial segregation in much of the country. If you were a person of colour who wanted to make your living as a singer, your options were not as plentiful as those accorded to white singers. For instance, if you wanted to perform in a club or cabaret setting, you were limited to those places that allowed people of colour inside. There were some of these clubs scattered throughout the States. To travel around performing in these clubs was called “playing the Chitlin’ Circuit”. But safety was always a consideration in those times so, even playing in “Coloured” clubs on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” didn’t necessarily guarantee a singer’s safety before, after or, even, during a show. Therefore, many singers of colour found their voice on the inside of churches. Singing praises to The Lord for His many blessings helped lay the foundation of a style of music called Gospel music. Gospel music was often sung with great passion and fervour. Soaring melodies, luscious harmonies, hand-clapping/foot-stomping contributions from the congregation, all combined to make Gospel music one of the most passionate and beautiful of modern musical genres.
Ben E. King cut his musical teeth in the Gospel-rich environment of the southern US. Not only was he exposed to Gospel music, he was also exposed to Gospel preaching which, in the case of our story, included much talk about The Psalms. Originally, the great Sam Cooke recorded a Gospel track entitled, “Stand By Me Father”. This song was based upon the 46th Psalm which is nicknamed The Psalm of Confidence. This song by Sam Cooke gave Ben E. King the inspiration to take another look at the 46th Psalm. I will post a few lines from this Psalm and when I do, it will become obvious how they helped to inspire the lyrics that we have all come to know and love from “Stand By Me”.
“God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed and mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
It goes on from there. Now, lets look at the lyrics from “Stand By Me”.
“If the sky that we look upon, should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea.
I won’t cry. I won’t cry. I won’t shed a tear.
Just as long as you stand by me.“
The lyrics were written by Mr. King. The music, including those iconic opening bass notes were written by King, in collaboration with fellow songwriters Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. The one main tweak that was made to the song, in order to give it broader audience appeal, was that the references to God were changed to references about the power and importance of having friendship and Love in your life. As a result, “Stand By Me” has gone on to serve as one of the most popular songs ever written about having good people in your life. The bonds of friendship and the power of Love combine to form the foundation of a good life for those of us lucky enough to have learned this lesson. I consider myself to be among the lucky. For that, I am very grateful.
“Stand By Me” stands as one of the most popular and well-received songs of all time. Sales of the song have been certified as Gold. The song has been inducted into the Library of Congress for being considered as something that has improved the fabric of life for all Americans. “Stand By Me” has also been inducted into the Song Category of The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. It is one of those songs that helped to create the soundtrack of our lives. And it all began with The Bible, soaring Gospel-inspired voices and a Peoples who know a thing or two about the power of Love and of the importance of Faith. Enjoy.
“Stand By Me” was sung at the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. The singer was Karen Gibson. She was accompanied by The Kingdom Choir. The link to that video can be found here.
Ben E. King has a website which can be reached by clicking on the link can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to Rolling Stone Magazine for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their terrific website can be found here.
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