Sunday, May 10, 2015

Track of the Week: Ben E King "Stand By Me"

I can't believe it took me over a week to finally hear the sad news of the death of Ben E. King.  I must have been very distracted, or our media (as usual) failed me again.  Anyway, I enjoyed his smooth yet powerful voice from a young age, hearing it come out of the radio on the oldies station in my parents' van on our many trips to see my grandparents.  My dad always seemed to turn up the volume whenever "On The Boardwalk," "On The Roof," or "Save The Last Dance For Me" came on.

While King had a bunch of hits with the Drifters, "Stand By Me" was his signature tune, and with good reason.  In the first place, he wrote it, and in the second place, it's one of those love songs that's both managed to stand the test of time and not be totally cheesy.  It's hard to describe, but it has a dark tone at the heart of it that intrigues me to this day.  It might be the spare bass and percussion accompaniment at the start, or perhaps its references to the apocalypse.  The very first line is "when the night," and one verse starts with the memorable lines "If the sky that we look upon/ should tumble and fall/ and the mountains/ crumble to the sea," deep stuff for a teen love song.  The string section in the bridge has a very melancholic sound to it, and it never fails to put a chill down my spine.

This song went back on the charts in 1986 after it was included in the movie of the same name.  I heard it first on the hits channel, not the oldies station.  At that time a lot of sixties nostalgia was going around, from Dirty Dancing to Monkees re-runs on MTV, and I ate it up.  In retrospect it's not hard to why.  Would I rather listen to a three minute masterpiece like "Stand By Me," or the likes of Falco and Peter Cetera?  The answer should be obvious.  This song was part of a general opening up of my knowledge of music, and I'm bummed that its creator has left this earth.

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