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Evening Song – Stand By Me

October 26, 2015

“Hey, if ‘Stand By Me’ is such a “great…Ben E. King pop standard“, why haven’t you written about it?”

An excellent question to which I have no good answer other than to say I’d like to remedy the situation right now…except for the fact that anything I could say about the song, Dave Marsh already said better in The Heart Of Rock & Soul:

“Stand By Me” is…”as timeless as a basic black dress. The theme was provided by gospel, the bass and percussion by Afro-Cuban. But the riffing cellos and soft quartet harmonies, the way the arrangement builds, adding instruments and growing more lush at each stage, is pure Leiber-Stoller. Typically, it’s also way ahead of its time, prefiguring key aspects of both Leiber-Stoller protégé Phil Spector and Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland.

The lyric is so stark it seemed ancient when brand-new, especially with King bearing down on the poetic first lines as if the fate of the world depended upon them.  What makes the performance unforgettable, though, is the way that King’s intonation denies his own ritualistic protestations: ‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry,’ he cries, and unless he began sobbing like Johnny Ray, the contradiction couldn’t be more complete. Yet holding back is King’s triumph, for it’s precisely by conveying the boundary between panic and restraint that ‘Stand By Me’ achieves its unique unity of terror and reassurance.

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  1. Morning Song – Stand By Me Father | MassCommons

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