Stand by Me (Ben E. King song)

"Stand by Me" is a song originally performed in 1961 by American singer-songwriter Ben E. King and written by King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. According to King, the title is derived from, and was inspired by, a spiritual written by Sam Cooke and J. W. Alexander called "Stand by Me Father," recorded by the Soul Stirrers with Johnnie Taylor singing lead. The third line of the second verse of the former work derives from Psalm 46:2c/3c.

There have been over 400 recorded versions of the song, performed by many artists. It was featured on the soundtrack of the 1986 film Stand by Me, and a corresponding music video, featuring King along with actors River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton, was released to promote the film. In 2012 it was estimated that the song's royalties had topped $22.8 million (£17 million), making it the sixth highest-earning song as of its era. 50% of the royalties were paid to King. In 2015 King's original version was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress, as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant", just under five weeks before his death. Later in the year, the 2015 line up of the Drifters recorded it in tribute.

The song has been recorded by various artists, like John Lennon, Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), 4 the Cause, Tracy Chapman, musicians of the Playing for Change project, Florence and the Machine, and the Kingdom Choir. A-League club Melbourne Victory FC play this song before home matches, while fans raise their scarves above their heads and sing the lyrics.

History and production

In 1960, Ben E. King was inspired to update the early 20th century gospel hymn by Charles Albert Tindley, which was based around the psalm, "will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."

According to the documentary History of Rock 'n' Roll, King had no intention of recording the song himself. King had written it for the Drifters, who passed on recording it. After the "Spanish Harlem" recording session in 1960, King had some studio time left over. The session's producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, asked if he had any more songs. King played it on the piano for them. They liked it and called the studio musicians back in to record it.

Stoller recalls it differently:
I remember arriving at our office as Jerry and Ben were working on lyrics for a new song. King had the beginnings of a melody that he was singing a cappella. I went to the piano and worked up the harmonies, developing a bass pattern that became the signature of the song. Ben and Jerry quickly finished the lyrics ... .

In another interview, Stoller said:
Ben E. had the beginnings of a song—both words and music. He worked on the lyrics together with Jerry, and I added elements to the music, particularly the bass line. To some degree, it's based on a gospel song called "Lord Stand By Me". I have a feeling that Jerry and Ben E. were inspired by it. Ben, of course, had a strong background in church music. He's a 50% writer on the song, and Jerry and I are 25% each.... When I walked in, Jerry and Ben E. were working on the lyrics to a song. They were at an old oak desk we had in the office. Jerry was sitting behind it, and Benny was sitting on the top. They looked up and said they were writing a song. I said, "Let me hear it."... Ben began to sing the song a cappella. I went over to the upright piano and found the chord changes behind the melody he was singing. It was in the key of A. Then I created a bass line. Jerry said, "Man that's it!" We used my bass pattern for a starting point and, later, we used it as the basis for the string arrangement created by Stanley Applebaum.

The personnel on the song included Romeo Penque on sax, Ernie Hayes on piano, Al Caiola and Charles McCracken on guitars, Lloyd Trotman on double bass, Phil Kraus on percussion, and Gary Chester on drums, plus a wordless mixed chorus and strings. Songwriting credits on the single were shown as King and Elmo Glick—a pseudonym used by Leiber and Stoller.

King's record went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and was a Top Ten hit on the US charts twice—in its original release, entering the Billboard chart on May 13, 1961 and peaking at No. 4 on June 16, 1961, and a 1986 re-release coinciding with its use as the theme song for the movie of the same name following its appearance in the film, when it peaked at No. 9 on December 20, 1986 – January 3, 1987, and also in an advertisement for Levi Jeans. It also reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1987 after its re-release, mostly because of the jeans spot, originally reaching No. 27 on its first release.

The song was not released on an album until it had been out as a single for two years. The song appeared on King's Don't Play That Song! album.

The song was ranked 122nd on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century, with about seven million performances.

On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that the song would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and that King would be honored with the 2012 Towering Performance Award for his recording of it. Smooth Radio in February 2019 called it one "of the best love songs of the 1960s".


The song uses a version of the common chord progression now called the 50s progression, which has been called the "'Stand by Me' changes" after the song.

Chart performance

For the year-end charts in the US, the song was the #63 song of 1961 and #67 of 1987.

Weekly charts

Year-end charts

All-time charts

John Lennon version

John Lennon recorded his version of the song for his 1975 album Rock 'n' Roll. Lennon's remake became a single three weeks after the album's release and was his last hit prior to his five-year retirement from the music industry. Lennon filmed a performance of the song for The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975.

On the week of May 3, 1975, this version was in its second of two weeks at the peak position #20 on the US Hot 100, right in front of King's comeback hit "Supernatural Thing - Part I" at #21. Both tunes fell off the top 40 the next week and off the chart the week after that. Lennon's version stayed on top 100 of the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks, peaking at number 30 on its fourth week on the week of May 18–24, 1975. It peaked at number 13 on Canada's RPM Top Singles chart on the week ending May 3, 1975 and stayed on the peak position the following week. It peaked at number 11 on the Official New Zealand Music Chart on the week of July 14, 1975.

The single's B-side track is "Move Over Ms. L", initially intended for Lennon's previous album Walls and Bridges but was cut from the final lineup due to his dissatisfaction with his early takes. Keith Moon covered "Move Over Ms. L" for his 1975 solo album Two Sides of the Moon.

Before the parent album's official release, during Lennon's March 1974 sessions with Harry Nilsson for Nilsson's album Pussy Cats, Lennon recorded two takes of the song in collaboration with former Beatles member Paul McCartney. McCartney performed on the drums; Lennon on guitar. The unreleased recordings would eventually be included in a bootleg album A Toot and a Snore in '74.

Pitchfork writer Marc Hogan found Lennon's version "more affecting (just barely)" than the original due to the "acoustic guitar and Lennon's fervent vocals". A 2007 book The Words and Music of John Lennon by Ben Urish and Ken Bielen called Lennon's version one of the "stronger" tracks of the album. Journalist and book author Robert Webb in 2013 called this version one of the "greatest cover versions".

Playing for Change version

Documentary filmmaker Mark Johnson, who also created the Playing for Change project based on his idea made in late 1990s and established the eponymous Foundation, witnessed a street performer Roger Ridley (died November 16, 2005) performing the song in Santa Monica, California in March 2005, inspiring Johnson to film Ridley's re-performance and other thirty-six musicians' individual performances of the song "around the world" and then mix the clips into one music video. The music video was featured in an October 2008 episode of Bill Moyers Journal, where Johnson was promoting the documentary film Playing for Change: Peace Through Music, which includes the music video and was shown as part of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. The music video was uploaded via the Playing for Change YouTube channel in November 2008, garnering more than 10 million views as of May 2009. The total amount of views of the YouTube video increased to more than 24 million as of December 2010, 30 million as of March 2011, 40 million as of March 2012, 50 million in somewhere between 2012 and 2014, 60 million as of 2014, 74 million as of May 2015, 100 million as of 2017, and 140 (or 142) million as of March 2020.

The musicians' performance of the song would be later included in their 2009 debut album Songs Around the World. The debut album has nine other tracks, comes with the seven-track bonus DVD, and sold about 26,000 units on its first week, 85% of sales from online sales and "nontraditional retail stores (including Starbucks locations)" and 25% from outside the United States.

Other notable versions

1960s and 1970s

Adriano Celentano's 1962 Italian version, "Pregherò" (meaning "I will pray") reached no. 1 on the Italian charts. Muhammad Ali (as Cassius Clay) released a version on his 1963 spoken-word/comedy album I Am the Greatest. Clay's recording was released as the B-side of the eponymous single in 1964, charting on the Billboard "Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles". It was included on the CD Beat Of The Pops Vol 34. Kenny Lynch's 1964 version stayed on the top 100 UK Singles Chart for seven weeks, peaking at number 39 on the week of May 7–13, 1964, its fourth week. Spyder Turner's 1967 version climbed to No. 3 on the US Billboard Black Singles chart and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

David and Jimmy Ruffin (credited as The Ruffin Brothers) remade the song for their only collaborative album I Am My Brother's Keeper (1970). Released as a single, the version stayed at its peak position number 61 on Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks on the weeks ending November 28 (its sixth week) and December 5, 1970 (seventh week). It also peaked at number 24 on Billboard Soul Singles on the week ending November 21, 1970, its fourth week.

The Walker Brothers included a version on their 1967 album Images. The album hit Number 6 on the UK Album Charts.


Mickey Gilley released his version of the song in 1980, and it was included in the movie Urban Cowboy. It was his eighth #1 on the US country charts and also reached #22 on the US Hot 100. The version peaked number three in Canadian RPM Country Singles in September 1980 and number 51 in RPM Top Singles the following month. The song would "become one of Gilley's signature songs." Maurice White's 1985 cover from his self titled album reached No. 6 on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart and No. 11 on the US Billboard Adult Contemporary Songs chart. White's version also got to No. 5 on the RPM Canadian Adult Contemporary Songs chart.

Julian Lennon, son of John Lennon, performed the song at a spring 1985 concert, seen in the 1985 home video release Stand by Me: A Portrait of Julian Lennon. This version later appeared on the soundtrack to the 1986 film, Playing for Keeps. U2 performed the song with Bruce Springsteen at the John F. Kennedy Stadium (Philadelphia) concert on September 25, 1987 during the Joshua Tree Tour.

Anita Mui recorded the Cantonese version for her 1987 Cantonese album (夢裡共醉). In 1988, Mui's version was awarded as one of top ten gold songs by Hong Kong telecommunication stations RTHK and by TVB. After Mui's death in 2003, Hong Kong singers and actors Miriam Yeung, Denise Ho, Alex To, Edmond Leung, band members of Grasshopper, Andy Hui, and William So performed Mui's version at Anita Mui. 10. Memory. Music. Gather. (梅艷芳。10。思念。音樂。會), the December 30, 2013 tribute concert for Mui.

1990s and 2000s

In a 1995 music video entitled Disney's Timon & Pumbaa in "Stand by Me", Timon performs the song with slightly altered lyrics, while Pumbaa survives physical mishaps and ferocious creatures. A trio of frogs then finish the song at the end. Stephen King covered the song with Warren Zevon for the 1998 compilation album by various artists, Stranger than Fiction. A version of the song released by American R&B group 4 The Cause in 1998 was a number-one hit in Switzerland, reached number two of the Austrian and German singles charts and number three in New Zealand, and was a top-ten hit in several other countries.

Alvin and the Chipmunks performed the song in the 2007 eponymous film.


Prince Royce recorded a bachata version of the song as his debut single, changing parts of the lyrics into Spanish. This version peaked number eight on US Hot Latin Tracks and number one on US Tropical Airplay. At the Latin Grammy Awards of 2010, Royce performed the song live along with Ben E. King. Royce's remake received a Lo Nuestro award for "Tropical Song of the Year". Royce performed the song live again at a July 2016 Philips Arena concert in Atlanta, Georgia alongside his male fan, at a 2017 Amway Center concert in Orlando, Florida and as the second song for the 2019 RodeoHouston concert, also his first RodeoHouston concert.

Florence and the Machine recorded the song for the soundtrack and trailer of Final Fantasy XV in 2016. The band released its EP Songs from Final Fantasy XV on August 12, 2016, containing the band's remake and two original songs, "Too Much Is Never Enough" and "I Will Be". The cover peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard Hot Rock Singles in December 2016. In February 2017, voice actors of Final Fantasy XV Ray Chase (Noctis), Adam Croasdell (Ignis), Robbie Daymond (Prompto), and Max Mittelman (Tredd Furia of the 2016 film Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV) performed King's song all together while streaming their FFXV playthrough in a Twitch livestream video, viewed by almost 800 users.

Skylar Grey recorded the song which appeared for a Budweiser commercial for Super Bowl LII, with proceeds for the song to go to the American Red Cross.

The Kingdom Choir performed the song at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018. Their version debuted and peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Gospel Songs chart on the week ending June 2, 2018. It also entered the UK Singles Chart and peaked at number ninety-four on its first and only week, the week of May 25–31, 2018. It is included in their debut album, Stand by Me, released later that year.

Weezer covered the song on their twelfth studio album Weezer (Teal Album) released on January 24, 2019.

Chart performances

Mickey Gilley

Maurice White

4 the Cause

Prince Royce

Florence + the Machine