Songs for Sound Minds are our picks of the best music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health. Songs written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling. Today’s entry – ‘Stand by Me’ – is a companion piece to one of our earlier picks.
In contrast to Chrissie Hynde’s assurance that, ‘I’ll Stand by You’, Ben E. King’s plea is ‘Stand by Me’. Where The Pretenders are providing encouragement, Ben E. King is seeking the support of someone close, something we all need when times are tough.
‘Stand by Me’ by Ben E. King
‘Stand by Me’ was in the news recently as it received a soulful performance by Karen Gibson and the Gospel Choir during the Royal wedding. Whatever your perspective on the Royals, the love between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was obvious for all to see and the Ben E King track provided a moving backdrop to the proceedings at Windsor Castle.
Written in 1961 Ben E. King collaborated with the famous songwriting duo of Leiber and Stoller who have been responsible for over 70 chart hits including many for Elvis Presley (‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and others). ‘Stand by Me’ was the 4th most recorded song of the 20th century (according to BMI) and has appeared in films, TV commercials (Levi’s) and computer games (Final Fantasy XV sang by Florence and the Machine).
Remarkably it has been recorded by over 400 artists.
A rallying cry for the US black civil rights movement
It is a song that echoes through black culture and owes its routes to an early 20th-century gospel hymn which contained the words ‘will not we fear, though the Earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.’ It was a rallying cry of the black civil rights movement in America during the 1960s and the US Library of Congress acknowledged it as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ in 2015.
The New York Times in its write up of the Royal wedding acknowledged the value of the song as a herald of a more inclusive Royal family with the biracial Meghan becoming Duchess of Sussex.
Will you stand by me forever?
For Harry and Meghan, is it too much of a stretch to see ‘Stand By Me’ as a musical equivalent of their wedding vows to ‘love, comfort, honour and protect, and, forsaking all others, be faithful as long as you both shall live’? The song certainly worked its magic for Ben E. King who was married for over 50 years to his wife, Betty Nelson.
For us, the simple verses can symbolise the loyal and steadfast companionship that enables us to be strong even when times are troubled and turbulent. See Verse 2 for a revision of the words of that early hymn.
‘If the sky we look upon
Should tumble and fall
And the mountains should crumble to the sea.
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long, as long as you stand by me.’