One of the great voices of Rock/Soul/R&B is silent. Ben E. King died today at 76.
King was most famous for his solo hit, “Stand By Me,” and deservedly so. It’s a fantastic song. King imbued such incredible emotion into that plea for love and loyalty. It’s kind of hard to pin down exactly what’s going on, there’s so many emotions tumbling around each other. There’s sadness and love and happiness, and who knows what else. It is a song about triumph over fear, and it is one of the classics of popular music.
This video was made when “Stand By Me” became a hit for a second time with the 1986 movie of the same title. Based on a Stephen King short story, the movie was a tender, funny, and sad coming of age story about four boys and their friendships. I’d forgotten this video was made to support the film, but I’m sure I must have seen it. (I have to admit that I’m a little partial to John Lennon’s version of “Stand By Me,” but that’s mostly because I’m a little partial to John Lennon.)
My favorite Ben E. King performance was from when he was with the Drifters. “Save the Last Dance for Me” is one of the sweetest and saddest love songs ever. There’s such longing in King’s voice as he delivers the lines, “But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be. Save the last dance for me.” I love that yearning ache he conveys so easily.
There seems to be an undercurrent of sadness to much of King’s oeuvre. I’m not sure what kind of sadness he faced in his life, but I know there will be some tears shed for him today. At least we still have these lovely performances to remember him by.