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Boomer Prayers: “Stand by Me” – The Spiritual Hymn Inside the Popular Song

“Stand by Me,” from hit song to iconic coming-of-age film, never seems to get old or dated only forgotten from time to time in the hurly-burly of our days streaming by like Fitzgerald’s river on which we float as “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Sunday, as I was ascending the Skyway into Paradise after a funeral for a friend of my mother’s, this song streamed in from the past on those invisible currents that permeate our world and from which we get much of “the information” we deem essential to get through our days;
— the price of pork bellies,
— the latest garble from the men in the high towers,
— what the weather is outside our windows.

And as I drove up the long incline from the blooming almond trees of the valley to the darker pines and redwoods of the ridge, this song from — not from my university days, but from my early teens — began to capture me again with its almost hypnotic chords. It came in from that long ago year of 1960, when Kennedy was elected and everything seem to be trending towards the young and the glamorous in the years before it all went smash.

In 1960 “Stand By Me” was  a song I heard in the high school auditorium as one of the slow dances from my first fumbling evenings trying (quite literally) to come to grips with the opposite sex. In that year I suppose I liked it because it seemed to speak of romantic love, true love, a deep and abiding love and affection that once given and taken would be a life’s long and only love. The love that you learn to love when you first learn about love. Ah, youth.

Fast forward nearly six decades.

Heard last Sunday on the Skyway “Stand By Me” seemed to have changed in my mind and heart. Bereft of the romances and the loves of my youth, I now seemed to hear it with new ears, with the ears of the years, and it now seemed to me — driving to Paradise in the gathering evening — to be filled with a much more spiritual meaning. It sounded no longer like a love song but like a hymn.

And then I thought, “What is a hymn but an old-fashioned love song? And better still, “Stand By Me” is a hymn you can dance to.”

It is a song so old it is new again. Listen again. With new ears and a heart now, if not carefully aged, aged none the less.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me

If the sky that 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 you stand, stand by me

And darlin’, darlin’, stand by me, oh stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me, stand by me-e, yeah

Whenever you’re in trouble won’t you stand by me, oh now now stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me

Darlin’, darlin’, stand by me-e, stand by me
Oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me

SONG NOTES: ”Stand by Me” is a song, originally performed by American singer-songwriter Ben E. King, and written by King, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller. … The third line of the second verse of the former work derives from Psalms 46:2

2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

“Stand By Me” was the name of a gospel hymn written by the Philadelphia minister Charles Albert Tindley in 1905. His hymn became popular in churches throughout the American South and was recorded by various gospel acts in the 1950s. The most popular adaptation was by The Staple Singers, who recorded it in 1955. It was this version that Ben E. King heard; he pushed The Drifters to record it, but the group’s manager rejected it.

According to BMI, this was the fourth most-played track of the 20th Century on American radio and TV.
This song has made an astounding nine appearances on the US Hot 100, plus two more that “bubbled under.” Here’s the breakdown:

1961, #4 – Ben E. King
1964, #102 – Cassius Clay
1965, #75 – Earl Grant
1967, #12 – Spyder Turner
1970, #61 – David & Jimmy Ruffin
1975, #20 – John Lennon
1980, #22 – Mickey Gilley
1985, #50 – Maurice White
1986, #9 – Ben E. King (re-release)
1998, #82 – 4 The Cause
2010, #109 – Prince Royce

Stand By Me by Ben E. King Songfacts

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jwm March 13, 2018, 1:32 PM

    Once again you show us transcendence where it has been waiting for us all along. It is right before our eyes if we look. It shines out in so much we take for granted.

    JWM

  • Terry March 13, 2018, 6:39 PM

    That was *our* song, way back.

  • mushroom March 13, 2018, 6:54 PM

    Back in ’76 or so, I bought a copy of Ry Cooder’s album, “Chickenskin Music”, which includes a cover of “Stand by Me”. In the liner notes, Cooder says it sounded very much like a gospel song so he wanted to record it that way.
    https://youtu.be/rJgttmLnI4s

  • Vanderleun March 14, 2018, 9:26 AM

    Now that’s a sweet sweet cover that I have not heard before. Thanks, Shroom.

  • Guaman March 15, 2018, 4:49 AM

    This, in my opinion is timeless – Be E. King – whoa – whoa a rendition – ot easily becomes a cornerstone in the foundtion of a life well lived. Somethings just transcend time. This, I propose, is one of those things.

  • Guaman March 15, 2018, 4:51 AM

    This, in my opinion is timeless – Be E. King – whoa – what a rendition – it easily becomes a cornerstone in the foundtion of a life well lived. Somethings just transcend time. This, I propose, is one of those things.