The second round of the Levi's 501 adverts saw Percy Sledge and Ben E King enjoying a late career burst of publicity, though only King was to make it to number one (Sledge would have to make do with a number 2 slot with a re-issue of 'When A Man Loves A Woman'). I've already run through my disdain in principle for this kind of carry on so I won't bore by repeating it here. Though saying that, in truth part of me is secretly glad that 'Stand By Me' gained a new prominence in 1987 because it rescued it from burial by the 1975 Lennon cover version, something I can't say I ever really cared for but which usually got dragged out for radio play.
So what's left to say about 'Stand By Me' after almost 50 years? Well, for one it still sounds as mysterious and direct as it did the day it was recorded. Age has not withered it largely because the themes it explores are timeless. The spare, almost primitive scrapes and chings of the opening raises the tension till it crackles like electricity before King's voice cuts in with the decisive "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"
By juxtaposing mankind's base need for companionship with one of it's primal fears (the dark; the way he phrases 'night' makes it sound like the sun going down was the worst thing that could possibly happen to the pair), King expresses a depth of emotion that transcends modern 'love' manifestations of hearts, flowers or moon in June sentimentality by stripping it down to the basics of need and devotion. And though indeed King is expressing primordial yearning, 'Stand By Me' is shot through with an almost religious awe that ensures King's almost gospel shout anchors it to a baseline of humanity and respect.
There's no certainty that King's longing 'just as long as you stand by me' is reciprocated here; rather, there's an uncertainty and doubt that puts a keen edge of King's vocal and a lyric that never resolves itself and ends with a repeated 'oh stand by me, stand by me, stand by me' that gets more desperate in it's pleading as the song fades into the nothing and darkness that King fears so much. As such, the words could have been written in 1061 just as well as 1961. They resonated just the same in 1987 and they will still be as relevant as long as there are skies and mountains waiting to fall to the sea, making it a song for every age and not just one whose fancy is tickled by Eddie Kidd in a white dinner jacket. 'Stand By Me' was, is and remains a wonderful recording. But then, you already knew that.