Saturday, May 2, 2015

We lose another great one

I really wanted to get to this on Friday, but I just couldn't. I fell out. Anyway, Ben E King died Thursday -- his death was announced Friday -- and while this has no bearing on contemporary music, it matters in a historical context. King, born Benjamin Earl Nelson, King produced some of the most memorable music of the 20th century. He was 76 when he died. He only had five true hits, but "Stand By Me" was like a zombie, coming back again and again, by him and by others. All of his songs -- "Spanish Harlem," There Goes My Baby," and "Save The Last Dance For Me" were classics that became among the more influential songs of the day. King always tended to deflect attention from his own abilities, though:
"In my vocal I think you can hear something of my earlier times when I'd sing in subway halls for the echo, and perform doo-wop on street corners," he told The Guardian in 2013.
"But I had a lot of influences, too - singers like Sam Cooke, Brook Benton and Roy Hamilton. The song's success lay in the way Leiber and Stoller took chances, though, borrowing from symphonic scores, and we had a brilliant string arranger."
The song went on to chart nine times on the US Billboard 100 - King's version twice and seven times with covers by artists like John Lennon and Spyder Turner.
It was also the fourth most-played track of the 20th Century on US radio and TV.
Earlier this year, the US Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry, declaring that "it was King's incandescent vocal that made it a classic".
Stand By Me, Spanish Harlem and There Goes My Baby were all named on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and were all given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.
King's modesty notwithstanding, "Stand By Me " remains one of those songs everybody has heard:

Except for the '80s revival of the song because of the movie, I was too young for a contemporaneous memory of "Stand By Me," which came out in 1961. As a student of music I certainly knew the song. I remember this one on the radio, though:

We' will miss Ben, not for the music won't see from him -- he was done -- but for the reminder his passing gives us that we, too, will someday be gone and most of us will never matter as much as he did, however briefly.

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