Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ben E. King

Ben E King

The Drifters hits on which Ben E. King sang lead were sublime. The best known and most popular was Save The Last Dance For Me, but that’s not my favourite. I am partial to If You Cry (True True Love), Dance With Me, and especially This Magic Moment. The emphasis was always on pure romance.

As a solo artist, the emphasis shifted to melodrama. I don’t know whose idea that was, but King often sounded like he was on the edge of a breakdown of some kind, like any little thing could tip the balance and send him over the edge.

He did ok for a few years, put 5 hits into the top 30 in the three years from 1961 to 1963. Altogether he put 19 records into the top 100 by 1967, and he had two more in 1975, including Supernatural Thing, Part I in 1975, which reached number 5 on Billboard though I never heard it on the radio. This collection is Tears Tears Tears which comes from a K-Tel album, and Ben E. King’s Greatest Hits.

Ben E King:

Tears, Tears, Tears – They say that men cry differently from women, owing to physiological differences, something to do with tear ducts. They also say that men don’t cry, which isn’t true obviously, but has truth in it. For all that, there are enough men who sing about crying. From the spring of 1967. I have a cover by Winnipeg group The Fifth.
That’s When It Hurts – Pain, that’s what so much of this is about. From the spring of 1964.
Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear – King sounds ridiculous singing this German phrase. This should have stayed in the can.
Around The Corner – A song about being left out. Remember The Green Door? Same idea.
Young Boy Blues – Mose Allison did Young Man Blues. It’s all whining. From the fall of 1961.
What Now My Love – King doesn’t do to badly with this chestnut. Didn’t make the charts though, in that regard he left it to Sonny & Cher, and Mitch Ryder, and Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass.
Stand By Me – His signature song, and not surprisingly his highest placing single. On the surface the song is about loyalty, but there is an undercurrent of co-dependency, I need you to fill in the blanks of my life (and yes I know the difference between dependence and co-dependency). And to keep things interesting, at the end he turns the whole thing on its head – “whenever you’re in trouble,” he sings, “won’t you stand by me.” That stop-start crescendo arrangement, though, and the raw emotion of the vocal, gave the song lasting appeal. As the theme song of the movie, though, it was woefully misplaced. The movie was about friendship, the song is an ode to romantic entanglement. Covered by so many, I can think of Wilbert Harrison; it was a small hit for Earl Grant and a bigger one for Spyder Turner, and it was John Lennon’s last hit before his recording hiatus that lasted from 1975 until 1980. From the summer of 1961.
Amor – This song of swirling romance put King into the top 20 in the fall of 1961, but it was nothing like the touching fantasy of his Drifters days.
Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) – Failed romance is always so much fun, and here is Ben E waxing indignant about the disingenuousness of his erstwhile partner. The association of a pop song with a specific partner is also a common theme. Who can forget Olivia Newton-John, Please Mr. Please, “don’t play B-17.” Yikes. From the summer of 1962. Covered by Aretha in 1970.
I (Who Have Nothing) – Self effacement writ large. True, he doesn’t say “I who am nothing” but he might as well; tradition teaches that the poor man is like the dead man. Ben, listen, you’ll never win her heart that way. This piece of over-the-top melodrama was a hit of sorts for Terry Knight & The Pack (Terry would go on to produce the early Grand Funk Railroad albums), and later for Tom Jones, who won the chart sweepstakes on this one. A hit for King in the summer of 1963.
I Could Have Danced All Night – Danced, huh? I have a better version of this by Rosemary Clooney. From the fall of 1963.
Spanish Harlem – His first solo hit, co-written by Phil Spector. A suitably restrained performance of a song about overcoming the odds. Aretha covered this too, in 1971. From the winter of 1961.

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