It was written by King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, inspired by the spiritual “Lord Stand by Me”, plus two lines rooted in Psalms 46:2–3. There have been over 400 recorded versions of the song. The song is featured on the soundtrack of the 1986 film Stand by Me.
According to the documentary History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Ben E. King had no intention of recording the song himself when he wrote it. King had written it for The Drifters, who passed on recording it. After the “Spanish Harlem” recording session, he had some studio time left over. The session’s producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, asked if he had any more songs. King played “Stand by Me” on the piano for them. They liked it and called the studio musicians back in to record it.
Stoller recalls it differently:
I remember arriving at our office as Jerry and Ben were working on lyrics for a new song. King had the beginnings of a melody that he was singing a cappella. I went to the piano and worked up the harmonies, developing a bass pattern that became the signature of the song. Ben and Jerry quickly finished the lyrics…
The personnel on the song included Romeo Penque on sax, Ernie Hayes on piano, Al Caiola and Charles McCracken on guitars, Lloyd Trotman on bass, Phil Kraus on percussion, and Gary Chester on drums. Songwriting credits on the single were shown as King and Elmo Glick—a pseudonym used by Leiber and Stoller.
King’s record went to No. 1 on the R&B charts and was a Top Ten hit on the U.S. charts twice—in its original release in 1961, when it peaked at No. 4, and a 1986 re-release coinciding with its use as the theme song for the movie of the same name following its appearance in the film, when it peaked at No. 9, and also in an advertisement for Levi Jeans. It also reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in 1987 after its re-release, mostly because of the jeans spot, originally reaching No. 27 on its first release.
The song was not released on an album until it had been out as a single for two years. The song appeared on King’s Don’t Play That Song! album.
“Stand by Me” was ranked 122nd on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. In 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century, with about seven million performances. (source Wikipedia)