Within the pantheon of classic rhythm and blues, the Drifters stand out as one of the few outfits that helped to define the sound — that irresistible synthesis of doo-wop, gospel, blues, and soulful harmony. At the center of the group was Ben E. King, the brilliant musician and singer from North Carolina behind the hit 1961 ballad “Stand by Me,” which, years later, would inspire the Rob Reiner film of the same name. The song, King’s biggest single, is universally adored for its sweeping string arrangements, bass line, lyrical sentiment, and, of course, King’s stunning vocals. King wrote it for the Drifters before a series of legal conflicts led to his departure and a fortuitous solo release. As the fourth-most-played song of the 20th century, it’s what King, who passed away at the age of 76 from natural causes today, is best known for, but his influence is much greater than that one song. Here are five other Ben E. King efforts beyond “Stand by Me” that deserve a listen.
“This Magic Moment,” 1960
Drugs and legal finagling led to a complicated and unstable lineup for the Drifters, but this song, written by hired guns Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, with King on vocals, is arguably one of the group’s most memorable.
“Save the Last Dance for Me,” 1960
Another cut written by Pomus and Shuman, and one that seemed tailor-made for King’s lilting baritone. (There’s also an especially good 1974 version by Harry Nilsson and John Lennon recorded for Pussy Cats during the “Lost Weekend.”)
“There Goes My Baby,” 1959
A classic doo-wop track written by King after he first joined the Drifters.
“Spanish Harlem,” 1961
Written by Phil Spector, Spanish Harlem was King’s first big hit as a solo artist.
“Supernatural Thing Part 1,” 1975
This funky-ass cut was an unexpected success for King during the ‘70s and helped him return to the top of the charts after a 14-year absence.