Today, from the groundbreaking orchestrated productions of the Drifters to his own solo hits, Ben E. King was the definition of R&B elegance. King's plaintive baritone had all the passion of gospel, but the settings in which it was displayed were tailored more for his honey smooth phrasing and crisp enunciation, proving for perhaps the first time that R&B could be sophisticated and accessible to straight pop audiences. King's approach influenced countless smooth soul singers in his wake and his records were key forerunners of the Motown sound.,,,,,N'joy
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King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, NC, in 1938, and sang with his church choir before the family moved to Harlem in 1947. In junior high, he began performing with a street corner doo wop group called the Four B's, which won second place in an Apollo Theater talent contest. While still in high school, he was offered a chance to join the Moonglows, but was simply too young and inexperienced to stick. He subsequently worked at his father's restaurant as a singing waiter, which led to an invitation to become the baritone singer in a doo wop outfit called the Five Crowns in 1958. the Five Crowns performed several gigs at the Apollo Theater along with the Drifters, whose career had begun to flounder in the years since original lead singer Clyde McPhatter departed. Drifters manager George Treadwell, dissatisfied with the group members' unreliability and lack of success, fired them all in the summer of 1958 and hired the Five Crowns to assume the name of the Drifters (which he owned).
The new Drifters toured for about a year, playing to often hostile audiences who knew they were a completely different group. In early 1959, they went into the studio with producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to cut their first records. A song Nelson (still performing under his given name) co-wrote called "There Goes My Baby" became his first lead vocal and the lush backing arrangement made highly unorthodox (in fact, virtually unheard-of) use of a string section. "There Goes My Baby" became a massive hit, laying the groundwork for virtually every smooth/uptown soul production that followed. Over the next two years, Nelson sang lead on several other Drifters classics, including "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "I Count the Tears."
Due to a contract dispute with Treadwell in which King and his manager, Lover Patterson, demanded that King be given a salary increase and a fair share of royalties, King never again performed with the Drifters on tour or on television; he would only record with the group until a suitable replacement could be found. On television, fellow Drifters member Charlie Thomas usually lip-synched the songs that King had recorded with the Drifters.
In May 1960, King left the Drifters, assuming the more memorable stage name Ben E. King in preparation for a successful solo career. Remaining with Atlantic Records on its Atco imprint, King scored his first solo hit with the ballad "Spanish Harlem" (1961). His next single, "Stand by Me", written with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ultimately would be voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. King cited singers Brook Benton, Roy Hamilton and Sam Cooke as influences for his vocals of the song. "Stand by Me", "There Goes My Baby", and "Spanish Harlem" were named as three of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll; and each of those records plus "Save The Last Dance For Me" has earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. King's other well-known songs include "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)", "Amor", "Seven Letters", "How Can I Forget", "On the Horizon", "Young Boy Blues", "First Taste of Love", "Here Comes the Night", "Ecstasy", and "That's When It Hurts". In the summer of 1963, King had a Top 30 hit with "I (Who Have Nothing)", which reached the Top 10 on New York's radio station, WMCA.
King's records continued to place well on the Billboard Hot 100 chart until 1965. British pop bands began to dominate the pop music scene, but King still continued to make R&B hits, 1967's Southern-fried "What Is Soul?" was one of his last singles for Atco; seeking to revive his commercial fortunes, King departed in 1969.
A 1970 album on Maxwell, Rough Edges, failed to generate much attention, and King was forced to make a living touring the oldies circuit. In 1975, Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun caught King's act in a Miami lounge and invited him to re-sign with the label. King scored an unlikely comeback smash with the disco track "Supernatural Thing, Part I," which returned him to the top of the R&B charts in 1975 and also reached the pop Top Five. While he was unable to duplicate that single's success, King recorded several more albums for Atlantic up through 1981, and also collaborated with the Average White Band in 1977 on the album Benny & Us. After leaving Atlantic a second time, King toured in a version of the Drifters beginning in 1982.
In 1986, "Stand By Me" was prominently featured in the Rob Reiner film of the same name; re-released as a single, it climbed into the Top Ten all over again. In its wake, King returned to solo recording, issuing a new album every few years all the way up through the '90s. He also guested on recordings by Heaven 17 and Mark Knopfler, among others. In 1990, King and Bo Diddley, along with Doug Lazy, recorded a revamped hip hop version of the Monotones' 1958 hit song "Book of Love" for the soundtrack of the movie Book of Love. He also recorded a children's album, I Have Songs In My Pocket, written and produced by children's music artist Bobby Susser in 1998, which won the Early Childhood News' Directors' Choice Award and Dr. Toy's/The Institute For Childhood Resources Award. King's 1999 album Shades of Blue (on Half Note Records) found him branching out into jazz territory, performing with a big band and guests like Milt Jackson and David "Fathead" Newman. 2006 saw the release of a brand new album, I've Been Around, on True Life Records, it was to be his last album.
As a Drifter and as a solo artist, King had achieved five number one hits: "There Goes My Baby", "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Stand By Me", "Supernatural Thing", and the 1986 re-issue of "Stand By Me". He also earned 12 Top 10 hits and 26 Top 40 hits from 1959 to 1986. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Drifter; he has also been nominated as a solo artist.
On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that "Stand By Me" would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and that King would be honored with the 2012 Towering Performance Award for his recording of the song
King toured the United Kingdom in 2013 and played concerts in the United States as late as 2014, despite reported health problems. King died on April 30, 2015, at the age of 76. His agent said he suffered from "coronary problems" at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty.
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A close look at this album reveals just how ambitious Atlantic Records could be in the early 1960s, in generating LPs. Technically speaking, Ben E. King's debut long-player is a concept album -- or, at least, a thematic album. Put together in the wake of his first solo hit, "Spanish Harlem," a Latin flavor and beat run all the way through this 12-song platter, which, at times, is really more of a pop record than a soul record. The dense, busy string section that characterized most of King's work of this era is present, and a lot of his singing may recall more the work of Sammy Davis, Jr. than that of any R&B artist one might think of from this period. And apart from the Jerry Leiber/Phil Spector co-authored title hit, most of what is here dates from a decade or more (sometimes several) earlier -- "Frenesi," "Besame Mucho," and "Perfidia" were standards during the big-band era, and most of the rest is of similar or even older vintage. All of which doesn't mean that it is bad -- King's version of "Besame Mucho" is a very successful reinterpretation in a Latin soul vein, and "Perfidia" never sounded better than it does in his hands, even if it and a lot of the rest is a long way from what most of us define as "soul." And for better or worse, the production is first-rate within the context of King's established sound, with a phenomenal string section and a percussion section to die for.
Ben E. King - Spanish Harlem (flac 147mb)
01 Amor 3:05
02 Sway 2:17
03 Come Closer To Me 2:34
04 Perfidia 2:12
05 Granada 2:25
06 Sweet And Gentle 2:24
07 Quizas, Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps) 2:14
08 Frenesi 3:09
09 Souvenir Of Mexico 2:20
10 Besame Mucho 2:58
11 Love Me, Love Me 2:35
12 Spanish Harlem 2:54
Ben E. King - Spanish Harlem (ogg 59mb)
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Ben E. King's third album is a little short in running time but very high in quality, in terms of the dozen songs here. The title track was the selling point, but couldn't help but be seduced by the exquisite production of "Ecstasy" and "On the Horizon," the latter making about as fine use of harps and an ethereal chorus as one imagines possible -- and when the strings come in, violins and cellos alternately, the sheer beauty of the track just overflows. "Show Me the Way to Your Heart" isn't too far behind, and then "Stand by Me" shores up the opening of the second side -- not that anything here needed shoring up, but it's good that they got the single onto a long-player so it didn't go to waste. Even the lesser material, like "Here Comes the Night" and "First Taste of Love" (the latter a Jerry Leiber/Phil Spector song that bears an uncanny resemblance to Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On"), is interesting to hear for the lively production. This album, like its predecessors, dates from a period in which producers and engineers were figuring out what one could do with soul and R&B in terms of engineering, and the sound separation and textures are nothing if not vibrant and alluring in their own right, separate from the music.
Ben E. King - Don't Play That Song! (flac 155mb)
01 Don't Play That Song (You Lied) 2:38
02 Ecstasy 2:26
03 On The Horizon 2:18
04 Show Me The Way 2:12
05 Here Comes The Night 2:15
06 First Taste Of Love 2:17
07 Stand By Me 2:44
08 Yes 2:55
09 Young Boy Blues 2:24
10 The Hermit Of Misty Mountain 2:18
11 I Promise Love 2:01
12 Brace Yourself 2:03
Ben E. King - Don't Play That Song! (ogg 65mb)
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After parting ways with the Drifters in 1960, Ben E. King wasted no time establishing himself as a solo star with chart-toppers like "Spanish Harlem" and "Stand by Me," in which he made the most of his strong and expressive vocal style. Having scored on the R&B and pop charts, King's third album for Atco, Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers, plays like a bid to cross over to more mature listeners after scoring big with the teens, much in the manner of Sam Cooke; the album is dominated by songs already made famous by other artists, featuring a blend of soulful chestnuts and classic standards, and the production and arrangements are polished and classy while still retaining the influence of the "rhythm & blues with strings" style that had become his hallmark. While "He Will Break Your Heart," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," and "It's All in the Game" seem tailor-made for King, some of the other cuts are a bit of a creative stretch, especially "Moon River" and "On the Street Where You Live," both of which sound rather clumsy in this context despite the struggle to make them swing. But King never gives less than his level best on these sessions, no matter what the material happens to be, and he effortlessly walks a line between supper-club polish and passionate sweet soul. If Ben E. King didn't become a regular in Las Vegas or at the Copacabana like Sam Cooke or Lou Rawls, it's certainly not because he lacked the style or the chops, and if the song selection sometimes lets him down on Sings for Soulful Lovers, his voice and his phrasing are spot-on on all 12 tracks.
Ben E. King - Sings For Soulful Lovers (flac 196mb)
01 My Heart Cries For You 2:17
02 He Will Break Your Heart 3:33
03 Dream Lover 2:38
04 Will You Love Me Tomorrow 3:08
05 My Foolish Heart 2:36
06 Fever 2:55
07 Moon River 2:51
08 What A Difference A Day Made 2:38
09 Because Of You 2:56
10 At Last 3:10
11 On The Street Where You Live 3:43
Ben E. King - Sings For Soulful Lovers (ogg 77mb)
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The original notes to the Seven Letters album indicate that it is the most diverse album of material that Ben E. King had ever recorded, and they're right. The range of material here, cut over a period of more than two years, included some impassioned soul music -- "River of Tears," "I'm Standing By," "It's All Over," "In the Middle of the Night," and the title track -- as well as some very personal pop ("Jamaica") and novelty ("Si Senor") tunes, and towering performances throughout. The requisite string-laden orchestral backings are present, courtesy of producers Leiber & Stoller, Jerry Wexler, Ahmet Ertegun, and the various arrangers, but there are also some nicely stripped down, more basic soul numbers. Interestingly, "Jamaica" was written by King in the wake of his 1961 tour of the island (soon to be island-nation), an event that helped spark a boom in local ska and reggae performers who were inspired by the presence of American soul stars like King on tour -- the song practically chronicles the spawning of the seed that led to the ska and reggae booms. The album has not a single weak spot, and boasts some strong contributions by several outside songwriters including Carole King and Gerry Goffin, whose gorgeous "Down Home" provided the vehicle for King's best singing on the entire record. Not that it did much for him at the time of its release -- it had no weak spots, but also no major hits (even "I'm Standing By" was a failed follow-up to "Stand By Me," and this was the last of four Ben E. King albums issued by Atlantic in the United States. Like two of its predecessors, it disappeared without reaching any but King's hardcore audience, thus making it a choice collector's item.
Ben E. King - Seven Letters (flac 182mb)
01 Seven Letters 2:51
02 River Of Tears 2:26
03 I'm Standing By 2:49
04 Jamaica 2:39
05 Down Home 2:49
06 Si Señor 2:32
07 It's All Over 3:15
08 Let The Water Run Down 2:35
09 This Is My Dream 2:37
10 It's No Good For Me 2:20
11 In The Middle Of The Night 2:31
12 Don't Drive Me Away 2:12
Ben E. King - Seven Letters (ogg 72mb)
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