The saga of that song is amazing. Ben wrote it in '59, while he was lead singer for The Drifters. Atlantic poo-pooed it, thinking it was too religious. Ben acknowledged that it was based on an old gospel tune.
The next year he went solo, and producers Lieber-Stoller were having fun exploring spanish flavored arrangements. Lots of swinging songs about loose chicks; Not slow funeral dirges about dudes in trouble.
But late one day, at the end of a recording session, they found themselves with 15 minutes left on the clock. Ben acts like a Taurus and starts hammering on a piano. "We've got to record this! We got the time!"
Reluctantly, they record the basic tracks. A few months later, they are going across the session tape, and ready to shelve it, happy that King's "Spanish Harlem" has peaked at #10. It's Christmas, 1960.
King walks in to the studio unannounced, with a Christmas gift. He runs into Leiber and hands him a cake with the inscription "Thanks For Standing By Me." That's when Leiber fell into the trap by asking "What do you want for christmas, Ben?" Whereupon Ben smiles and says: "Let's work on my song."
It took another week to flag down what would become The Atlantic String Section. The bass player made a new intro to the song, that wasn't exactly in the correct key. But by February they reluctantly declared it finished, and began distribution on Atco. It would go on to be Ben's biggest hit.
And it would return to the Top 10 in '86 after Rob Reiner revived it for his movie.
But now it's reincarnating itself again. And now it's an official folk song, with 16 people from all over the world singing it. Not rock musicians, not pop musicians...not even musicians. Just common folk from all over the world, who love the song, and can play an instrument.
The cast, in order of appearance:
- From Santa Monica .... Roger Ridler .... Guitar & Vocals
- From New Orleans .... Grandpa Elliot .... Harmonica, Vocals
- From New Orleans .... Washboard Chaz .... Washboard
- From Amsterdam .... Clarence Bekker .... Vocals
- From New Mexico .... The Twin Eagle Drum Group .... Drums
- From France .... Francois Viguie .... Tambourine
- From Brazil .... Cesar Pape .... Ukulele
- From Moscow .... Dimitri Dolganov .... Cello
- From New Orleans .... Roberto Cuti .... Guitar
- From Venezuela .... Geraldo & Dionisio .... Guitars
- From Congo .... Junior Kissangwa .... Cymbals
- From South Africa .... Pokei Klaas .... Bass Fiddle
- From Spain .... Django Degen .... Congas
- From South Africa .... The Sinamuva Vocal Group .... Chorus
- From Italy .... Stefano Tomaselli .... Tenor Sax
- From South Africa .... Vusi Mamelodi .... Vocal