Everyone knows Ben E. King. He’s the guy who co-wrote and sang the immortal “Stand By Me,” which was a Top Ten hit in 1961, and again in 1987. True enough, but he is also a lot more than that. In 1958, still using his birth name, Benjamin Earl Nelson, the future Ben E. King became the lead singer of a doo wop group called the Drifters. He only recorded ten songs with the group, but among them were classics like “There Goes My Baby” (which he co-wrote), “This Magic Moment,” and the great Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman hit “Save the Last Dance For Me.”
In 1960, the singer left the Drifters as a result of a salary and royalty dispute, and took the name we know him by, Ben E. King. He remained with the Drifters’ label, Atlantic Records, and recorded for their Atco imprint. King’s first solo hit was “Spanish Harlem,” written by Phil Spector and Jerry Lieber. His very next recording was “Stand By Me,” which he co-wrote with Lieber and Mike Stoller. The rest was rock and roll history, but far from the end of King’s story.
As I often do in this column, I have chosen a Ben E. King song that may not have been his biggest hit, but it’s one that I recall fondly, and one that brings back a lot of memories for me. “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)” was written by Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun, and Betty Nelson. It was the title track from King’s third album. The single was released on Atco in 1962. It reached #2 on the r&b singles chart, #11 on the pop chart, and spawned a number of cover versions. Most notable was Aretha Franklin’s take, which was a hit for her in 1970.