Artist: Ben E. King
Album: The Complete Atco/Atlantic Singles Vol. 1 - 1960 - 1966
Label: Real Gone Music
Release Date: 08/07/2015
When the news broke in April that singer Ben E. King had died at the age of 76, many reports announced the loss by referring to King as “the ‘Stand by Me’ singer.” But King was no one-hit wonder– a fact supported by the release of this two-CD set featuring all the singles the soul and R&B legend recorded for the Atco and Atlantic record labels in the early ‘60s. “Stand by Me” is included here, of course, complete with the track’s iconic bass intro, and so is “Spanish Harlem,” King’s first solo hit and a song that started out as the B-side to the beat-driven number “First Taste of Love.”
But with 50 tracks spread across two discs, it’s the lesser known material that will take up the majority of a listener’s time. Early stabs at pop success like “Souvenir of Mexico” and “I (Who Have Nothing)” are entrenched in the ornate New York orchestrations of the time, with strings and Latin instruments being plucked away under the supervision of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, while latter-day gems “Groovin’” and “Let the Water Run Down” assume a more soul-inspired and bluesy approach.
Chart success for King was always a mixed bag, but ample evidence is observed here that he never stopped trying to decode the formula for a hit. Whether laying his smooth baritone over a bossa nova shuffle or trying his hand at a tune from My Fair Lady, he was a relentless experimenter. He also will be sorely missed. But for new and old fans alike, this anthology is a fitting tribute.
– Michael Cimaomo