Saturday Night Music, February 2, 2013: “Supernatural Thing, Parts 1 and 2” Ben E. King, 1975
Amazing that this is the same brother who came out with the Wall of Sound hits “Stand by Me” and “Spanish Harlem” in the early Sixties, but this was his disco-tinged, nearly forgotten comeback, which had him topping the singles charts for the first time in 14 years. Ben E. King, now 74, has had more lives than the proverbial cat. King (born Benjamin Earl Nelson) had kept working when the British Invasion nearly wiped a lot of early Sixties American singers, groups and bands off the radio and into obscurity. He left Atlantic Records in 1969 when it appeared that his career had run its course, though he was so well-loved and respected that the label would have continued to support his work. He later described his relationship with Atlantic Records as identical to that of a married couple, in Bill Millar’s biography, The Drifters.
King recorded for smaller, subsidiary labels like Mandala and Maxwell, and worked in small clubs with little success until 1974, when Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun took back the ex-Drifter after attending in his show in Miami. This time, “Supernatural Thing, Parts 1 and 2″ written by Gwen Guthrie and Patrick Grant, proved to be a hit. Said AllMusic:
In 1975, Ben E. King was attempting to blend in with the smooth soul and disco trends of the mid-’70s. Thanks to the smash hit “Supernatural Thing, Part I,” he was surprisingly successful at making himself sound contemporary. While the material is uneven, the sound of the [entire] record is appealing, meaning that it was a respectable comeback.
Two years later King collaborated with the Average White Band, whose members had long idolized him, on the LP Benny and Us, which enjoyed mild success. King’s later solo LPs, 1978’s Let Me Live in Your Life and 1981’s Street Tough, saw him regain a measure of prominence on the R & B charts…
At the time of his collaboration with Average White Band in 1977, they too were experiencing their own sunset on the charts, though they had longed to work with their idol. Eventually, King left Atlantic a second time in 1981, hitting the nostalgia tour circuit once more, until 1986, when “Stand by Me” was featured in the Rob Reiner film of the same name. “Stand by Me” was re-released on the film’s soundtrack and as a single and promptly shot into the Top Ten nearly three decades after it first appeared.
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. 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.
King’s latest album is 2011’s Heart and Soul on CamAm Records. His website is here.
- Stand by Me Across the Globe Through Music (billives.typepad.com)