Meiko discusses both sides of Ben E. King’s classic hit single “Stand by Me,” one of a dozen songs that she covers on her new album Playing Favorites, of which two thirds of her choices are songs from the ‘90s.
By Warren Kurtz
Over the past decade, Meiko’s songs have been placed in a variety of television shows and films. Now she reflects on music that she grew up on in rural Roberta, Georgia, outside of Macon, mainly songs from the ‘90s, on her new twelve song album Playing Favorites. We discuss those songs, both sides of the original “Stand by Me” single, a song of hers that is celebrating its 10th anniversary, “Boys with Girlfriends,” plus her recent move to Europe.
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on the new album. It is tender and beautiful, where we hear your soft voice backdropped by minimal instrumentation, and envision an intimate club atmosphere. Television viewers worldwide enjoyed the recent gospel cover of “Stand by Me” from The Kingdom’s Choir at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. On your version of the song, I love the echo in your voice, near the opening, on the line, “I won’t be afraid.” That touch added convincing power.
MEIKO: Thank you. I have always loved “Stand by Me.” I played it every Friday night on my flute in the Crawford County High School Marching Band. We were The Eagles and had an amazing band director, Donald Clark, one of the best in that area, and he brought us Motown, soul and other song styles.
GM: “On the Horizon,” the flip side of the original “Stand by Me” single, sounds like it could have been a movie song. What did you think of it?
M: I like it. It reminds me of the “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” sentiment with a water vibe.
Ben E. King
Flip side: On the Horizon
A side: Stand by Me
Top 100 debut: May 8, 1961
Peak position: 4
GM: Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” the other ‘60s song that you cover on Playing Favorites, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. On your album a lot of your choices are from the ‘90s, including one of my wife Donna’s favorites from that era, Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” celebrating its 25th anniversary.
M: I was dating a guy, a long time boyfriend, a hippie Georgia boy, and he was into Blind Melon. Later, when I moved to L.A., I was thrilled that I got to do some songwriting with Blind Melon guitarist Chris Thorn.
GM: In the ‘90s, our daughter Brianna, who is around your age, and I would listen to K92 FM in Roanoke, Virginia and hear acts that may not have done as well nationally, but seemed to be tested out in the smaller markets, including the duo of David Roback and Hope Sandoval called Mazzy Star. How did you discover their single “Fade Into You?”
M: I learned about the duo in middle school at 4H camp. At a 4H dance, I was talking with my camp boyfriend outside of the barn where the final song of the dance was held. I heard this song in the distance, left him outside, and ran into the barn to the DJ and asked, “Who is this?” I was lent the CD and I took it to the dorm and listended to Hope’s voice all night.
GM: One act I had heard of, but hadn’t heard in the ‘90s, is Portishead, so “Wandering Star,” one of my favorites on your new album, is new to me.
M: My sister was five years older than than me and worked at the clothing store Merry-Go-Round at the mall. She learned all the latest music and would come home with all the new CDs from the mall and I would play them in my Sony Discman.
GM: Duran Duran’s ‘90s music is often overlooked, with a heavy focus on their ‘80s hits. Thank you for including their final Top 40 hit “Come Undone” from ’93. I love that song structure and is probably my favorite on your album.
M: I love that song too. It seems that I was introduced to music randomly. In Georgia I grew up on the southern rock sounds of The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd due to my dad. For Duran Duran, there was a late night video show on around midnight on weekends. I could hardly wait for the next week to see the videos of the top songs, which is where I learned this one.
GM: Speaking of videos, the first time I heard Sade was also on a video show like the one you described. I thought she sounded sophisticated and looked elegant. In addition to your voice, I also enjoy the harmony vocals on your Sade selection.
M: Sade is my all-time favorite and is my sister’s influence. I chose “No Ordinary Love,” the first song on Sade’s Love Deluxe album. Josh Day provided the harmony vocals. Jennifer Paige and I share him as a drummer.
GM: Jennifer Paige is another Georgia native, from Marietta. She ends her new album Starflower with a non-dance version of “Crush,” certainly sounding different from the 3 mixes I have on her CD single that I bought in ‘98. It is softer, like your new version.
M: Jennifer said she was excited about me including “Crush” on my new album.
GM: In addition to your new album, we are celebrating the 10th anniverary of the national release of your first album, simply titled Meiko, which includes one of my early favorites of yours, “Boys with Girlfriends.” The arrangement and rhythm is so good on that recording. What is the story behind the lyrics?
M: I was really good friends with this guy. I would go to his place and everything was great until his girlfriend would arrive and then she would give me the stink eye.
GM: Over the years you have been on tours with some of my other favorite female singers including Sara Bareilles.
M: Hotel Café is a bar on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood where some of us would play. There was a tour called the Hotel Café Tour and I was on that tour with Sara. I was on a big tour with Jewel and she had her own bus, which she would bring me on from time to time. She tried to teach me yodeling, but I didn’t master it. Those tours were fun.
GM: Now, like Meghan Markle, with “Stand by Me” in your lives’ soundtracks, you have just moved to Europe, to be with your husband.
M: And our two year old son too. We will be in Hamburg, Germany for at least a year or so, due to his software publishing position. I will continue to be balancing motherhood and music. I have played in Europe before and had a good reception in Germany. I envision starting up in cafés and parks, building up an audience, which is what I loved doing in L.A. I will be performing an internet concert next month from our home.
Meiko’s Playing Favorites album concludes with her versions of Rick James’ “Super Freak,” Robin S.’ “Show Me Love” and Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady.” The album’s opening number is “Zombie,” a gentle tribute to The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan, who passed away at the beginning of this year, after recording an album with the group and orchestra including a new and softer version of “Zombie.”
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.