The song is a power ballad that pledges love and faithful assistance in times of personal darkness. Since its initial release, "I'll Stand by You" has also become a major hit for British girl group Girls Aloud in 2004 and Carrie Underwood in 2007, both times recorded as a charity single.
"I'll Stand by You" was released as the second single from the album Last of the Independents in 1994, and it reached number 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, the top 30 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and number 10 in the United Kingdom. It charted higher in the UK and the U.S. than "Night in My Veins", the album's first single.
The music video, directed by Trudy Bellinger, saw Girls Aloud stranded in a desert as they "stand by" each other. "I'll Stand by You" was promoted through various live appearances and has since been performed on a number of the group's concert tours. Despite its success, Girls Aloud's cover of the song was largely slated by contemporary music critics.
The first version of "I'll Stand by You" that Xenomania created was described as a "weird, modernist breakbeat version", which was scrapped upon deciding an updated version of the original song would be better suited for Children in Need. The track's release was announced a single just ten days before its release date.Nicola Roberts said, "Hopefully if our single does well it's a lot of money going to the charity."
The single was released on 15 November 2004 in the UK, the week of the Children in Need 2004 telethon. It was available on two different CD singles. The first disc includes "Real Life", a song taken from Girls Aloud's second album What Will the Neighbours Say?. The second CD format featured a medley of songs taken from the album, as well as the Tony Lamezma's Club Romp remix of the track. The Gravitas Vocal Dub Mix Edit of "I'll Stand by You" appears on the "Wake Me Up" single.
In order to promote the release, Girls Aloud toured radio stations across the United Kingdom and performed an acoustic arrangement of "I'll Stand by You" that they arranged themselves. They also visited children's hospitals.
Girls Aloud's version of "I'll Stand By You" was not well received by most contemporary music critics. It was called "a particular soggy area" on Girls Aloud's album. Alexis Petridis of The Guardian, who praised Girls Aloud's album, said that "I'll Stand by You" was "a thing of death-dealing tedium."BBC Music felt it was "arguable whether this cover adds much to the Pretenders' original." Sam Shepherd of musicOMH bluntly stated "perhaps the children most in need, are those that part with their pocket money for this drivel [...] This is a sub-karaoke version, limp, tired, and uninspired."
"I'll Stand by You" debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart on 21 November 2004, becoming Girls Aloud's second single to do so. Despite competition from four new top ten entries, the song also remained at the top for a second week. It slipped to number four in its third week, making way for Band Aid 20's take on "Do They Know It's Christmas?". Girls Aloud spent a fourth week in the top five. The single spent two further weeks in the top ten, holding on at number nine. Overall, "I'll Stand by You" spent fourteen weeks in the top 75, including nine weeks in the top forty. The single was ranked thirty-fourth on the year-end chart (see 2004 in British music). It was certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry.
The song entered the Irish Singles Chart at number four. It spent a second week at number four, before rising to number three. It spent three more consecutive weeks at number three. It then slipped back down to number four, and spent two more weeks in the top five.
The video for Girls Aloud's version of "I'll Stand by You" was directed by Trudy Bellinger. It begins with each member of the group lying or sitting motionless in a parched desert. At the song's climax, a thunderstorm begins, and the members of Girls Aloud come together and stand in a circle. A special Children in Need version of the video depicts the group members holding "Pudsey" teddy bears, the mascot of the organisation, towards the end of the video.
Carrie Underwood performed the song during her visit to Africa, which was used as soundtrack for a video vignette, where Underwood is seen singing to children and doing different activities with them. The single and the video were released on the U.S. iTunes Store on April 26, 2007. Ryan Seacrest announced that all money made on digital downloads would be donated to charity to help millions of poor children at the time.
It was eventually removed from iTunes, leading the single to have one of the biggest falls in Hot 100 history. The single collected over 300,000 digital downloads in the time period it was available for download. As announced, all profits from the sale of the single were donated to charity. The single also received unsolicited airplay on U.S. country music radio stations, despite not being officially released to country radio.
The music video was filmed in Africa. Underwood is seen singing to young children and helping them with different art projects, such as painting. At one point in the video, she is seen walking into a cemetery with a girl on her arms, and a boy by her hand who is carrying flowers. Underwood is also seen crying towards the end of the video, when she is helping an ill person. This music video was made available for download on the U.S. iTunes Store.
The song was also recorded by Patti Labelle on her 2005 album Classic Moments. She performed the song as a tribute to Destiny's Child when they won an award for being the best selling female group of all time. She also performed the song on the NBC show 'Clash of the Choirs, where she had one of her choir members sing the lead vocals.
Xenia and Sara Oromchi performed and recorded a cover duet of the song during the Battle Rounds of the first season of The Voice.
One of American Idol Season 10 Top 24 Girls, Pia Toscano, performed this song, in which the judges made their first standing ovation of the season.
Kim Wilde released a version of the song in 2011 as a bonus track on her covers album Snapshots".
Girl group Fifth Harmony performed the song on the second season of The X Factor USA during Thanksgiving week.
During the 12th season of American Idol, contestant Angela Miller performed the song.
In a 2013 commercial for Progressive Insurance, characters Flo and Rob perform snippets of the song to promote Progressive's loyalty program.
In 2013 Amber Riley covered the song for the Glee episode "The Quarterback" as a tribute to the character Finn who passes away in the episode and in recognition of the passing of Cory Monteith earlier in 2013.