Blue Eyed Soul
The song “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers is one of the many famous songs by this duo and is a good example of Sixties blue eyed soul music. There’s a long history behind “Unchained Melody.” It was written by film composer Alex North and Tin Pan Alley songwriter Hy Zaret and was featured in 1955 for a prison film titled Unchained. (The story goes that North had written it, untitled, in 1936 for Big Crosby, but he turned it down. So it was dormant for many years.) Todd Duncan, a baritone opera singer and actor, sang the song for the film soundtrack. The movie was not that successful, but the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song. It has been covered hundreds of times. Les Baxter had an instrumental version that went to #1 on the R&B Chart, as did Roy Hamilton’s version. Jimmy Young had a #1 hit with the song in the U.K. Even Liberace got into the act. Al Hibbler’s cover went to #3 on the Billboard Chart. The Righteous Brothers had a hit with it in 1965, going to #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #14 in the U.K. Their version became a jukebox standard and was a hit again when it was featured in the 1990 film Ghost. And then there was the up-tempo doo wop version in 1963 by Vito & The Salutations, who changing things around a little. Their version was included in the 1990 film Goodfellas. The list of covers goes on and on, including Leo Sayer, Cyndi Lauper, Barry Manilow, Elvis Presley, Joe Stampley, and LeAnn Rimes, among others.
The version by The Righteous Brothers was produced by Phil Spector for his Philles Records label. Spector added his “wall of sound” but considered the song more as fill for their 1965 album “Just Once in My Life.” So they released the song also as single as the B-Side to “Hung n You.” The DJs and public disagreed as to which song was the hit.
The Righteous Brothers were Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. They recorded from 1963 to 1975 and continued to tour and perform until Hatfield’s passing in 2003. Both had tremendous vocal power, with Hatfield on the higher parts and Medley on the lower ones.