The scene is part of film history as much as Claudette Colbert stopping a car in It Happened One Night (see 1 min in). It is the many times parodied “pottery scene” from Ghost. This is the scene fans remember when looking back on the movie. It also featured “Unchained Melody” performed by the Righteous Brothers, released in 1965. A new generation was exposed to “blue-eyed soul.” Most people think of that recording as the original recording, at least the one that got it famous, but this song’s deep roots developed in film a decade before.
In 1955, a prison movie called “Unchained” was released. This film was about a man serving a sentence in prison, trying to finish his time and return to his family but felt urged to escape this life. The song “Unchained Melody” was named for this movie and is his plight for two different freedoms. The song’s lyrics were written by Hy Zaret, music composed by Alex North and vocals performed by Todd Duncan. Billboard ranked this version as the No. 5 song of 1955. The song was picked up by artist after artist. In fact, this became one of the most recorded songs in history with over 1500 recordings from around 670 different artists. It has been translated and recorded in several different languages. When Bobby Hatfield comes out singing I see a spot light on him and see Patrick Swayze’s hands caressing Demi Moore. The producer, Phil Spector, put the track on the B-side of the single “Hung on You” (which was not a hit) and did not expect anything of the song.
The Righteous Brothers are so much more than “Unchained Melody” but this seems to be so much more than a song. People bond to this song with their love stories from the first generation to hear to it to those listening today. There is an intimate connection to all love stories that feel strain. We all want the reassurance that someone loves us and there is someone to come home to. This is a simple idea that we cling to as a comfort, a token. The song truly represents a paradox of living for love and turning away, something else that many of us understand. The sound that bass-baritone Bill Medley brought to the pair along with his genius in the profession was gold accompanied by Bobby Hatfield hitting high with his over the top tenor vocals. They came together like a waterfall crashing on rocks below. The sound was breathtaking and still is today. Medley and Hatfield toured together until Hatfield’s sudden death, while on tour, in 2003. Medley, at 80 years old (as of 12.2020), keeps the music alive, as he intended, performing on stage in Las Vegas with Bucky Heard taking up the vacancy Hatfield left.
The Righteous Brothers came on scene performing together in the early 1960’s. They originally worked together in a five man group called the Paramours and split off. Hatfield explains how their name came about on the Andy Williams’ Show in 1965. They emerged as a household name in 1964 with the original recording of Phil Spector’s hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and they opened for the Beatles that year on tour. The Righteous Brothers left the tour early because they were invited to work on the television show Shindig. They welcomed the opportunity as they were so overshadowed by the Beatles and many did not care to hear the opening act as Beatlemania swept in.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” was the only single (thus far) to hit the UK Top Ten three times beginning in January 1965 (chart 1- two weeks) and then again with the re-release in 1969 (chart 10). The 1988 film, Top Gun, featured the song which brought it to chart 87, but the release following 1990’s Ghost brought it in tandem with “Unchained Melody” and it charted at 3, again placing on the top 10. Patrick Swayze and the Righteous Brothers had a bonded fate in another movie as well; the 1987 surprise hit, Dirty Dancing. “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” existed for the low budget film and was a slow success. It is a beautiful fit for the movie. It carries a familiar sound across time. The duo separated early in their careers and each tried a solo venture. They discovered that they were best together. According to Broadcast Music, Inc., “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” received the most US airplay in the 20th century over any other song. There are many more songs that they gave life to that should continue to live on.