Thursday, June 01, 2017

Songoftheday 6/1/17 - Oh my love my darlin' I've hungered for your touch a long, lonely time...






"Unchained Melody" - The Righteous Brothers (Verve)
"Unchained Melody" - The Righteous Brothers (Curb)
from the albums Just Once In My Life (1965), Ghost (Original Soundtrack) (Verve - 1990), and Unchained Melody (Curb - 1990)
Billboard Hot 100 peak: #4 (two weeks - 1965), #13 (one week - Verve - 1990), #19 (one week - Curb - 1990)
Weeks in the Top-40: 11 (1965), 11 (Verve - 1990), 12 (Curb, 1990)

We start off this month's song of the day with the one of the oddest chart anomalies of the 1990s, helped along by one of that year's biggest and most loved movies. Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, who came together in their early twenties in California, dubbed themselves the "Righteous Brothers", and released their first single "Little Latin Lupe Lu" in 1963. The fast-paced dance-fad-style record went to #49 on the US pop chart, but they couldn't either grow that success or even have a top-40 record until they met producer Phil Spector. As the first "white" act on his Philles label, Phil brought them a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", that brought all the drama and emotion that the two were capable of but in need of better material. That song reached #1 on the Hot 100 in 1964, and the next year another single, "Just Once In My Life", written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, scored the pair another top ten hit.

In 1965, the duo released "Hung On You" as the lead single from their upcoming Back To Back album, with a cover of a well-known easy listening hit "Unchained Melody" as the "flip-side" of the vinyl single. "Unchained Melody", written by Hy Zaret and Alex North, was originally made popular in the B-movie Unchained in 1955. While Todd Duncan sung it for the movie, it was different cover versions that made the charts, with conductor/producer Les Baxter going all the way to #1 with his mostly instrumental version...


Ten years later, the song was added to the For Once In My Life album, with Hatfield singing and Medley producing (though Spector would later steal credit). Although it was a toss-off B-side, while "Hung On You" stalled under the top-40 at #47, "Unchained" became a runaway hit, climbing all the way to #4 on the chart in 1965.

The "Brothers" continued to have success through the rest of the decade, including a second #1 pop hit in America with "(You're My) Soul And Inspiration" in 1966. That song signaled their departure from Spector's label to the Verve Records imprint, where they carried on for a couple of years before splitting up. Medley went solo while Hatfield tried to carry on the Righteous Brothers name with another singer, but neither had much success. They reunited in the mid-70s, coming back with a top-5 pop hit "Rock and Rock Heaven" in 1974.

The 1980's saw Bill Medley grabbing a #1 hit and a Grammy Award for his duet with Jennifer Warnes, "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life", from the movie Dirty Dancing in 1987, starring heartthrob Patrick Swayze. Swayze provided his magic one more time in 1990, as his starring role in the movie Ghost with Demi Moore provided a "comeback" for "Unchained Melody". It was a buzzworthy cameo in the movie for the song, which caused radio stations to start playing the original version, now on Verve, and causing it to reach the top-40 on the American pop chart mostly on radio airplay alone...


That original version of "Unchained Melody" climbed all the back to the top-20 on the Hot 100 in October of 1990. The song also climbed all the way to #1 on the British singles chart, and also topped the list in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

But in one of the first instances where a record company held back a single to increase sales of the album, only the vinyl 45rpm 7" single was in production in the U.S., and by 1990, most singles sales had been evolved to cassettes and CDs. This got the Ghost soundtrack to #8 on Billboard's albums sales chart, but as a record with only one vocal performance (of an oldie) combined with Maurice Jarre's film score, it left a lot of fans of the song out of luck if they didn't want to shell out 12 to 16 bucks for the album. Medley and Hatfield, singing on with Curb Records (who at the time frequently put out re-recorded older hits for the CD era), went back in the studio to record a new version of "Unchained Melody" to release as a proper single...


With almost all of its strength coming from the sales of the CD/cassette (as radio mostly placed the original), still the new version of "Unchained Melody" also climbed into the American top-20 a month later in November, crossing paths with the original on the charts and eventually spending 44 weeks on the Hot 100 between the two of them (19 for the Verve single, 25 for the Curb remake). With this success, the duo put out an album on Curb where they remade their original hits, and both that set and Verve's compilation of original recordings made the albums chart. The re-recorded "Unchained Melody" was nominated for a Grammy for Pop Duo/Group Vocal, losing out to Linda Ronstadt/Aaron Neville's "All My Life".

The pair continued to perform off and on together until Hatfield's untimely death from drugs in 2003, only nine months after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After a long, long break, Medley has started to perform as the "Righteous Brothers" again with Bucky Heard.

(Click below to see the rest of the post)


As I mentioned, many different artists have recorded "Unchained Melody" through the years - it's been one of the most covered songs in the early rock and roll era. First, here's Duncan's version from the Unchained movie in 1955. Unfortunately, the segregated pop radio atmosphere wouldn't give this soulful take a chance...



Besides Baxter's success, three other artists reached the top-40 with the song (not uncommon during that song-centric time). Al Hibbler, a former singer with Duke Ellington's band, had enough clout to have the first big African-American take on the song, reaching #3 on the pop chart and #1 on the R&B list, though it was a bit "stiffer" that Duncan's bluesy reading...


Roy Hamilton also topped the R&B chart with his gospel-leaning version, and peaked at #6 on the pop list...


Singing and television star June Valli went to #29 that same year with her cover...


Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, British radio DJ Jimmy Young went to #1 in the UK with his "Unchained Melody"...


Two years before the Righteous Brothers version, New York doo-wop act Vito and the Salutations released a frenetic sped-up "Unchained" and had a minor national hit at #66 in 1963...


The Sweet Inspirations, led by Whitney's mother Cissy Houston, had the best soul version of the classic in 1968, which made it to #73 pop and just missed the R&B top-40 at #41. It remains an equal in my eyes with the Righteous Brothers...


Elvis Presley had a top-10 country hit with a live version recorded right before his death in 1977, which made the chart a year later...


In 1981, the rock group Heart included a concert cover of "Unchained Melody" on their Greatest Hits/Live double-album, and released as a single slipped onto the pop chart at #83...


British actors Robson & Jerome, who appeared on the show Soldier Soldier, landed a massive hit in their home country with their cover of the song, topping the singles chart for seven weeks and becoming the biggest seller that year...

 
Country ingenue LeAnn Rimes recorded the song for Curb Records as well, and it even provided the title to the album that would go to #1 on the Billboard chart. Her "Unchained Melody" reached #3 on the country singles chart in 1997...


In 2002, the first season of the original Pop Idol (the British predecessor to American Idol) had ended with Will Young winning, but Gareth Gates taking second and also landing a record deal with Simon Cowell. He released "Unchained Melody" on his first single, and it was also huge, with four weeks at #1 on the UK charts...


Barry Manilow got to #20 on the Adult Contemporary radio chart in the U.S. with the song...


Cyndi Lauper's delicate reading of the classic was nominated for a Grammy in 2005...


Finally, let's bring it back to the Brothers with Hatfield's live appearance on TV in 1965...


I know that's a lot, but this song definitely deserves it.

Up tomorrow: The childish brothers and getting a little loco.


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