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This first appeared in the 1955 movie Unchained, starring the former football player Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch. The movie takes place in a prison, and the song was written for the movie to reflect the mood of the prisoners as they wait for time to pass.
Alex North wrote the music, Hy Zaret wrote the lyrics, and a black singer named Todd Duncan sang the version in the movie. Duncan went on to become a popular vocal instructor.
When the movie came out, an orchestral version by Les Baxter was released along with a version by Al Hibbler. Baxter's version hit #1 in the US; Hibbler's went to #3.
The Righteous Brothers version was a huge hit, but it was released as a B-side. The single had "Unchained Melody," with no producer credit on the label, as the B-side to Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Hung on You," but many DJ's preferred to flip the single and played "Unchained Melody" instead. This infuriated Phil Spector, who subsequently left no doubt as to which side of a Philles single was the A-side.
Bobby Hatfield sang lead. He had a higher voice than Bill Medley, the other half of the duo. In 2003, Hatfield died of a heart attack at age 63.
This was released on Philles Records, Phil Spector's label. Spector, known for his "Wall Of Sound" technique, did not produce this - Bill Medley did. In a 2007 statement to the Forgotten Hits newsletter, Medley said: "You have to remember that I was producing our stuff before Phil Spector... I mean I produced 'Little Latin Lupe Lu,' 'My Babe' and all that stuff. Then when we went with Phil, Phil asked me if I would produce the albums because it was too time consuming for him to produce the entire albums. So he was going to do the singles and I would do the album. And so that's how that happened and that's how I produced 'Unchained Melody,' which Phil Spector apparently now takes credit for. He can have the credit. And I'm not a producer. I know how to produce. But it's obviously not a Spector production. "Unchained Melody" was never intended to be the single... it was produced to be on the album. It was put on the B side of a Phil Spector single "Hung On You" and the minute it was released 'Unchained Melody' just went through the roof." (Thanks to Kent at the Forgotten Hits newsletter, which you can join at The60sshop@aol.com.)
This returned to both the US and UK charts in 1990 after it was included in the motion picture Ghost (it was used in a scene featuring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and pottery). Two versions charted in the US that year: a reissue of the 1965 original Righteous Brothers single was available only as a 45 RPM single, peaking at #13, and a 1990 re-recording of the song was available only as a cassette single, peaking at #19. For eight weeks, both versions were in the Hot 100 simultaneously.
When the re-release became a hit, the label that now owned the distribution rights underestimated it's popularity and the few copies that record stores had sold out quickly, with back orders that went into several weeks. Meanwhile the Righteous Brothers, who weren't making a dime off of the original any more, decided to re-record the song and release it on Curb, Bill Medley's current label. Since the charts are based on radio airplay (only the original version) and record sales (only the Curb release), both versions landed in the Top 20 at the same time. If these 2 figures had been added together, a song 2 decades old would have been the #1 song of the year. (thanks to "Voicedude" Joel-Steven)
Although the Righteous Brothers' version is the most-remembered today, it was by no means the first or most-successful "Unchained Melody." Four versions of the song made the Top 40 in 1955, three of them simultaneously in the Top 20: Les Baxter (#1 - from the movie Unchained), Al Hibbler (#3 - first vocal version), Roy Hamilton (#6), June Valli (#29). All four of these recordings were in the US Top 40 on May 14, 1955. Harry Belafonte also recorded a version that year.
The Supremes recorded a cover of this song for their album I Hear a Symphony. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA)
In 1995, Robson And Jerome released this as a single with "The White Cliffs Of Dover." The single went to #1 in the UK and was the best-selling single there that year. Both songs were used in a TV show called Soldier Soldier.
In 2002 Pop Idol runner up Gareth Gates scored a #1 single with this in the UK. At the age of 17 he became the youngest solo male British artist to have a UK #1. Gates' version was voted Record Of The Year by ITV viewers in 2002. It sold 300,000 copies on its first day and 1.3 million overall. Gates performed this in the final of Pop Idol, in which he finished runner up to Will Young.
The only record to be a #1 with 4 different versions, Jimmy Young, The Righteous Brothers, Ronson & Jerome, and Gareth Gates all topped the UK chart with this song. This is also the first song to be a million seller in the UK in more than one version (Robson & Jerome also had a million seller with this in 1995).
This was Gareth Gates' mother's favorite song and Gareth Gates himself knew this from The Righteous Brother's version in the film Ghost
. It was the first song that Gareth learned to play on guitar. According to 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, he knew it would be a great song to perform on Pop Idol
: "It's a song you can sing very badly, lots of people mess up the 'I need your love' bit, but I knew I could do it okay." The CD single included Gareth's versions of "Anything Is Possible" and "Evergreen," which would have been the A-sides if he'd won the contest.
This was one of several songs that Simon Cowell said he never wants to hear again at an X Factor audition. "Whoever said that was my favorite song was joking," he said.
Collaborating with T Bone Burnett, Leslie Phillips changed her name and left her Christian label behind. Robert Plant, who recorded one of her songs on Raising Sand
, is a fan.
Don breaks down "Hotel California" and other songs he wrote as a member of the Eagles. Now we know where the "warm smell of colitas" came from.