The distinguished catalog of the Righteous Brothers is dominated by two mighty works that became, to many, their greatest legacy. But there is so much more to their songbook than the immortal “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and the perennial “Unchained Melody.”
The unrelated duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield had three separate periods together, all of which produced countless memorable moments on disc and in the charts. After Hatfield’s death in 2003, Medley enlisted Bucky Heard in a later incarnation of the group. But in their 1960s heyday, and again in their reunions, the original twosome were undeniably brothers in harmony, if not in blood. Here we present a selection of the best Righteous Brothers songs.
‘Little Latin Lupe Lu’
Medley and Hatfield, born within a month of each other in 1940, were experienced performers when they met at the Black Derby club in Santa Ana, California, in 1962. After singing in separate groups, they came together in the Paramours, who signed to the Moonglow label. When they split, the pair stayed together and hit upon their new name, the Righteous Brothers.
They caught a break when “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” written by Medley when he was 19, won them a distribution deal with VeeJay Records. Produced by Moonglow’s Ray Maxwell, it was big and brassy, highly danceable and an early showcase for the pair’s admirably matched voices. It became a mid-chart item on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1963.
A biographical Billboard article in the week that the song peaked at No.49 noted that, early in their working relationship, “They sang in local clubs in Southern California and made a big hit with the teenagers in the area…both of the boys sang in their high school and church choirs. Medley also plays piano and guitar. They are currently doing television and personal appearances to promote their hit record.”
This follow-up, with writing credits for both singers, demonstrated the duo’s unusual combination of bluesy-soul delivery, swinging, cabaret-ready brass, and even a little electric guitar. It was another lower chart entry, but the act was reaching an ever-wider audience. Billboard noted in August 1963: “The popular Righteous Brothers are coming up fast among the nation’s new top recording and performing artists.”
‘I’m So Lonely’
“My Babe” was swiftly followed by their debut album Right Now!, of which the magazine observed, “it’s just possible they could have a winner.” They certainly did, as the LP (produced by Medley) climbed to No.8 on the R&B chart and No.11 pop. Alongside the two chart singles, it included their version of “Bye Bye Love,” a signature for those earlier masters of dual harmony the Everly Brothers, and versions of “Let The Good Times Roll,” “My Prayer,” and “Georgia On My Mind.” Among flavors of gospel and blues, it also showed their ease with an updated doo-wop sound on Hatfield’s admirable “I’m So Lonely.”
‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’
1964 was the year that changed everything for the duo. They had the distinction of guesting on American tours by both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, appeared on the influential show Shindig!, and were spotted by one Phil Spector. Suitably impressed, the preeminent producer did a deal with Moonglow to release them on both sides of the Atlantic on Philles, the label he and Lester Sill had formed in 1961.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil with an additional credit for Spector, was the sensational first result, built by the idiosyncratic, undeniably brilliant mogul into a towering edifice in his famous Wall of Sound. Widely hailed as a masterpiece, and notably as a lifelong inspiration by Brian Wilson, it topped the charts in both the US and UK and returned to the British Top 10 in both 1969 and 1990.
‘Just Once In My Life’
Any follow-up to such an epic moment in pop history would have to fight for the light, but this superb tearjerker by Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Spector was a worthy sequel and a US Top 10 entry. Inexplicably unsuccessful in the UK, where the duo had to wait a little longer for more chart glory, “Just Once In My Life” captured Medley and Hatfield at their soul-baring best, and elicited a fine cover by the Beach Boys on the 1976 album 15 Big Ones.
No Righteous Brothers best-of could exist without this indestructible chestnut, which scaled the charts in 1965 and then had a spectacular lap of honor when featured in the smash movie Ghost in 1990. That was ironic in itself, since the Alex North-Hy Zaret composition had originally outlived the 1955 film it was written for, Unchained, making the US Top 10 for no fewer than three artists, Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and Roy Hamilton. Credited here to the Righteous Brothers, it was actually a solo tour de force by Hatfield; both new and re-recorded versions were Top 20 American hits in 1990 and the reissue went to No.1 around the world.
A song dating from the two vocalists’ early teens, which again proved how adept they were at repopularizing old staples. “Ebb Tide” was a No.2 hit in the US as an instrumental, for English musician, arranger, and conductor Frank Chacksfield in 1953, and was also recorded by Frank Sinatra (on his classic, Nelson Riddle-arranged Sings for Only the Lonely), the Platters and many others before the “brothers” got to it.
‘(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration’
Any suggestion that the vocal stylists would be lost without Spector were scotched when they left Philles for Verve and scored their second US No.1 with this glorious piece from the same team as the first, master hit creators Mann and Weil. The duo’s delivery and Jack Nitzche’s arrangement doubtless persuaded many that Spector’s towering production was still in play. The song sold a million in America alone.
‘On This Side Of Goodbye’
The pair’s subsequent Verve singles of their initial years together would fall victim to the law of diminishing returns. But there were gems to be had for those who stayed with them, in the face of the burgeoning modern pop scene breaking all around.
Another Goffin-King creation, this combined romantic drama with fine vocal interplay and a hint or two of their loving feeling of a couple of years earlier. But not enough fans agreed, resulting in a No.47 peak, and after further minor chart skirmishes, Medley and Hatfield split in 1968. The former recorded solo and the latter kept the group name going, until the early 1970s, with new compadre Jimmy Walker.
‘Rock And Roll Heaven’
The original pairing reunited for a Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in 1974, prompting a new deal with the Haven label, distributed by Capitol and run by the fine writing and production duo of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. In an admirable piece of A&R, the twosome were led towards this irresistible tribute to rock, pop, and soul greats written by Alan O’Day (who topped the Hot 100 himself in 1977 with “Undercover Angel”) and Johnny Stevenson.
The combination of nostalgia for the Righteous Brothers’ vocal sound and the evocative celebration of many of their contemporaries from Bobby Darin to Otis Redding – now playing in rock’n’roll heaven as “a hell of a band” – was a big winner, and the single climbed to No.3.
‘Give It To The People’
There was one final Top 20 US appearance for the duo with a new song in 1974, written by their label bosses Potter and Lambert and again with a rock flavor, augmented by strings and their usual sure-footed and charismatic delivery. At one point, Hatfield sings “Just let me do my righteous thing!” These two great entertainers always did.
Listen to the best Righteous Brothers songs on Apple Music and Spotify.