A small and select number of songs are just so powerful, and have so much emotional resonance, that they connect with more than one generation and become No.1 hits in two different eras. So it was for the Righteous Brothers with the unstoppable “Unchained Melody.”
The track had been written 36 years earlier, with lyrics by Hy Zaret to music by Alex North, in a classic case of a song that has outlasted the film it was written for. Unchained was a prison movie that’s little remembered these days, although it has the distinction of a small, uncredited appearance by jazz great Dexter Gordon. On the film’s release, the song became a US R&B No.1 for both Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton; Hibbler’s version crossed over to No.3 on the pop chart.
A decade later, the Righteous Brothers team of Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley were a hot chart property from their international chart-topper of 1964, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” and other imposing hit performances, notably on “Just Once In My Life” (later covered by the Beach Boys on 15 Big Ones).
Unchained all over again
The recording of “Unchained Melody,” credited to the duo but in reality, a Hatfield solo, gave the song a second life in 1965, rising to No.4 on the American pop chart and reaching No.14 in the UK. But it was its selection for the soundtrack of the 1990 box office movie blockbuster Ghost that made it an anthem once again for the duo. The original version went to No.1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and No.13 on the Hot 100, while a re-recorded interpretation by Bobby and Bill went to No.19 pop.
Listen to uDiscover Music’s Righteous Brothers Best Of playlist.
On the UK chart of October 27, 1990, the 1965 original blasted back onto the bestsellers at No.3, and a week later started a four-week run at No.1 to underline its status as one of the most durable pop songs of all time. The era-crossing copyright has attracted many hundreds of covers, by artists as wide-ranging as Cab Calloway, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, and Kenny Rogers.
Buy or stream “Unchained Melody” on the Righteous Brothers’ Gold compilation.