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Bobby Hatfield

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Bobby Hatfield
Photo by Gems/Redferns

On Nov 3rd 1990, 25 years after their version was recorded, The Righteous Brothers went to No.1 on the UK singles chart with “Unchained Melody”. The track had been featured in the Patrick Swayze film Ghost. Written by Alex North and Hy Zaret, “Unchained Melody” is one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, with over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages.

One of the most romantic and durable modern songs to emerge from the world of film, “Unchained Melody” had its roots in an obscure movie called Unchained. The picture was the brainchild of one man, Hal Bartlett who wrote, produced, and directed this movie about life in the California Institute of Men, an “honor farm” state prison at Chino.

For the film, the song was sung by Todd Duncan. The idea behind the song was to portray the feelings of the movie character who was imprisoned and was constantly thinking about his lover whom he sorely missed.

“Hang on a minute,” I hear you cry, “who is Todd Duncan?” I didn’t know either but after a quick dive into the depths of the interweb, I’ve discovered Duncan was a very talented young man, and George Gershwin’s personal choice as the first performer of the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess in 1935, going on to play the role more than 1,800 times. In 1945, he became the first African American to sing with a major opera company, and the first black person to sing in an opera with an otherwise white cast when he performed the role of Tonio in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci with the New York City Opera.

Back to the song and its origins. Alex North, who composed the music, wrote the first jazz-based film score (A Streetcar Named Desire). North is one of only two film composers to receive the Lifetime Achievement Academy Award, the other being Ennio Morricone. Lyricist Hy Zaret also wrote the popular hit novelty song “One Meatball,” based on a song popular among Harvard undergraduates.

Popular music and the charts in the mid-’50s were very different from today’s chart-toppers. Artists and record companies would spot a good song and record their own versions; no fewer than three versions of the song, by Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and Roy Hamilton, all hit the Top Ten, with Hibbler’s version ranking as the best known for the next ten years. The song was also recorded successfully by Jimmy Young in the UK and all-round entertainer Liberace.

The song was revived briefly in 1963 when Vito and the Salutations recorded a version that peaked at number 66. This was the first “fast” version of the song.

The Righteous Brothers’ version was produced by Phil Spector in 1965, and was credited to The Righteous Brothers, but performed as a solo by Bobby Hatfield, who later recorded versions credited solely to him. This version climbed to No. 4 on the charts. (Hatfield died at the age of 63 in 2003; he was found dead in a hotel room in Michigan 30 minutes before he was due on stage.)

When Jerry Zucker was filming the movie Ghost in 1990, he used their version for the hot and heavy lovemaking scene between the movie’s co-stars, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Thanks to the composing stylings of Maurice Jarre, an instrumental version of “Unchained Melody” was created and played in various important scenes of Ghost.

Bobby Hatfield, one half of the Righteous Brothers died at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan on November 5, 2003, found by an employee at the hotel. He apparently died in his sleep, hours before a scheduled Righteous Brothers concert. In January 2004, a toxicology report concluded that an overdose of cocaine had precipitated a fatal heart attack.

Even Simon Cowell has seen a piece of the action. One of the many examples of the song’s popularity is a recording that was never meant to be released. Instead, it was simply to be a performance featuring British actors Jerome Flynn and Robson Green, who starred in the UK military drama Soldier, Soldier. The actors performed the song in a scene during one of the episodes. Even though Flynn and Green thought nothing more of their performance after it was over because they felt their singing skills were not on par with their acting skills, the audience thought otherwise. Soon after their performance, the television station received calls from viewers who wanted to buy the version sung by the two actors.

Simon Cowell, who was working as a tea boy at BMG Records, approached the duo about recording their version. With great reluctance, they agreed and their recording topped the UK charts for seven weeks. (I made the bit up about him being a tea boy). It has often been said by Simon Cowell to be his favorite song.

Some “Unchained” facts:

The song has been nominated for 15 Oscars but was unsuccessful each time.

In 1955, The Goons produced a comic version of the song, sung in an inappropriately upbeat manner.

Just six weeks before his death in 1977, Elvis Presley performed “Unchained Melody” for what would be his last television appearance.

U2 covered the song as a B-side to their 1989 single, “All I Want Is You”.

The Smashing Pumpkins released a cover of the song.

During Queen Elizabeth’s 50th Anniversary celebration, fans gathered outside Buckingham Palace and sang “Unchained Melody” – one of her favorite songs.

Paul McCartney the current owner to rights of “Unchained Melody”, makes $$$ every time the song is played.

Kerching!!

Important Dates In The Life Of The Righteous Brothers:

On this day in music
16 Jan 2021
American producer Phil Spector died in prison age 81. Known for his 'Spector Wall Of Sound’ he was a member of Teddy Bears, who had the 1958 US No.1 single 'To Know Him Is To Love Him'. He went on to produce many classic songs including; Ben E King, 'Spanish Harlem', The Crystals, 'Da Doo Ron Ron', The Ronettes, 'Baby I Love You', The Righteous Brothers, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling', Ike and Tina Turner, 'River Deep, Mountain High'. He also produced albums for The Ramones, John Lennon, (produced the 1970 hit 'Instant Karma!, George Harrison, The Beatles, and Harry Nilsson. The 2003 shooting of actress Lana Clarkson in his Alhambra, California home led to his 2009 conviction of murder in the second degree.
8 Aug 2017
American singer, guitarist, songwriter, television host, and actor Glen Campbell died in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 81. He became a patient at an Alzheimer's long-term care and treatment facility in 2014. Campbell released more than 70 studio albums and sold 45 million records worldwide. His hits include: 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix', 'Wichita Lineman', 'Galveston' and 'Rhinestone Cowboy'. His guitar playing can be heard on ‘Strangers in the Night’ by Frank Sinatra, ‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'‘ by The Righteous Brothers and ‘I'm a Believer’ by The Monkees.
3 Mar 2017
American jazz ukulele musician Lyle Ritz died at the age of 87. As a session musician on the bass guitar he joined the Wrecking Crew a popular group of studio musicians in the Los Angeles recording industry. Ritz compiled over 5,000 recording credits including such notable tracks as Herb Alpert's 'A Taste of Honey', The Righteous Brothers' 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'', and The Beach Boys 'Good Vibrations.'
29 Jul 2010
American trumpet player and session musician Roy Caton died aged 83. As a session player in Hollywood recording studios Caton worked with Nancy Sinatra, The Monkees, (The Birds, The Bees & The Monkees), Harpers Bizarre, (Feelin' Groovy), The Byrds, (The Notorious Byrd Brothers), Love, (Forever Changes), The Righteous Brothers and The Beach Boys on (Pet Sounds)
19 Sep 2008
American drummer Earl Palmer died. Worked with The Beach Boys, Little Richard (‘Tutti Frutti’), Frank Sinatra, Ike and Tina Turner (‘River Deep, Mountain High’), The Monkees, Fats Domino (‘I'm Walkin’), Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, The Righteous Brothers (‘You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin’), and Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Tim Buckley, Little Feat and Elvis Costello.
28 May 2008
American guitarist Jerry Cole died aged 68. He first entered the pop music scene as one of The Champs along with Glen Campbell. Cole and Campbell later formed the Gee Cee's and released one single called 'Buzzsaw Twist'. He backed up Elvis Presley in 1974 and also worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin, The Righteous Brothers, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Tony Orlando & Dawn, Lou Rawls, Gregg Allman, Lee Hazlewood, Blood Sweat & Tears, Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, Steely Dan, The Beach Boys and Isaac Hayes.
2 Jul 2007
Lyricist Hy Zaret, who wrote the words for the song 'Unchained Melody' died at his home in Westport, Connecticut, aged 99. The song (which does not feature the word "unchained"), has been recorded over 300 times. Zaret co-wrote the song with film composer Alex North for the 1955 prison film Unchained. The Righteous Brothers' 1965 version was produced by Phil Spector.
5 Nov 2003
Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers was found dead in hotel room in Michigan 30 minutes before he was due on stage, aged 63. The autopsy report from the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner gave the opinion that Hatfield suffered a sudden, unexpected death due to acute cocaine toxicity. The Righteous Brothers had the 1965 UK & US No.1 single 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', and the 1990 UK No.1 single 'Unchained Melody' first released in 1965.
24 Aug 1998
Producer Gene Page died after a long illness. Worked with Barbra Streisand, Barry White, The Righteous Brothers, Dobie Gray, Bob and Earl. Produced Whitney Houston's 'Greatest Love of All' and Roberta Flack's 'Tonight I Celebrate My Love.'
3 Nov 1990
25 years after their version was recorded, The Righteous Brothers went to No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'Unchained Melody'. The track had been featured in the Patrick Swayze film 'Ghost.' Written by Alex North and Hy Zaret, 'Unchained Melody is one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, with over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages.
13 Sep 1986
Berlin went to No.1 on the US singles chart with the Giorgio Moroder written and produced 'Take My Breath Away'. On the B side, The Righteous Brothers 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', both songs were featured in the film 'Top Gun'.
17 Mar 1979
Gloria Gaynor started a four-week run at No.1 on the UK singles chart with I Will Survive. The song was originally released as the B-side to a song first recorded by The Righteous Brothers called 'Substitute.'
10 Mar 1979
Gloria Gaynor started a three week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with I Will Survive which was also a No.1 hit in the UK. The song was originally released as the B-side to a song first recorded by The Righteous Brothers called 'Substitute.'
6 Feb 1965
The Righteous Brothers started a two week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with the Phil Spector produced 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. The song was also No.1 in the UK for the duo (who were not related in any way).
4 Feb 1965
The Righteous Brothers were at No.1 on the UK singles chart with the Phil Spector song 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'. Also a US No.1 at the same time. In 1999 the PRS announced that it was the most played song of the 20th Century.
19 Aug 1964
The Beatles kicked off a North American tour at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California, to a crowd of 17,130. Playing 12 songs which made up their repertoire for the entire tour: ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘You Can't Do That’, ‘All My Loving’, ‘She Loves You’, ‘Things We Said Today’, ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, ‘Can't Buy Me Love’, ‘If I Fell’, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, ‘Boys’, ‘A Hard Day's Night’, and ‘Long Tall Sally’. Supporting acts were The Righteous Brothers, The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, and Jackie DeShannon.
18 Jun 1955
Jimmy Young was at No.1 on the UK singles chart with his version of 'Unchained Melody', (a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained and a hit for the Righteous Brothers in 1965). Young scored another ten Top 40 hit singles and went on to become one of UK's favourite radio DJ's
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Leslie Kerins

    October 8, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    WE ALL KNOW IT IS BOBBY HATFIELDS SONG….THIS JUST HAPPENS…

  2. Zara

    February 27, 2021 at 12:04 am

    who owns music/youtube rights? universal?

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