653. ‘Unchained Melody’, by The Righteous Brothers

And so the slew of random re-releases, that have been peppering the number one slot since the late ‘80s, peaks here, towards the end of 1990. And I mean ‘peaks’ both in the sense that we’ve literally just waved a Steve Miller Band tune from 1973 off top spot, and in the sense that nothing can top this gilt-edged beauty of a love song.

Unchained Melody, by The Righteous Brothers (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 28th October – 25th November 1990

That’s not to say that ‘Unchained Melody’, in the hands of the Righteous Brothers, isn’t a preposterous, overblown nonsense of a record. It is completely over-the-top, the sort of display of affection that would put most women off a man were he to belt it out ‘neath her window of an evening. How does a lonely river sigh, exactly…? And yet, it is irresistible.

Irresistible because of the vocal performance of Bobby Hatfield (who won the right to record it in a coin-toss with his Righteous partner Bill Medley). It’s spectacular singing all the way through, a true tour-de-force, that culminates in that outrageous note he hits in the final chorus. The strings swell, the percussion crashes, creating a tempest of emotion that will wash over even the most cynical of listener.

Irresistible, too, because it is so different to what has come before it. I’ve enjoyed the recent transition to dance, more than I thought I might, but it’s interesting to hear a big sixties beast cutting through the drum machines and the samples. And despite coming from long before the era of the power-ballad, ‘Unchained Melody’ can compete with contemporary classics like ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and ‘Show Me Heaven’ in the chest-thumping melodrama stakes. In fact, could the case be made for this being the very first ‘power ballad’?

It found itself back in the charts thanks to its use in the movie ‘Ghost’, in a famous sex scene involving Patrick Swayze and a pottery wheel (I’ve never seen the film, and don’t intend to, so don’t try to persuade me that this isn’t what happens…) The Brothers did a re-record, which charted in the US, but it was their original that took off again in Britain (it had previously made #14 in 1965). It means that the duo have a twenty-five year gap between their two #1s – beating The Hollies’ previous record of twenty-three years – and that ‘Unchained Melody’ itself has a huge thirty five year span since Jimmy Young took his version to the top in 1955.

Young’s version is half the song that this is, though it feels unfair to judge him against what has since become a standard. A standard that, sadly, subsequent singers have felt the need to compare themselves against. ‘Unchained Melody’ has two further, Righteous Brothers aping versions to come atop the charts… And this also increases the irresistibility of this version: the depths that I know the song will be brought down to.

This record cemented itself as the peak of the re-release era by becoming the highest-selling single of the year. Folks lapped it up (‘Ghost’ was, for a spell, the highest-grossing film of all time in the UK), though I’d say it’s now moved into the realms of cliché, thanks no doubt to the subsequent karaoke cover versions, to the point that any use in a movie today would be done with tongue firmly in cheek.

Before I go, I have to give a shout out to the one version that can compete with the Righteous Brothers’: Elvis’s. It was used to great effect in the recent film biopic (that I thought was OK, but nowhere near as good as some said), and when they spliced it with the famous footage of him singing it a few weeks before his death… Well some dust just went and got in my eye, didn’t it?


16 thoughts on “653. ‘Unchained Melody’, by The Righteous Brothers

  1. Rating: 4/5

    While it’s a fantastic song, I’ve never connected with it in the same way that so many people have. I dunno the reason, because I admire everything about it. The vocal performance is absolutely tremendous and what really elevates the song. For me, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” is a 10/5 and a GOAT-contender for best pop song, whereas this is just a great song.

  2. A classic cover and the definitive version, no one else should bother unless they do something radically different with it. And yet it’s not in the same league as YGTLF – very little is to be fair – but its as great as their version of Ebb Tide which is another big ballad

  3. If I had heard this song a few times and it had only been a minor hit, I might have quite enjoyed hearing it every now and then. But as it trounced everything else in its wake and was totally inescapable for a long time, that rather, er, tarnished it for me. And I’m one of those strange people who has never been able to like ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ either. So in reply to popcharfreak, nobody else should bother unless they do something radically different with it. Or even ‘anarchically’ different. Step forward, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and a little encouragement from the man who would become the most respected and famous record producer of all time. And the thread on this link tells of a few interesting copyright twists and turns in the history of this one, some involving a former Beatle. Ironically it was belatedly released as a single just a few weeks before the record we are talking about. Just think, we might have seen both versions in the charts at once in 1990, as we did with ‘Singin’ the Blues’ back around 1957. https://www.45cat.com/record/em146

    • I just tracked it down on YouTube… It’s quite something. At least we’d never have had to suffer the Robson and Jerome/Gareth Gates takes in the alternate universe where this was released and became the standard version…

  4. How the hell did I miss this? Anway… I love the song…I don’t like the production. I like Elvis’s version better becasue it’s not covered with 50 tons of echo…I’m NOT a Phil Spector fan.

    btw… You really NEED to see Ghost! lol you asked for that. I’ve never seen the movie all the way through.

      • He was a great producer who….now this is just me…had a tendacy to overproduce. Some of his singles sound good….some of them sound like they were recorded in a bathroom….will all the echo piled on.

      • You’ve Lost That Lovely Feeling is an example but the song is so good. Now…on Ike and Tina’s River Deep Mountain High….he was perfect. I respected his abilities…his work on All Things Must Pass is a plus as well.

      • I love Ronettes….the ones I dislike the most are the Righteous Brothers…sounds like they are in a an echo chamber and loses any bottom end they had.

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