Unchained Melody

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"Unchained Melody" is a 1955 song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. North used the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained, hence the name. Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack.[1] It has since become one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, by some estimates having spawned over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages.[2]

Les Baxter (Capitol Records catalog number 3055) released an instrumental version which reached #1. Then came song recordings by Al Hibbler (Decca Records #29441),[3] reaching #3 on the Billboard charts; Jimmy Young which hit #1 in the United Kingdom; and Roy Hamilton (Epic Records no. 9102), reaching #1 on the R&B Best Sellers list and #6 on the pop chart.[4] Hundreds of other recordings followed. However, it was the July 1965 version by The Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard for the late 20th century, achieving a second round of great popularity when it was featured in the 1990 blockbuster film Ghost.

Origin of song[edit]

In 1955, Alex North and lyricist Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song as a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained,[5] and their song eventually became known as the "Unchained Melody". The song does not actually include the word "unchained", and songwriter Zaret chose instead to focus his lyrics on someone who pines for a lover he has not seen in a "long, lonely time".[5] The 1955 film centers around a man who contemplates either escaping from prison to live life on the run, or completing his sentence and returning to his wife and family.[5] The song has an unusual harmonic device in that the bridge ends on the tonic chord, rather than the more usual dominant.

With Todd Duncan singing the vocals,[1] the song was nominated for an Oscar in 1955, but the Best Song award went to the hit song "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing".

Early versions[edit]

Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. He performs an abbreviated version within the film, playing one of the prisoners. Lying on a bed, he sings it accompanied by another prisoner on guitar, while others listen sadly.[1] Bandleader Les Baxter (Capitol Records catalog number 3055), released a version which reached #2 on the US charts and #10 in the UK. The words "unchain me" are sung repeatedly at the beginning, and the lyrics are sung by a choir. Al Hibbler followed close behind with a vocal version[3] (Decca Records catalog number 29441) that reached #3 on the Billboard charts and #2 in the UK chart listings. He was followed soon after by Jimmy Young, whose version hit #1 on the British charts. Two weeks after Young's version entered the British charts in June 1955 Liberace would score a #20 hit (Philips PB 430). Roy Hamilton's version (Epic Records catalog number 9102) reached number one on the R&B Best Sellers list and #6 on the pop chart.[4] June Valli recorded the song on March 15, 1955 and it was released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-6078, with the flip side "Tomorrow",[6] and took it to #29.[7] Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps recorded it for their second album in 1956 — Vincent's version is played at mid-tempo and features a tremolo picking guitar part. It is also probably the most unusual cover version, as the bridge was omitted. Harry Belafonte sang it at the 1956 Academy Awards, where it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song of 1955. (Belafonte had also made a recording of the song for RCA Victor Records, which was released as catalog number 20-6784 in 1955, with the flip side "A-Roving".[8]) In 1963, an uptempo, doo-wop version hit the regional charts (eastern U.S.) by Vito & the Salutations, eventually becoming part of the soundtrack for Goodfellas in 1990. Perry Como recorded the song in 1955 as did his RCA Victor labelmate #1 country crooner Eddy Arnold, and English jazz musician Cliff Townshend of The Squadronaires also released a popular version in 1956.

Chart performances[edit]

The Righteous Brothers' version[edit]

"Unchained Melody"
Single by The Righteous Brothers
from the album Just Once in My Life
A-side Hung on You
Released July 17, 1965
Format 7"
Genre Blue-eyed soul
Length 3:36
Label Philles
Writer(s) Music: Alex North
Lyrics: Hy Zaret
Producer(s) Phil Spector
The Righteous Brothers singles chronology
"Just Once in My Life"
(1964)
"Hung On You/Unchained Melody"
(1965)
"Ebb Tide"
(1965)

The best-known version of "Unchained Melody" was recorded by The Righteous Brothers and produced by Phil Spector in 1965 as the 'B' side of the single featuring the song, "Hung On You". Although the version was credited to The Righteous Brothers, it was actually performed as a solo by Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield, who later recorded other versions credited solely to him. This recording climbed to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1965 and reached #14 in the UK in 1965.

"Unchained Melody" reappeared on the Billboard charts in 1990 after The Righteous Brothers' recording was used in the box office blockbuster film Ghost. Two versions charted in the US that year. There was the reissue of the 1965 original Righteous Brothers single which received a lot of airplay, but sales were minimal since it was only available as a 45 RPM single.[citation needed] This version peaked at #13. There was also a 1990 re-recording of the song which was available only as a cassette single. The re-recorded version saw minimal airplay, but excellent sales. It peaked at #19. For eight weeks, both versions were on the Hot 100 simultaneously. This re-release of the song topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart for two weeks in 1990. It reached #1 for the fifth time in the UK, becoming the UK's top selling single of 1990, and has since sold 1.04 million copies.[18] It also reached #1 in Australia, staying at number-one for seven weeks through November 1990 and into January 1991.

LeAnn Rimes' version[edit]

"One Way Ticket (Because I Can)" / "Unchained Melody"
Single by LeAnn Rimes
from the album Blue & Unchained Melody: The Early Years
Released September 28, 1996/ November 23, 1996[19]
Format CD single, cassette single
Recorded 1996
Genre Country
Length 3:51
Label Curb
Writer(s) Music: Alex North
Lyrics: Hy Zaret
Producer(s) Chuck Howard, Wilbur C. Rimes & Roger Wojohn
LeAnn Rimes singles chronology
"Hurt Me"
(1996)
"One Way Ticket (Because I Can)" / "Unchained Melody"
(1996)
"The Light in Your Eyes"
(1997)

In December 1996, country pop singer LeAnn Rimes released the song as a single. It peaked at number three on the Billboard Country Songs chart and the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart. Her version was available only as a bonus single to her album Blue sold at Target stores during the 1996 Christmas season,[20][21] but was later released on her compilation album Unchained Melody: The Early Years.

Other notable versions[edit]

"Unchained Melody"
Single by Gareth Gates
from the album What My Heart Wants to Say
Released March 18, 2002
Format CD single
Recorded A-side Studios,
Stockholm, Sweden (2002)
Genre Pop
Length 3:54
Label BMG
Writer(s) Alex North, Hy Zaret
Producer(s) Steve Mac
Certification 2x Platinum (BPI)
Gareth Gates singles chronology
"Unchained Melody"
(2002)
"Anyone of Us (Stupid Mistake)"
(2002)
  • In 1955, The Goons produced a comic version of the song, sung in an inappropriately upbeat manner (and with a few added "ying-tongs") by Peter Sellers, in character as "Bluebottle". They were forced by the rights holders to remove the recording from retail stores, under threat of suit, because it was felt their version was "disrespectful."
  • Line Renaud recorded different versions of the song in 1956, sung in both French and Spanish.
  • Mantovani & His Orchestra recorded an instrumental version of "Unchained Melody" which appeared on the 1957 album "Mantovani Film Encores, Volume 1".
  • John Gary's 3+ octave version, on his 1963 "Catch a Rising Star" album, became one of his signature songs.
  • Jimmy Young released a re-recorded version of his 1955 charttopper in early 1964 that only charted at No.43 in the UK.
  • Roy Orbison recorded "Unchained Melody" for his album "Roy Orbison's Many Moods", released in the U.S. in May 1969.
  • Donny Osmond recorded "Unchained Melody", which appeared on his 1973 album "A Time for Us".
  • Elvis Presley performed "Unchained Melody" on April 24, 1977 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the recording of which was included on the Moody Blue album (the last released while he was alive). On June 21, just six weeks before his death, he performed "Unchained Melody" in Rapid City, S.D. for what would be his last television appearance, "Elvis In Concert"; ultimately, the song was not included on the October 3 broadcast and this version would be released the following year as a single. Both versions featured him on piano, as was invariably the case when Presley sang the song in concert.
  • In 1986, Leo Sayer released a version of the song with a contemporary reworking of the "wall of sound" production technique that included an unusual electric guitar solo near the climax. The single charted in the UK only, making the Top 60.
  • In 1995, the song was performed by Robson Green and Jerome Flynn in the UK drama series Soldier Soldier. They subsequently released a Righteous Brothers-type version as a single, which quickly reached No.1 in the UK, becoming one of the country's all time biggest-selling records, and has sold 1.86 million copies as of November 2012.[18]
  • Sarah McLachlan's version of the song opened Pine Ridge: An Open Letter to Allan Rock - Songs for Leonard Peltier, a benefit CD published by What Magazine on 1 November 1996; the recording was reissued in 2008 on her album Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff Volume 2.[24] She also performed the song at the Leonard Peltier Defense Fund Benefit Concert on 12 February 1997.[25]
  • In 2002, English singer Gareth Gates recorded a cover version of "Unchained Melody" as his first release following his appearance on Pop Idol in the United Kingdom. The single reached number one on the UK Singles Chart in its first week of release, and has since sold 1.34 million copies in the UK.[18]
  • Cyndi Lauper was nominated for a 2005 Grammy award for "Best Instrumental Composition Accompanying a Vocal" for her interpretation of the song, which appears on the At Last album.
  • In 2006, singer Barry Manilow covered the song on his album Greatest Songs of the Fifties, and it reached #20.

Country music versions[edit]

Five different versions of the song have made the Hot Country Songs charts.

Popularity[edit]

The song has been #1 on lists of love songs featured on the United Kingdom's Channel 4 and Five. It is the only song to have sold over a million by three separate acts in the UK — Robson and Jerome (1.86 million), Gareth Gates (1.34 million), The Righteous Brothers (1.04 million).[18]

In 2004, Rolling Stone placed the Righteous Brothers version of the song at #365 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

It was placed first in Magic 1278's 500 greatest songs of all time.

Uses in media[edit]

The enduring popularity of the song has led to it being used on a number of different forms of media.

The Righteous Brothers' recording was used in the box office blockbuster film Ghost. The song would also appear in the comedy film The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear in 1991, in which the pottery wheel scene from Ghost was parodied.

The song later appeared in a Ford Fiesta commercial featuring two German engineers moulding a car together, in a parody of Ghost.

The song is included on the karaoke games Karaoke Revolution Volume 3 and the US version of SingStar Legends.

It features in the animated film "Happy Feet", released in 2006.

The song appears in the 2008 Wallace and Gromit short A Matter of Loaf and Death in a parody of the Ghost scene featuring Wallace and Piella Bakewell.

This song is used by Bubbles in Trailer Park Boys when Julian is about to shoot Conky, in reference to his obsession with Patrick Swayze.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Robert Rodriguez, The 1950s' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Rock & Roll Rebels, Brassey's, p.90.
  2. ^ Dowling, Stephen (2003-11-06). "Entertainment | Brothers in good company with hits". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  3. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 17 - The Soul Reformation: More on the evolution of rhythm and blues. [Part 3]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. 
  4. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 243. 
  5. ^ a b c "Lyricist behind Unchained Melody dies", CBC Arts, July 3, 2007, webpage: Unchained-obit.
  6. ^ "RCA Victor 78rpm numerical listing discography: 20-6000 - 6500". 78discography.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  7. ^ ) Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. 
  8. ^ "RCA Victor 20-6500 - 7000; 78rpm numerical listing discography". 78discography.com. 2013-07-25. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  9. ^ "Artist Chart History Details: Les Baxter". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  10. ^ "January – June 1955". Record Mirror. Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  11. ^ "Les Baxter | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  12. ^ a b "Roy Hamilton | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  13. ^ "Artist Chart History Details: Jimmy Young". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  14. ^ "July – November 1955". Record Mirror. Retrieved 15 May 2010. 
  15. ^ "Artist Chart History Details: Al Hibbler". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  16. ^ Smith, Alan. "Every No.1 in the 1960s is listed from all the nine different magazine charts!". Dave McAleer's website. Retrieved 4 November 2010. 
  17. ^ a b "Al Hibbler | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  18. ^ a b c d Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  19. ^ "Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  20. ^ a b Whitburn 2008, p. 352
  21. ^ Billboard - Google 圖書. Books.google.co.kr. 1996-11-23. Retrieved 2012-06-02. 
  22. ^ "Heart | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  23. ^ "David Allan Coe - Unchained (Vinyl, LP, Album) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  24. ^ "Blue Rodeo: Discography". Angelfire.com. Retrieved 2014-03-30. 
  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 397. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 
  27. ^ Whitburn 2008, p. 330
  28. ^ Whitburn 2008, p. 269

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"My Babe" by Little Walter and His Jukes
Billboard R&B Best Sellers in Stores number-one single
(Roy Hamilton version)

May 21, 1955 - June 4, 1955
Succeeded by
"Ain't That a Shame" by Fats Domino
Preceded by
"The Ballad of Davy Crockett" by Bill Hayes, Fess Parker, and Ernie Ford
Cash Box best selling record chart #1 record
(Les Baxter & Orchestra / Al Hibbler / Roy Hamilton versions)

May 21, 1955 (seven weeks)
Succeeded by
(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock
Preceded by
"Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" by Eddie Calvert
UK number-one single
(Jimmy Young version)

1955
Succeeded by
"Dreamboat" by Alma Cogan
Preceded by
"Oh Girl" by Paul Young
Billboard Adult Contemporary number-one single
(The Righteous Brothers version)

October 13 – 20, 1990
Succeeded by
"Love Takes Time" by Mariah Carey
Preceded by
"A Little Time" by The Beautiful South
UK number-one single
(The Righteous Brothers version)

October 28, 1990 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice
Preceded by
"Groove Is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite
Australian ARIA Singles Chart number-one single
(The Righteous Brothers version)

November 24, 1990 - January 12, 1991
Succeeded by
"Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice
Preceded by
"Without You" by Debbie Gibson
Japanese Oricon International Singles Chart number-one single
(The Righteous Brothers version)

November 5, 1990
December 3, 1990 - December 17, 1990
Succeeded by
"Last Christmas" by Wham!
Preceded by
"Dreamer" by Livin' Joy
UK number-one single
(Robson & Jerome version)

May 14, 1995 (7 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Boom Boom Boom" by The Outhere Brothers
Preceded by
"Anything Is Possible" / "Evergreen" by Will Young
UK number-one single
(Gareth Gates version)

March 24 – April 20, 2002
Succeeded by
"The Hindu Times" by Oasis