Unchained Melody

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This article is about the song. For the compilation album by LeAnn Rimes, see Unchained Melody: The Early Years.

"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 number 1. Then came song recordings by Al Hibbler (Decca Records #29441),[3] reaching number 3 on the Billboard charts; Jimmy Young which hit number 1 in the United Kingdom; and Roy Hamilton (Epic Records no. 9102), reaching number 1 on the R&B Best Sellers list and number 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 1936, songwriter Alex North approached Bing Crosby with the still untitled song. Crosby turned the song down and it remained unrecorded for almost twenty years.[5] In 1954, North and lyricist Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song as a theme for the prison film Unchained,[6] 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".[6] 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.[6] 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 in 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 released a version (Capitol Records catalog number 3055) which reached number 2 on the US charts and number 10 in the UK. The words "unchain me" are sung repeatedly at the beginning and the lyrics are sung by a choir. Billboard ranked this version as the No. 5 song of 1955.[7]

Al Hibbler followed close behind with a vocal version[3] (Decca Records catalog number 29441) that reached number 3 on the Billboard charts and number 2 in the UK chart listings. He was followed soon after by Jimmy Young, whose version hit number 1 on the British charts. Two weeks after Young's version entered the British charts in June 1955 Liberace would score a number 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 number 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",[8] and took it to number 29.[9] 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".[10]) 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 top 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
Bill Medley
The Righteous Brothers singles chronology
"Just Once in My Life"
"Hung On You/Unchained Melody"
"Ebb Tide"

The best-known version of "Unchained Melody" was recorded by the duo The Righteous Brothers for Philles Records in 1965 as the 'B' side of the single "Hung On You". Although the version was credited to The Righteous Brothers, lead vocals were performed solo by Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield, who later recorded other versions credited solely to him. This recording climbed to number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1965 and reached number 14 in the UK in 1965.

The producer of this recording is uncertain. Original copies of the single did not credit a producer for "Unchained Melody" (as shown in the inset), although Phil Spector was credited as producer of "Hung On You"; later copies of the single (after it became a hit) credit Spector as producer of "Unchained Melody" as well; but Bill Medley, the other Righteous Brother, consistently stated that he produced this recording.[20] Medley, who had produced the duo before they signed with Spector and Philles, said that "Phil came to me and asked me to produce the Righteous Brothers albums because he would have taken too long and it would have cost too much money."[21] According to Medley, "Unchained Melody" was intended solely as an album cut, and so he produced it and played piano on it; Spector only claimed production credit after it supplanted "Hung On You" as the hit.[22] Medley also noted that "if I knew that it was gonna be a hit I certainly would have brought in a better piano player."[22]

"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. The 1965 original Righteous Brothers recording was reissued by oldies-reissue label Eric Records, which licensed the original recording from Polydor Records (which had acquired the rights years earlier).[23] This version received a lot of airplay, but sales were minimal since it was only available as a 45 RPM single; it peaked at number 13. Polydor had previously licensed the CD rights for this recording to Rhino Records for a premium-priced 1989 compilation of Righteous Brothers hits from various labels;[24] later in 1990, it issued its own regular-priced Righteous Brothers greatest hits CD that included the recording.[25] However, partially due to the lack of a reasonably-priced CD version at the time the movie was released, The Righteous Brothers re-recorded the song for Curb Records, which released it as a cassette single, a vinyl single, and as part of a budget-priced CD compilation. The re-recorded version received minimal airplay but recorded excellent sales, peaking at number 19. For eight weeks, both versions were on the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously.

This re-release of the song topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart for two weeks in 1990. It reached number 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.[26] It also reached number 1 in Australia, staying at number-one for seven weeks through November 1990 and into January 1991. In 2004 it finished at number 27 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.

Other notable versions[edit]

"Unchained Melody"
Single by LeAnn Rimes
from the album Blue & Unchained Melody: The Early Years
Released September 28, 1996/ November 23, 1996[27]
Format CD single, cassette single
Recorded 1996
Genre Country
Length 3:51
Label Curb
Writer(s) Alex North, Hy Zaret
Producer(s) Chuck Howard, Wilbur C. Rimes & Roger Wojohn
LeAnn Rimes singles chronology
"Hurt Me"
"Unchained Melody"
"The Light in Your Eyes"
"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"
"Anyone of Us (Stupid Mistake)"
  • Jimmy Young released a re-recorded version of his 1955 charttopper in early 1964 that charted at number 43 in the UK.
  • Roy Orbison recorded a version in 1969 for the MGM album Roy Orbison's Many Moods
  • Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers recorded a parody in 1955, and were taken to court by the composer and lyricist. Their version was withdrawn, and remained virtually unknown for over 50 years.
  • In 1981, a live version performed by the band Heart peaked at number 83 on the Billboard Hot 100.[28]
  • 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, 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 number 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.[26]
  • 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.[26]
  • 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 her 2003 studio album At Last.
  • In 2006, singer Barry Manilow covered the song on his album Greatest Songs of the Fifties, and it reached number 20.

Country music versions[edit]

Different versions of the song have made the Hot Country Songs charts.


The song has been number 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).[26]

In 2004, Rolling Stone placed the Righteous Brothers version of the song at number 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.


  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 (November 6, 2003). "Entertainment | Brothers in good company with hits". BBC News. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  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. ^ Giddins, Gary (2009). The Bing Crosby CBS Radio Recordings, 1954–1956 (liner notes). Stamford, CT: Mosaic Records. p. 11. 
  6. ^ a b c "Lyricist behind Unchained Melody dies", CBC Arts, July 3, 2007, webpage: Unchained-obit.
  7. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1955
  8. ^ "RCA Victor 78rpm numerical listing discography: 20-6000 - 6500". 78discography.com. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  9. ^ ) Whitburn, Joel (1973). Top Pop Records 1940-1955. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research. 
  10. ^ "RCA Victor 20-6500 - 7000; 78rpm numerical listing discography". 78discography.com. July 25, 2013. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Artist Chart History Details: Les Baxter". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ "January – June 1955". Record Mirror. Retrieved May 15, 2010. 
  13. ^ "Les Baxter | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Roy Hamilton | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Artist Chart History Details: Jimmy Young". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  16. ^ "July – November 1955". Record Mirror. Retrieved May 15, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Artist Chart History Details: Al Hibbler". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved August 4, 2010. 
  18. ^ Smith, Alan. "Every No.1 in the 1960s is listed from all the nine different magazine charts!". Dave McAleer's website. Retrieved November 4, 2010. 
  19. ^ a b "Al Hibbler | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  20. ^ Prato, Greg (15 June 2014). "Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers". Songfacts.com. Retrieved 9 September 2015. 
  21. ^ Sharp, Ken. "Soul & Inspiration: A Conversation with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers (page 2)". Rockcellar Magazine. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  22. ^ a b Sharp, Ken. "Soul & Inspiration: A Conversation with Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers". Rockcellar Magazine. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  23. ^ "The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody; Eric 4102". Discogs.com. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  24. ^ "Righteous Brothers Anthology 1962-1974 (2 CDs)". Amazon.com. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  25. ^ "Unchained Melody: Very Best Of The Righteous Brothers". Amazon.com. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  26. ^ a b c d Ami Sedghi (November 4, 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". The Guardian. Retrieved November 4, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Put a Little Holiday in Your Heart: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Heart | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  29. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2008). Hot Country Songs 1944 to 2008. Record Research, Inc. p. 397. ISBN 0-89820-177-2. 
  30. ^ Whitburn 2008, p. 330
  31. ^ Whitburn 2008, p. 269
  32. ^ Whitburn 2008, p. 352

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 number 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)

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