Unchained Melody

... was written for the 1955 film Unchained – a little–known prison drama. It was performed in the film by Todd Duncan, an African–American opera singer and actor. It was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, but lost out to Love is a Many–Splendored Thing (from the film of the same title).

At least four versions of Unchained Melody were released as singles in 1955. Three of them made the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA; they all reached the Top Ten, and a version credited to the American composer and conductor Les Baxter made it to No. 1. In the UK the song went one better: a record four versions – including one by Liberace – appeared simultaneously in the Top 20. The most successful version in the UK (as I expect you know) was by Jimmy Young, who was known in those days as a singer rather than a radio DJ and presenter. Young's version reached No. 1; Les Baxter peaked at No. 10, Liberace at 20, and Al Hibbler (another African–American singer) made it to No. 2.

Jimmy Young re–recorded Unchained Melody in 1964. This version only reached No 43, and would prove to be Young's last hit, but it may not be a coincidence that the Righteous Brothers' version was recorded the following year. This was essentially a solo by Bobby Hatfield; the other Righteous Brother, Bill Medley, said later that he'd lost the toss. It began as an album track, but was released as the B–side to a song called Hung on You. Unchained Melody soon began receiving far more radio play; producer Phil Spector was incensed by this, but his attempts to persuade DJs to play Hung on You met with failure. The Righteous Brothers' version of Unchained Melody reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 14 in the UK.

Ghost was the highest–grossing film of 1990, and at the time it was the third highest grossing film in cinema history. The soundtrack included the Righteous Brothers' original 1965 recording of Unchained Melody. Naturally this was re–released; this time it made it to No. 1 in the UK, where it was the best selling single of 1990. It also inspired a Greatest Hits album, which reached No. 11.

Before 1990, the Righteous Brothers' only UK No. 1 was You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', which was their first hit in the UK (released in 1965, and followed by Unchained Melody). This too was re–released in 1990, when it reached No. 3.

Unchained Melody was also a No. 1 in the UK for Robson & Jerome in 1995, and for Gareth Gates in 2002. Wikipedia reports that "according to the song's publishing administrator, over 1,500 recordings have been made by more than 670 artists, in multiple languages."

© Haydn Thompson 2022