I haven’t seen the film Ghost yet and I don’t know if I ever will. I came to learn of The Righteous Brothers through a different video that didn’t include a spectral Patrick Swayze.
But regardless, the boldness and timelessness of their music became permanently imprinted in my song memory. I could probably have amnesia and still be humming “Unchained Melody.”
Despite having the appearance of a pop or doo-wop group, Bill Medley and Robby Hatfield gave performances with enough soulful singing to get play on rhythm and blues stations. A Philadelphia disk jockey is thought to have coined the phrase “blue-eyed soul” in reference to the group.
It also didn’t hurt to have Phil Spector in their corner. Spector produced the group’s 1964 number one hit “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” which blended his signature wall of sound with Medley’s low, ghostly singing. Like almost all of The Righteous Brothers’ songs, the narrative and rhythm draws you in, creating a building sensation of soulful suspense. Even in “Unchained Melody,” everything before the first symbol crash meanders and never takes form.
But then the cymbals crash or the vocals grow to a shout and all the tension is released in grand statements that express love or exorcise pain. For only having five songs break the U.S. Top 10, The Righteous Brothers put enough melodrama and depth into their songs to defy aging. To me, those few songs equate to other group’s entire discography in arrangement and awesomeness.
None of the lyrics in the duo’s singles pinpointed them to a certain time. The lyrics usually evoke love, nature and spirituality, subjects with universal relatability. Not to mention, the swelling and idiosyncratic music behind The Righteous Brothers give it a one-of-a-kind feel akin to Johnny Cash’s backing band — The Tennessee Three.
Because of the group’s high-profile single releases, its greatest hits albums are a fine way to listen to its best music. I suppose one of The Righteous Brothers’ singles dropping in the 1960s was akin to a new single by Post Malone or possibly Rae Sremmurd in dynamics.
Is Post Malone considered blue-eyed soul? Like Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, he broke through to fame from a single in the current style of R&B. It might be easier to make a comparison between the two in forty years time, but I think there’s something there.
But in addition to spurring the comical descriptor of blue-eyed soul, The Righteous Brothers used a refined but original approach to popular songs and original compositions.
No matter how many times I listen to the beginning of “Unchained Melody,” I still can’t conceive Hatfield’s voice as some sort of concrete thing. It’s an ethereal performance and I’d much rather remember it for that instead of glowing Patrick Swayze.
Luke Furman is a senior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Do you listen to Bob Dylan? Let Luke know by tweeting him @LukeFurmanLog or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.