The vocal duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield virtually defined the term “blue-eyed soul.” As the Righteous Brothers, they cut a string of hits that fared well on both the pop and rhythm and blues charts: “Unchained Melody” (Number Four pop, Number Six R&B), “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration (Number One pop, Number 13 R&B) and their masterpiece - and one of the seminal singles of the rock and roll era - “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ (Number One pop, Number three R&B). In the mid-1960s, the Righteous Brothers became a fixture on Top Forty radio and the televised rock and roll variety show Shindig!, on which they guested frequently. Medley’s commanding baritone and Hatfield’s forceful tenor ranked among the most indelible voices of that charmed era.
Medley was born in Santa Ana, California, and Hatfield grew up in Anaheim. They came together in 1962 when their respective groups - Medley’s Paramours and Hatfield’s Variations - combined members. Retaining the name the Paramours, they released a single, “There She Goes (She’s Walking Away),” on the Moonglow label in December 1962. Three months later, the act got whittled down to Medley and Hatfield, who debuted as the Righteous Brothers with the rocking single “Little Latin Lupe Lu.” A Medley original, it became a regional hit and a garage-rock standard, covered by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, among countless others. The Righteous Brothers were given their name by black fans who responded to their voices with an approving, “That’s righteous, brother!” Producer Phil Spector leased their Moonglow contract, adding the Righteous Brothers to the roster of voices on his Philles label.
During their brief time at Moonglow, the Righteous Brothers cut enough material to fill three albums (Right Now, Some Blue Eyed Soul and This Is New), from which a dozen singles were culled. Although those early sides lack the drama and grandeur of their greatest work with Spector, there was plenty of rock and roll soul to be heard in such tracks as “Justine,” “My Babe” and “You Can Have Her.” Spector heard a deeper potential in the blend of Medley’s earthy thunder and Hatfield’s heavenly fire. A series of magnificently produced and sung singles commenced with the symphonic pop of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” cowritten by Spector, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. With their dramatic exchanges from different registers, Medley and Hatfield reached for the stars. Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production scaled unparalleled heights for a pop single. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” entered the Top Forty the day after Christmas 1964 and hit #1 two months later. The song ran for nearly four minutes, but Spector listed the time as 3:05 on the label so that nervous deejays wouldn’t balk at its length.
Medley offered writer Len Scher an insight on what it was like to work with Spector: “He was such a legendary producer that all the other producers wanted to come to the studio while he was recording...and sometimes it would get a little carried away. It was basically Phil’s time to show off. So there were a couple of times where we had to say, “Hey, you know, let’s get down to this and get it over with.”
The Righteous Brothers followed “Lovin’ Feelin’” with a string of grandly orchestrated, Spector-produced ballads: “Just Once in My Life” (Number Nine), which Spector cowrote with Garry Goffin and Carole King; “Hung on You,” cowritten by the same trio; the Hatfield-sung “Unchained Melody” (Number Four), their 1965 remake of a 1955 movie theme; “Ebb Tide” (Number Five), a vocal version of what had been an instrumental hit in 1953; and “White Cliffs of Dover,” their swan song for Spector and Philles. Hatfield, in particular, was a big fan of the movie ballads and singer Roy Hamilton’s versions of them, and had actually sung both “Ebb Tide” and “Unchained Melody” with his first group, the Variations.
In 1966 Verve Records bought the Righteous Brothers’ contract for a cool million dollars, and they flourished there as well. The Righteous Brothers’ apprenticeship with Spector paid off when they were allowed to produce themselves at Verve. Their first single for the label, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration,” was again penned by the esteemed songwriting team of Mann and Weil, and masterfully produced by Medley. It was an auspicious moment for the Righteous Brothers, topping the charts for three weeks - one week longer than “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” But amid the radical changes and evolutions of the late 1960s, the Righteous Brothers’ time was winding down. The duo cut several more albums and charted a few other singles - “He” (Number 18) and “Go Ahead and Cry” (Number 30) - before parting ways in 1968.
In the more receptive climate of the mid-1970s, the Righteous Brothers reunited and resumed their hitmaking ways with “Rock and Roll Heaven” (Number Three), “Give It to the People” (Number 20) and “Dream On (Number 32). All three appeared on the album Give It to the People, produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter and released in 1974. Medley scored a hit with another duettist, Jennifer Warnes, on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” from the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. That soundtrack became the most successful since Saturday Night Fever, selling 14 million copies and propelling “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” to the top. In 1990, the Righteous Brothers’ version of “Unchained Melody” appeared in the hit film Ghost, returning to the charts a quarter century after its original release. Best of the Righteous Brothers, an anthology released that same year, became a platinum seller, proving the undiminished appeal of the duo’s blue-eyed soul.