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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 ajukebox 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 source | editbeta][]

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 source | editbeta][]

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 could 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 theAcademy 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, and English jazz musician Cliff Townshend of The Squadronaires also released a popular version in 1956.

Chart performances[edit source | editbeta][]

Les Baxter
Chart (1955) Peak

position

United Kingdom (NME) 10[9]
United Kingdom (Record Mirror) 10[10]
United States (Billboard Hot 100) 1[11]
Roy Hamilton
Chart (1955) Peak

position

United States (Billboard Hot 100) 6[12]
United States (Billboard R&B Singles Chart) 1[12]
Jimmy Young
Chart (1955) Peak

position

United Kingdom (NME) 1[13]
United Kingdom (Record Mirror) 2[14]
Al Hibbler
Chart (1955) Peak

position

United Kingdom (NME) 2[15]
United Kingdom (Record Mirror) 1[16]
United States (Billboard Hot 100) 3[17]
United States (Billboard R&B Singles Chart) 1[17]

The Righteous Brothers' version[edit source | editbeta][]

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 theBillboard 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.

Chart performance[edit source | editbeta][]

Chart Peak position
1965 1990
United Kingdom[19] 14 1
United States (Billboard Hot 100)[20] 4 13
Canada 9 4

LeAnn Rimes' version[edit source | editbeta][]

In December 1996, country pop singer LeAnn Rimes released her rendition of the song as a single. It peaked at number three on both the Billboard Country Songs chart the Canadian RPM Country Tracks chart. Rimes' version of the song was only available as a bonus single to copies of her album Blue that were sold at Target stores during the 1996 Christmas season.[21][22] Rimes' version was later released on her compilation album Unchained Melody: The Early Years.

Chart performance[edit source | editbeta][]

Chart (1996-1997) Peak

position

Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[23] 3
US Country Songs (Billboard)[24] 3

Year-end charts[edit source | editbeta][]

Chart (1997) Position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)[25] 49
US Country Songs (Billboard)[26] 64

Other versions[edit source | editbeta][]

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.

The song was released on a B-side by Merri Gail in 1957 for Cha Cha Records, accompanied by an accordion.

Another early version was by teen idol Ricky Nelson, issued in 1958 on the album Ricky Nelson.

Gisele Mackenzie covered the song on her 1958 solo album for RCA Victor, Gisele (LPM/LSP-1790).

The Fleetwoods released a version of the song on their 1959 album, Mr. Blue for Dolton Records.

Andy Williams released a version of the song on his 1959 album, Lonely Street.

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 #43 in the UK.

Dionne Warwick recorded a version of the song for her 1965 album The Sensitive Sound of Dionne Warwick.

The Supremes covered the song for their album I Hear A Symphony, released in 1966.

The Sweet Inspirations covered the song in 1968.

Roy Orbison recorded a version of it for his album Many Moods, released in May 1969.

Bobby Vinton covered the song on The Love Album, released June 1971. Recordings have also been made by Cliff Richard and Conway Twitty.

Donny Osmond recorded the song on his album A Time for Us in 1973.

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 March 15, 1979 George Benson Released a version of the song on his album "Livin' Inside Your Love" by Warner Brother's Records INC.

In 1981, a live version performed by the band Heart peaked at #83 on the Billboard Top 100.[27]

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.

U2 also covered the song as a B-side to their 1989 single, "All I Want Is You". They have played the track live several times, including one performance which was captured on their 1993 concert film Zoo TV: Live from Sydney.

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 #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]

Also in 1995, Air Supply's album News from Nowhere contained a cover of the song.

Joe Lynn Turner covered the song on his 1997 album Under Cover.

Neil Diamond covered the song on his 1998 album, The Movie Album: As Time Goes By.

R. Kelly sampled the song in 1998 in his song, "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time" from the album R.

Sarah McLachlan's haunting 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.[28] She also performed the song at the Leonard Peltier Defense Fund Benefit Concert on 12 February 1997.[29]

Joni Mitchell incorporated the chorus and parts of the melody in "Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody" on her 1982 Wild Things Run Fast album, as well as an updated orchestral version on the 2002 Travelogue.

Gisele Mackenzie covered the song on her 1958 solo album for RCA Victor, Gisele (LPM/LSP-1790).

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. David Phelps recorded the song on his 2008 album The Voice.

Holland Taylor as Evelyn Harper coveered of the song in Two and a Half Men, episode "Fish in a Drawer".

Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox recorded a version in 2007 as Atlas Sound, and gave it away on his blog, along with a Jay Reatard cover.[30]

Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge performed the song in concert as a tribute to Bobby Hatfield, and it appeared on their 2008 Greatest Hits Live CD.

Gareth Gates recorded a cover version of the song as his first release following his appearance on Pop Idol in the United Kingdom. The single reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on its first week of release, and has since sold 1.34 million in the UK.[18]

Clay Aiken recorded the song on his 2010 album Tried and True.

The Pop Opera group, Amici Forever, recorded the song in Italian, under the title, "Senza Catene" (Without Chains).

Constantine Maroulis released his version of the song as a single, which he debuted during a guest performance on American Idol on April 7, 2011.[31]

Micheal Castaldo recorded an Italian version of the song on his 2010 album, Aceto.

Donald Braswell II recorded this song on his 2011 album, Unchained.

It is also featured as a musical number in GHOST The Musical.[32]

The song was also performed by Blake Jenner and Jacob Artist on the hit TV show Glee in the episode "Girls (and Boys) On Film".

Al Green 1973 Livin For You album.

Country music versions[edit source | editbeta][]

Five different versions of the song have made the Hot Country Songs charts: Joe Stampley (#41, 1975),[33] Elvis Presley (#6, 1978),[34] Ronnie McDowell (#26, 1991),[35] Willie Nelson recorded a version of it for his 1978 album, Stardust, and LeAnn Rimes (#3, 1997).[21]

Television shows[edit source | editbeta][]

The song has become a favorite among auditioners for TV singing contests. It has often been said by Simon Cowell to be his favorite song, leading it to be a favourite among those hoping to impress him in auditions for Pop IdolAmerican Idol, and The X Factor. It was performed on the original series of Pop Idol by runner-up Gareth Gates, who later released it as a single. It was also sung on Australian Idol by finalistDan England and 2006's winner Damien Leith, and on American Idol by George Trice in Season 2, Kellie Pickler on Season 5 Top 6 Love Songs Week, for which she was eliminated, Clay Aiken during the Season 2 Top 3 finals, after which he advanced to the Top 2 (finals), and Lauren Alaina on American Idol (season 10). On Series 8 of UK X Factor, Johnny Robinson performed the song on November 6, 2011 to stay in the competition. On So You Think You Can Dance Season 9, Travis Wall choreographed a contemporary piece to the music of the song. The piece, performed by Audrey Case and Matthew Kazmierczak, received a standing ovation from the judges and was highly praised for its aesthetic appeal. The song was also performed by Blake Jenner and Jacob Artist on the hit TV show Glee in the episode "Girls (and Boys) on Film" where they recreated the scene from the movie Ghost. It was performed on series 2 of The Voice by eventual winner Harrison Craig during the semi final on June 10, 2013.

Popularity[edit source | editbeta][]

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 source | editbeta][]

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

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