The Righteous Brothers made “Unchained Melody” famous in the 1960s, and throughout the next 50 years or so, it has made several appearances in pop culture and on music charts. Additionally, the song has been linked to a huge array of musicians and even movies. The original version can become slightly jumbled when musicians produce fresh renditions or modify a song for contemporary audiences and settings. Consider Counting Crows’ rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” which was released decades later. Sometimes, it’s better not to know what a song means so that people can use it in their own lives or come to their own conclusions based on their favorite version.
Heartache and yearning for a partner are depicted in the lyrics to “Unchained Melody.” The love interest and the writer appear to be divided by space and time. But how did this song break into popular culture and become a national anthem in America?
LIBERACE RELEASED A COVER OF THE SONG
The success of classical and theater composer Alex North can be attributed to the cinematic adaptations of stage plays. This gave him the opportunity to work on a few 1950s independent films. Midway through the 1950s, North was working as the score composer for the movie “Unchained.” The movie centers on a prisoner who longs to leave the facility and rejoin his wife and family.
Smooth Radio claims that when asked to compose a song for “Unchained,” he enlisted Hy Zaret’s assistance with the lyrics. Todd Duncan’s portrayal of Bill Howard sings the song while the other prisoners watch (posted on YouTube). His longing for his family outside of the walls of the prison is poignantly expressed in the lyrics.
But “Unchained Melody” rose to fame rather gradually. When Les Baxter released his rendition of the song in 1955 (via Discogs), it topped the American charts. The song has also been covered by Harry Belafonte and Liberace.
Months before he passed away, Elvis Presley covered the song.
The Righteous Brothers’ 1965 performance of “Unchained Melody” is the most well-known rendition of the song, despite the fact that they had no idea it would become as popular as it did after being released. “I need your love,” a line from The Righteous Brothers, was added. This song was used in the memorable scene where Patrick Swayze‘s character Sam is holding Demi Moore’s character Molly while she spins clay on a pottery wheel in the 1990 movie “Ghost.” The song was once again in the charts thanks to the success of the movie (via Song Facts).
The song “Unchained Melody” was also notably recorded by Elvis Presley two months before his untimely death in 1977. Austin Butler, who plays Presley in the 2022 movie “Elvis,” recorded himself performing “Unchained Melody” during an interview with GQ and forwarded the footage to the movie’s director, Baz Luhrmann. It attracted Luhrmann’s notice and assisted Butler in getting the part.
According to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, more than 600 different musicians have recorded over 1,500 versions of “Unchained Melody.” Four separate recordings of “Unchained Melody” were released, each of which peaked at number one in the U.K. music charts.
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