The Righteous Brothers were the musical duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. They recorded from 1963 through 1975 and continued to perform until Hatfield's death in 2003. Their emotive vocal stylings were sometimes dubbed "blue-eyed soul".
Medley and Hatfield both possessed exceptional vocal talent, with range, control and tone that helped them create a strong and distinctive duet sound and also to perform as soloists. Medley sang the low parts with his deep, soulful baritone, with Hatfield taking the higher register vocals with his soaring tenor.
They adopted their name in 1962 while performing together in the Los Angeles area as part of a five-member group called The Paramours, which featured John Wimber (a founder of the Vineyard Movement) on keyboards. At the end of one particular performance, a U.S. Marine in the audience shouted, "That was righteous, brothers!", prompting the pair to adopt the name when they embarked on a career as a duo.
John Wimber (then as Johnny Wimber) brought Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley together for the band The Paramours in 1962. The Righteous Brothers started their recording career on the small Moonglow label in 1963 with two albums and two moderate hits: "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and "My Babe".
Their first major hit single was "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'", their first release on the Philles label in 1965. Produced by Phil Spector, the record is often cited as one of the peak expressions of Spector's Wall of Sound production techniques. It was one of the most successful pop singles of its time, despite exceeding the then standard length for radio play. Indeed, according to BMI, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" was the most played song on radio in the 20th century, estimated to have been broadcast more than eight million times. Spector used Cher (of Sonny & Cher fame) as a backing singer on this and other recordings.
The Righteous Brothers had several other Spector-produced hit singles in 1965, including "Just Once in My Life", "Unchained Melody" (originally the B-side of "Hung on You"), and "Ebb Tide", all of them reaching the Billboard Top 10. Medley has consistently said that he produced "Unchained Melody", intended only as an album track, but later copies of the original 45 release credited Spector as producer.
However, the singers did not get along well with Spector personally and their contract was sold to Verve/MGM Records in 1965. Their next release in 1966, "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration" was a Phil Spector sound-alike song, produced by Bill Medley, who was able to fully simulate the Spector style of production. It was written by Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann who had co-written "Lovin' Feelin'" with Spector. Medley used arranger/conductor Bill Baker to provide a similar sound to Jack Nitzsche's arrangement of "Feelin'". It quickly became their second #1 U.S. hit, staying on the top for three weeks, but the song failed to reach the Top 10 in the UK. In 1966, before they went their separate ways, and to capitalize on their previous hits, Verve/MGM issued a "Greatest Hits" compilation which has been modified twice: in 1983 with 10 tracks and in 1990 with two more tracks.
After a few more top 40 hits, including "He" and "Go Ahead And Cry", their popularity began to decline. Even a collaboration with former Motown A&R chief William "Mickey" Stevenson failed to work. They eventually split up in 1968, which lasted more than six years. Medley recorded a few solo recordings on several labels, while Bobby Hatfield teamed up with singer Jimmy Walker (from The Knickerbockers) using the Righteous Brothers name up until 1971. Neither he nor Medley was able to achieve any significant level of success. In 1974, Medley and Hatfield reunited to perform on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.
In 1974, they signed with Haven Records, run by producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, and distributed by Capitol Records. They scored another hit with songwriter, Alan O'Day's "Rock and Roll Heaven", a paean to several deceased rock singers: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Otis Redding, Jim Croce and Bobby Darin are among the mentioned (Croce and Darin died within three months of each other in late 1973, shortly before the song was released). It peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, but failed to chart in the UK. It was updated in early 1991 to mourn the passing of Elvis Presley, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Dennis Wilson, John Lennon, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Cass Elliot, who died a few months after the original version of the song was released. Several more minor hits on Haven followed, and then the Righteous Brothers found themselves "hitless" again until 1990, although they toured frequently. After the death of Medley's wife, the duo ceased touring between 1976 and 1981.
Earlier that same year, Medley once again began to record as a solo artist and had some success. In 1984, he scored country hits with "Till Your Memory's Gone" and "I Still Do" (which crossed over to the adult contemporary charts and later became a "cult" hit with the Carolina Beach/Shag dance club circuit); and in late 1987, his duet with Jennifer Warnes, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life", which appeared on the soundtrack for Dirty Dancing, topped the Billboard Hot 100. It won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for a Motion Picture (for the three songwriters, which did not include Medley), as well as a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
He also scored a moderate UK hit in 1988 with a version of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother." One of Medley's minor entries, "Don't Know Much," was a long running #2 Hot 100 and #1 Adult Contemporary, Grammy-winning smash duet by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville in 1989-90. "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" is now seen and heard ubiquitously on TV and radio commercials — covered by singers other than Medley and Warnes — usually connected with vacation, cruise, resort, and other such holiday-themed advertisers.
In 1990, the original recording of "Unchained Melody" was featured in the popular feature film Ghost (starring Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Whoopi Goldberg). It caused an avalanche of requests to Top 40 radio by fans who had seen the movie to revive the 1965 Righteous Brothers' chestnut. This motivated Polygram (who now owned the Verve/MGM label archives) to re-release the song to Top 40 radio where it became a major hit for a second time (their second UK #1) and a greatest hits CD collection called The Very Best of The Righteous Brothers...Unchained Melody. was reissued. Bobby Hatfield was the only vocal on Unchained Melody, as well as Ebb Tide.
The duo quickly re-recorded a cover version for Curb Records which also made the charts, and the new version appears on the budget priced CD The Best of The Righteous Brothers. The reissue of the original 1965 version of "Unchained Melody" hit #13 on the Hot 100 in 1990 in connection with the film, and the re-recording of the song by The Righteous Brothers hit #19 on the Hot 100 and was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
The Righteous Brothers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 10, 2003. In 2008, The Righteous Brothers 21st Anniversary television special, filmed at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in 1983, aired on numerous Public Television stations throughout the United States. Bill Medley continues to perform including in Branson, Missouri and in 2013, finally made his first-ever stage appearance in London.
Bobby Hatfield was found dead in his hotel room in Kalamazoo, Michigan on November 5, 2003, shortly before he was due to perform at a concert with Bill Medley at Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium. The cause of his death was attributed to cocaine leading to heart failure, according to the autopsy report.
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