There are very few songs that have survived the test of time over fifty years. In the handful that do succeed in this ultimate test, much of the success resonates with the song’s artist as well. However, “Unchained Melody,” from 1955, has been an exception. This is possibly one of the most covered songs in the history of music, even by some of the greats throughout the history. After 65 years in existence, “Unchained Melody” has not lost its soul and flavor among its fanbase.
Who Originally Sang the song “Unchained Melody”?
The song came to life in January 19, 1955, written by Hy Zaret and music by Alex North. The song was written for the movie titled ‘Unchained’ released in January 1955. The American baritone opera singer Todd Duncan sang the song for the movie soundtrack, and is the first life of the song.
The title of the song was due to its relation to the movie ‘Unchained,’ which told the story of a prison. The plot of the the movie follow the story of a man serving time in a medium-security prison. He is deeply conflicted and must decide whether to behave himself behind bars and serve out his sentence or try to escape so he can see his wife, who he loves deeply and misses so very much.
“Unchained Melody” Lyrics Meaning
The underlying theme of the song is to be understood with the plot of the movie it was written for. The singer or the lead role of the movie is in prison and he misses his wife so much. Being locked up in a small room can affect someone’s mentality quite negatively, and this guy long to go home.
In the chorus of the song, we hear the singer talking to his beloved wife at home. “Wanting” something quite different to “hungering” for something. ‘Hunger’ is a pain that is very difficult to tolerate, and so is missing the touch of his wife while in prison. And this longing ache makes his prison stay seem like forever.
We also hear that he is a little worried about their relationship. ‘Time’ is a strange thing. It can heal, and it can also separate. The singer worries if she has moved on with another lover. He raised the dreaded question “are you still mine?”
In the only verse of the song, the singer uses metaphors to talk about love. He equates his prison life to a “lonely river.” However, he is optimistic. He knows all rivers flow into the sea, someday. He knows that he will find love and companionship someday. He also uses the ‘lonely river’ as a person to scream out to his wife “I’ll be coming home, wait for me.”
Watch “Unchained Melody” by Todd Duncan from ‘Unchained’ Movie
In 1955 alone, two other versions of the song came out, by Les Baxter, and Al Hibbler. The two versions reached #1 and #3 on the US singles chart in 1955.
More versions of the song were released by artists such as Liberace, Roy Hamilton, Harry Belafonte, Perry Como, Eddy Arnold, Cliff Townshend of The Squadronaires, and Gene Vincent in the 1950s.
The Righteous Brothers – Unchained Melody
The most famous version of the song is the recording by The Righteous Brothers in 1965. Bobby Hatfield was chosen to be the lead vocalist on the track while Bill Medley provided supporting vocals. However, it is said that each wanted to do their own solo version of the song as well. But the recording for the album was decided on a coin toss, says legend!
The Righteous Brother’s cover of “Unchained Melody” was recorded as a filler track and was released on the B-side for their single “Hung On You.” However, B-side is what took off on the radios.
Bill Medley later spoke about the recording of the song in an interview. In this, he revealed that Hatfield wanted to change how “I need your love” lyric was sung. Hatfield apparently did two takes of the song and then left. He would later come back to ask Medley if he could re-do the part. Medley allowed it and Hatfield delivered the powerful version of the lyric that we hear today. Medley further recalls; “I punched that in and he left. He said, ‘No, I can do it better.’ And I said, ‘No, you can’t.’ And I think it’s a big part of that song.”
The Righteous Brother’s recording reached #4 on Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. It reappeared on the charts when the song was featured on the ‘Ghost’ movie soundtrack in 1990, starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore.
After being featured on the ‘Ghost’ soundtrack The Righteous Brothers wanted to re-release the song, however, were not able to, due to licensing issues. Hence, they were forced to re-record the song. They did and released it. Both the original and the re-recorded charted on Billboard Hot 100, making the Righteous Brothers the first artist to chart two versions of the same song simultaneously. The original version reached #1 in the UK.
The Righteous Brother’s cover of the song earned them #374 spot on Rolling Stone’s ‘The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ List.
Watch Righteous Brothers Perform “Unchained Melody” Live in 1965
Another notable cover of “Unchained Melody” is by Robson and Jerome in 1995. The version was featured in a TV show titled ‘Soldier Soldier.’ This cover reached #1 in the UK and was also the best-selling single of the year.
“Unchained Melody” Cover by Gareth Gates
The young 17-year-old Gareth Gates resurrected “Unchained Melody’ at the 2002 singing competition ‘Pop Idol’ lead by Simon Cowel. He performed the song in the final round of the contest, which, however, was won by Will Young. Simon Cowel signed Gareth Gates and “Unchained Melody” was released as the first single by Gareth Gates as a signed artist. The song saw a massive reception peaking at #1 in the UK, and selling 850,000 copies in the first week of release. This achievement also made Gareth Gates, at 17-years-old, the youngest solo male British artist to have a #1 charting hit.
This achievement by Gates also made “Unchained Melody” the only song to be charted at #1 by four different artists.
“Unchained Melody” by Elvis Presley
On June 21, 1977, at a show in Rapid City, South Dakota, Elvis Presely performed the song live. Regarded as one of the best live shows by Elvis Presley, he paid tribute to this iconic melody. This was a mere two months before the death of Elvis Presely in August 1977.
“Unchained Melody” by Sam Cooke
Released from Sam Cooke’s 1960 album ‘Hits of the 50’s.’
The band U2 released their cover of the song in 2006.
This live performance by Tom Jones is also a classic.
“Unchained Melody” by Leann Rimes
Leann Rimes is another artist who mainstreamed “Unchained Melody” with several live performances and a studio recording. The below version was released in December 1996.
More recently, artists such as Susane Boyle, a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent. Watch her live rendition below.
The closest thing to a cover of “Unchained Melody” by Freddie Mercury of Queen is a version by Marc Martel, who provided vocal recordings for the Queen biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ Watch his cover below.
One group that we cannot forget when it comes to covers is Boyce Avenue. And the below version by them is acoustic, too.
What do you think about this iconic track? What do you think about these amazing covers? Let us know in the comments below.
Check out the complete lyrics on Genius.