Single by The Righteous Brothers from the album Just Once in My Life
A-side Hung on You
Released July 17, 1965
Genre Blue-eyed soul
Writer(s) Music: Alex North
Lyrics: Hy Zaret
Producer Phil Spector
"Unchained Melody" is a 1955 song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. It has become one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, by some estimates having spawned over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages.
In 1955, Alex North used the music as a theme for the prison film Unchained, hence the name. Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack.
Les Baxter (Capitol Records catalog number 3055), released an instrumental version which reached #2. Then song recordings were released by Al Hibbler (Decca Records #29441) 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.
Hundreds of other recordings followed.
It was the July 1965 version by The Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard for the late 20th century, regaining massive popularity when used in the 1990 blockbuster film Ghost. On December of 1996, country pop recording artist, LeAnn Rimes would release her rendition of the song as a single.
On June 21, 1977, just six weeks before his death, Elvis Presley performed "Unchained Melody" for what would be his last television appearance, "Elvis In Concert."
In 1955, Alex North and lyricist Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song as a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained, 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".
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.
With Todd Duncan singing the vocals, 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".
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.
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 (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.
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", and took it to #29.
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 the Academy 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".
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.
In 2004, Rolling Stone placed the song at #365 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.