“It’s a record designed to reduce anyone separated from the one they loved to a pile of mush.” —Uncredited music writer commenting on The Righteous Brothers tune, “Unchained Melody.”
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An afternoon brainstorming session for a weekly column is like most creative endeavors. Crafting something you hope will touch your reader’s senses sometimes occurs with surprisingly little effort. Other times, arriving at that perfect storm of thoughts and words requires inspiration and a great deal of immersion by the writer into his or her own store of sensory perceptions.
A stack of old records spinning on a 60s turntable served as inspiration for my latest session. Music pushed by an old amp to vintage speakers the size of small refrigerators appealed to my senses with the melodies of Linda Ronstadt, Otis Redding, and the Righteous Brothers. It was the latter’s recording of “Unchained Melody” that hijacked my memories offering winds of hope for that perfect storm.
Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley’s iconic 1965 version of a song written 10 years earlier for a little-known prison film called “Unchained,” has blown many memorable storms into my life. Their original recording of the heart-tugging tune reached the top of the charts in the summer of 1965 creating lifelong memories in the hearts of many young lovers.
The song was still popular in May of 1966 when the reality of high school graduation and my last time to play with the Mount Pleasant High School band at the old band shell in Dellwood Park was weighing on my mind. Hearing it on the radio that night and knowing the girl I had been dating was moving away when school was out produced storms of feelings I still remember when I hear the song.
“Unchained Melody” went to the top of the charts again in 1990 as the most memorable song in the summer’s blockbuster movie, “Ghosts.” My feelings were storming again that summer, and the film’s one line still fresh in my mind today was, “Life turns on a dime.”
A lighter summer night just a few years later in the Hill Country, daughter Robin started to date. For her birthday, I offered to take her and the young man she had been dating to see the Righteous Brothers in concert at the old Municipal Auditorium in downtown San Antonio near the Riverwalk. Experiencing them in person and hearing music that is woven into the fabric of my life was moving. Making that memory with my daughter was priceless.
Robin knew who the Righteous Brothers were. She grew up with me, after all. She was raised on “my music.” Her date for the evening, however, had no clue about the duo dubbed masters of “Blue Eyed Soul” until he heard them sing “Unchained Melody.” That’s when I overheard him lean over and tell Robin, ‘That’s the Ghosts’ song.”
Fast forward this time to early November of 2003. I’m sitting in my vehicle on 70th Street in Shreveport one rainy morning, waiting to meet a photographer for a commercial shoot. “Unchained Melody” was playing on the radio. When the song ended, the radio announcer commented on the death of Bobby Hatfield the night before in Michigan where they were scheduled to perform a concert. A lifetime of memories flooded my mind and brought me close to tears.
That lifetime of memories was as strong as ever this week when I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes listening to a variety of Righteous Brothers records. My futile attempt to sing along ended when Bill Medley’s voice reached for the upper stratosphere of vocal registers on “Bring Your Love to Me.” As the song ended and the needle trailed off into the lead-out area of the vinyl, I opened my eyes to enjoy the magic of an antique turntable tonearm lift and return to its stop position.
That was the moment I felt that perfect storm
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