The Righteous Brothers





They weren't really brothers, but Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield were most definitely righteous, defining and perhaps even inspiring the term "blue-eyed soul" in the mid-'60s. Bobby Hatfield was born on August 10th, 1940 in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and Bill Medley was born on September 19th, the same year in Santa Ana, California. When Medley and Hatfield combined forces in 1962, they emerged from regional groups the Paramours and the Variations; in fact, they kept the Paramours billing for their first single.

Thinking of a new name, the pair remembered the night they sang in front of a group of black U.S. Marines. After their set, one of the Marines shouted out, "that's righteous brothers"! and the name stuck.

For the next couple of years, they did quite a few energetic R&B tunes on the Moonglow label that bore similarity to the gospel/soul/rock style of Ray Charles, copping their greatest success with "Little Latin Lupe Lu," which made it to #49 in the U.S. and became a garage band favourite covered by Mitch Ryder, the Kingsmen, and others. Even on the Moonglow recordings, Bill Medley acted as producer and principal songwriter, taking the low parts with his smoky baritone, Hatfield taking the higher tenor and falsetto lines.

The pair was spotted by British producer Jack Good, who had made his way to Los Angeles and was a producer with the popular rock TV show Shindig. They appeared on the show and were signed to the Philles label by Phil Spector, who had already had a run of success with the Crystals, the Paris Sisters, Curtis Lee, the Ronettes, and others.

They were given a song that Spector had written with Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Hatfield and Medley recorded the song and it entered the charts in late 1964. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" was a smash success. It topped the charts in the U.S. and the UK and to this day is one of the most requested songs of the era. At nearly four minutes, the song was pushing the limits of what could be played on AM radio in the mid-'60s, and some listeners thought they were hearing a 45 single played at 33 rpm due to Medley's low, blurry lead vocal. No matter; the song had a power that couldn't be denied, and went all the way to number one.

The Righteous Brothers continued to appear on Shindig and another, similar TV show called Hullabaloo. They were now international stars, and followed up their hit with another that reached the top ten, "Just Once In My Life".

The Righteous Brothers had two more big hits in 1965 on Spector's Philles label, "Unchained Melody," and "Ebb Tide", both employing similar dense orchestral arrangements and swelling vocal crescendos. Yet the Righteous Brothers-Spector partnership wasn't a smooth one, and by 1966 the duo had left Philles for a lucrative deal with Verve. Medley, already an experienced hand in the recording booth, reclaimed the producer's chair, and the Righteous Brothers had another number one hit with their first Verve outing, "(You're My) Soul and Inspiration." Its success must have been a particularly bitter blow for Spector, given that Medley successfully emulated the wall-of-sound orchestral ambience of the Righteous Brothers' Philles singles down to the smallest detail, even employing the same Mann-Weil writing team that had contributed to "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'".

It's a bit of a mystery as to why the Righteous Brothers never came close to duplicating that success during the rest of their tenure at Verve. But they would only have a couple of other Top 40 hits in the 1960s , "He" and "Go Ahead and Cry", both in 1966, even with the aid of occasional compositions by the formidable Goffin-King team. In 1968, Medley split for a solo career; Hatfield, the less talented of the pair (at least from a songwriting and production standpoint), kept the Righteous Brothers going with Jimmy Walker, who had been in the Knickerbockers . They put out the album, "Re-birth" on Verve in 1970.

Medley had a couple of small hits in the late '60s as a solo act, but unsurprisingly neither "brother" was worth half as much on their own as they were together. In 1974, they reunited and scored a number three hit with "Rock and Roll Heaven", a tribute to dead rock stars that some found tacky. A number 20 hit called "Give It To The People" followed before Medley retired from performing for five years in 1976.

The appearance of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" on the soundtrack to the film Top Gun was but one sign of the Brothers' long-lasting appeal.

The duo re-united to perform together on a semi-regular basis through the '80s, most notably on a 20th Anniversary reunion tour in '82. Medley and Hatfield also launched "The Hop", an Orange Country nightclub featuring performers of the '50s and '60s. As a solo artist, Medley has achieved much success, making his biggest breakthrough with his 1987 Number One single "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life," a duet with Jennifer Warnes from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack album.

When "Unchained Melody" became one of 1990's biggest hits after its inclusion in the movie "Ghost", no one was more surprised than Medley and Hatfield. "I feel that the popularity of the song is just a miracle", Hatfield told the Chicago Sun-Times in an interview. "I've always loved it, but never expected the public's reaction to it to be quite this feverish and strong."

As they performed together in 1998, the Brothers found that "Unchained Melody", featuring Hatfield's lead vocal, drew ecstatic response. Combined with the airplay that the original version of the song was receiving, it seemed the perfect time to reunite the Righteous Brothers as a recording act once again. They went into the studio together for the first time since 1974, with Medley producing. The sessions, which resulted in the tracks heard on their album "Reunion", show that Medley and Hatfield's powers as singers remain unique and undimmed.

The new century saw a new generation of fans discover the magic of the Righteous Brothers. "Considering how long we've been in the business, this is a real treat," said Medley. "It's a wonderful thing to have happen."

Sadly, Bobby Hatfield passed away, November 5th, 2003, at the age of 63. His body was discovered in his hotel bed at 7 p.m., a half-hour before the duo was to perform at Miller Auditorium on the Western Michigan University campus. Hatfield had been sleeping most of the day in his room. When he didn't answer a wakeup call about 6 p.m., hotel staff and authorities entered the room and found Hatfield's body. His death brought an end to the Righteous Brothers 42 year partnership that had formed one of the greatest rock duos of all time.

Bill Medley contined to tour as a solo act across the U.S. and Canada and is a popular attraction at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater in Branson, Missouri.

For more, be sure to read Gary James' interviews with Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley