The Righteous Brothers - Biography
By J Poet
Righteous Brothers - Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield - are the most successful duo in the history of pop music. Their seminal 1964 hit, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, shot up to #1 on the pop and R&B charts, went gold, and according to BMI, it’s the most performed song of the twentieth-century, with an excess of nine million radio plays. Unfortunately, the song marked the high point of their career and of the song’s producer, Phil Spector. They had other hit singles over the years, but only one,“(You're My) Soul And Inspiration”, came close to duplicating the success of their immortal smash. They broke up and reformed their partnership three times between 1968 and 1983, after which they became regulars on the nostalgia circuit. Hatfield died of a cocaine overdose in 2003, the same year the Righteous Brothers were inducted into the rock and Roll hall of fame. Medley recorded Damn Near Righteous (2007) as a tribute to his fallen partner and continues to tour and record as a solo act.
Bill Medley was born in Santa Ana, California, to a musical family. His dad played sax led a small jazz combo; his mother played piano. He sang in church as a boy, and in the glee club in high school. On graduation he put together an R&B band called The Paramours. In 1962 The Paramours were playing at The Black Derby club, one of he few integrated clubs in LA at the time. Medley saw Hatfield at the club singing in a group called The Variations and was impressed enough by his vocals to ask him to join The Paramours. With Medley and Hatfield up front, the band took off. According to popular myth, after a particularly impressive performance, an African American Marine stood up in the club and shouted: “That was righteous, brothers.” The changed the name of the band that night to The Righteous Brothers.
At first the duo had no lofty ambitions. They just wanted the band to be good enough to play the lounges in Las Vegas. They made a few forgotten singles as The Paramours, then signed to a local indie, Moonglow, as The Righteous Brothers. They made two LPs for the label Right Now! (1963 Moonglow), which included “Little Latin Lupe Lu”, a song written and produced by Medley that hit #49 on the Hot 100, and Some Blue-Eyed Soul (1964 Moonglow), an album title that became the name of a genre signifying any good white R&B singer. The success of “Little Latin Lupe Lu” got them several featured slots on ABC’s ten pop program Shindig, and made them local stars in LA. The opened concerts for Jack Benny, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, proving their cross generational appeal.
In 1965 they met Phil Spector who signed them to his Phillies label. Just Once in My Life (1965 Philles) spawned two crossover hits, the title track and “Unchained Melody”, but it was the follow up that made them superstars. At nearly four minutes long, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’”, was a gamble to release, most radio stations didn’t play tunes longer than two minutes in the 60s, but the song was an immediate smash. The follow up album, You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' (1965 Philles). #1 on the pop and R&B charts and went gold. “Ebb Tide” followed “Feelin’” to the Top 10, but Spector had lost interest in the Brothers and sold their contract to Verve/MGM Records.
Medley obviously watched Spector in the studio and took over the production duties for Go Ahead & Cry (1966 Verve) and Soul & Inspiration (1966 Verve). Cry was a moderate success, but “(You're My) Soul And Inspiration”, produced by Medley in the familiar Spector Wall of Sound style, hit #1 and the album went gold. They made more albums for Verve including Sayin' Somethin' (1967 Verve) Souled Out (1967 Verve) and One for the Road (1968 Verve), but they didn’t catch fire. The duo split in 1968.
Hatfield continued performing as The Righteous Brothers with Jimmy Walker, formerly of the Knickerbockers, taking on Medley’s bass parts, but they never recorded. Medley had a fairly successful solo career, but they didn’t have The Righteous Brothers magic on their own. In 1974 they reunited for a gig on the top rated Sonny and Cher Hour. It went well and the signed with Haven Records, run by producers Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter scored a #3 hit with “Rock and Roll Heaven”, a sentimental tribute to dead stars Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and Bobby Darin. They made two albums for the label Give It to the People (1975 Haven) and Sons of Mrs. Righteous (1975 Haven) and had a few minor hits, but nothing spectacular. They went thier separate ways again, with Medley being the more successful Brother. He had a couple of country radio hits in 1984, “Till Your Memory's Gone” and “I Still Do” and in 1987 a track he cut for the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack (1987 RCA) went to #1 and went platinum going on to win a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group.
In 1983 The Righteous Brothers filmed a 21st Anniversary television special at the Roxy in Los Angeles and started touring again. In 1990 “Unchained Melody” was featured in the Patrick Swayze movie Ghost and on the Ghost Soundtrack (1990 Milan). The song became a Top 40 again. Curb quickly got the Brothers into the studio for The Reunion (1991 Curb) an album featuring re-recordings of all their hits.