Thanks to the success of “Ghost,” this summer’s biggest hit film, millions of people are becoming acquainted, or reacquainted, with Bobby Hatfield’s sweet tenor soaring through “Unchained Melody.”
Twenty-five years after it hit No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Chart, the Righteous Brothers’ original 1965 recording of the haunting tune--actually a solo vehicle for Hatfield--turned up as the movie’s love theme.
Consequently, “Unchained Melody” has enjoyed a commercial reincarnation: It’s No. 24 and still climbing on the latest Billboard chart. It’s also spurring strong sales not only for the Top 20 “Ghost” soundtrack album, but for “The Righteous Brothers Greatest Hits,” a collection released in 1967 that’s back on the chart at No. 45 and rising.
It all has come as a “mind-boggling” surprise, said Hatfield, who spent the past few years watching from relative obscurity while his partner in the Righteous Brothers, Bill Medley, rode back into prominence on the strength of another movie-driven pop phenomenon--the “Dirty Dancing” love theme, "(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”
The success of “Unchained Melody” represents an upswing after a long streak of bad luck and personal sadness. “It’s life,” said Hatfield, 50, “and you deal with it the best you can.”
Among the things he has had to deal with were the deaths of his parents in 1983 and 1984 and of his younger brother, John, who died of AIDS at 47 in April. Hatfield’s wife, Linda, has fought illness over much of that period, too.
Two years ago, Hatfield was walking to his car after performing at the Hop, the nightclub he and Medley own in Fountain Valley.
“Some guy . . . knocked out my teeth and broke every bone that could be broken in a man’s face,” Hatfield recalled, somehow keeping a note of levity in his voice. “It was a nightmare that I would just as soon forget.”
Hatfield paused and laughed. “Perhaps it’s about time something nice happened to the little Righteous Brother.”
The vocal teaming dates from 1962, and the Righteous Brothers’ scored the first of their six Top 10 singles in 1964: the No. 1 “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” They split in 1968, then regrouped in 1974 and had a hit with “Rock and Roll Heaven.” They separated again before resuming a steady partnership in 1982. Hatfield and Medley haven’t made any money from the renewed spurt of sales for “Unchained Melody” and their “Greatest Hits” album, because they signed away royalty rights during a dispute with their record company a few years after the duo was at its peak.
But interest in the song translates into more interest in the Righteous Brothers’ live shows. They’ll be at their Hop on Sunday.
Not surprisingly, the pace is picking up for the singer, who lives in Newport Beach with his wife and their two children. He recently cut a note-for-note replica of “Unchained Melody” that has just been released as a single by Curb Records. The idea is to offer radio stations and record buyers a single version of a song that currently is only available on album.
Hatfield and Medley recently updated several of their other hits for an upcoming Curb album titled “Unchained Melody: The Best of the Righteous Brothers.” Hatfield also contributed harmony on a recent Bruce Springsteen session in Los Angeles.
Beyond that, Hatfield said, he has either selected or already recorded enough material for an album of his own--if the new attention from “Unchained Melody” should land him a solo recording deal.
Meantime, the revival of “Unchained Melody” has added a note of suspense to Righteous Brothers shows. Now that the song is a hit again, audiences come in wondering whether Hatfield, at 50, can still scale the melodic peaks he reached so smoothly when he first recorded it at 24.
“I’m comfortable with the song, but I think a lot of the audience is waiting till the end of it, thinking, ‘I wonder if this old guy’s gonna hit the high notes,’ ” said Hatfield. When he shows that he’s still up to it, he said, “the reaction is wonderful. It’s like they’re pulling for the old boys of rock ‘n’ roll.”