Unchained Melody

You pick up a lot of interesting snippets listening to BBC Radio 3. Last night I was listening to a programme about  Alex North, a prolific composer of music scores, including one of my favourite films A Streetcar Named Desire.  Alex North also wrote a complete soundtrack for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and must have been mortified when he turned up for the Premiere and found that not a single note of the music he’d written was used in the final version. Anyway, one thing I learnt that I didn’t know before was that Alex North also wrote the tune Unchained Melody for a relatively unknown prison movie called, appropriately enough, Unchained. The song was a massive hit in the 60s for the Righteous Brothers, and gained popularity again as a consequence of the 1990 film Ghost.  It’s also been murdered by countless karaoke singers since then…

Anyway, here is the original version of Unchained Melody as it appears in the 1955 film. Knowing the background to the song (i.e. that the enforced separation of the singer and his sweetheart is because the former is in prison) makes it all the more poignant, and Todd Duncan (whose style clearly owes a debt to Paul Robeson) gives it a bluesy feel present in none of the cover versions I’ve heard…

8 Responses to “Unchained Melody”

  1. Very nice,

    But this is surely the definitive version:

    (also from 1955)

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I can no longer reach the high notes so I don’t attempt this in karaoke, but I did once have a go at You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling. The famous version of Unchained Melody owes much not only to Bobby Hatfield’s superb voice but to Phil Spector’s brilliant production.

    • It’s asking for trouble doing this at karaoke – it’s such a difficult one to sing even for a good singer.

      I remember inadvisedly taking on “This Old Heart of Mine” (Isley Brothers) once. That’s very hard. I crashed and burned.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        It’s very hard because they toss the singing between them. You’d hardly have had time to draw breath.

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    “Alex North also wrote a complete soundtrack for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and must have been mortified when he turned up for the Premiere and found that not a single note of the music he’d written was used in the final version.”

    That’s odd. I remember reading the same about Lygeti, only a small bit of whose score finally made it into the film. How many people did Kubrick commission?

    They’d never have topped Zarathustra (surely the greatest film opening scene), the spacecraft docking to Blue Danube, and Khachaturian’s Gayaneh Ballet Suite for the solipsism of interplanetary space.

    • I always thought Ligety didn’t write any music specifically for the film. Certainly the bits Kubrick used were taken from existing works by Ligety. There was a lengthy dispute over the fact that Kubrick used these works without permission and Ligety didn’t get royalties.

  4. […] The Telescoper has a link to a short YouTube clip of the original and excellent version of The Unchained Melody (subsequently made famous by the Righteous Brothers), which links a slightly less conventional version: […]

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