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"Unchained Melody" is a 1955 popular song with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret. Rerecorded in 1965, it became one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, by some counts having spawned over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages.

In 1955, North used the music as a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained, and hence the name as the "Unchained Melody".Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. Les Baxter (Capitol Recordsmarker catalog number 3055), released an instrumental version which reached #2. Then song recordings were released by Al Hibbler (Decca Records #29441) reaching #3 on the Billboard charts, Jimmy Young which hit #1 on the British charts, and Roy Hamilton (Epic Records no. 9102) reaching #1 on the R&B Best Sellers list and #6 on the pop chart. . Hundreds of other recordings followed.

However, the July-1965 version by The Righteous Brothers became a jukebox standard for the late 20th century, and it regained massive popularity when used in the 1990 blockbuster film Ghost.

Origin of song

In 1955, Alex North and lyricist Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song as a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained,and their song eventually became known as the "Unchained Melody". The song doesn't actually include the word "unchained", and songwriter Zaret chose instead to focus his lyrics on someone who pines for a lover he hasn't seen in a "long, lonely time". The 1955 film centers around a man who contemplates either escaping from prison, to live life on the run, or completing his sentence and returning to his wife and family. The lyrics note, "Lonely rivers sigh, ' Wait for me... I'll be coming home; wait for me'...".[] Unable to see them for years, he pleas, "I need your love, God speed your love to me".

With Todd Duncan singing the vocals, the song was nominated for an Oscar in 1955, but the Best-Song award went to the rival hit song "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" (which was extensively re-played, and sung in that film).

Early versions

Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. Les Baxter (Capitol Recordsmarker catalog number 3055), released an instrumental version which reached #2. Al Hibbler followed close behind with a vocal version (Decca Records catalog number 29441) that reached #3 on the Billboard charts. He was followed soon after by Jimmy Young, whose version hit #1 on the British charts. Roy Hamilton's version (Epic Records catalog number 9102) reached number one on the R&B Best Sellers list and #6 on the pop chart . June Valli (recorded March 15, 1955, released by RCA Victor Records as catalog number 20-6078, with the flip side "Tomorrow") took it to #29. Rockabilly legend Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps recorded it for their second album in 1956 — Vincent's version is played at mid-tempo and features a tremolo picking guitar part. It is also probably the most unusual cover version, as the chorus was omitted. Harry Belafonte sang it at the 1956 Academy Awards where it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song of 1955. (Belafonte had also made a recording of the song for RCA Victor Records, which was released as catalog number 20-6784, with the flip side "A-Roving".) In 1963, an uptempo, doo-wop version hit the regional charts (eastern U.S.) by Vito & the Salutations, eventually becoming part of the soundtrack for Goodfellas in 1990.

The song regained popularity when another version was produced by Phil Spector in 1965, credited to the Righteous Brothers, but performed as a solo by Bobby Hatfield, who later recorded versions credited solely to him. It climbed to number four.

Other versions

One early cover was by teen idol Ricky Nelson, whose version was issued in 1958 on the album Ricky Nelson. Roy Orbison recorded a version of it for his album Many Moods, which was released in 1968.

On June 21, 1977, just six weeks before his death, Elvis Presley performed "Unchained Melody" for what would be his last television appearance, "Elvis In Concert." However, the recording that was ultimately released as a single and included on the Moody Blue album (the last released while he was alive) was from an earlier appearance at Ann Arbor, Michigan, featuring him on piano, as was invariably the case when Presley sang the song in concert.

Cyndi Lauper was nominated for a 2005 Grammy award for "Best Instrumental Composition Accompanying a Vocal" for her interpretation of the song, which appears on the At Last album. In 2006, singer Barry Manilow covered the song on his album Greatest Songs of the Fifties, and it reached #20.

U2 also covered the song as a B-Side on the single of "All I Want Is You". U2 played it live in Sydneymarker, Australia, as captured on the concert film Zoo TV: Live from Sydney.

In 1995, the song was performed by Robson Green and Jerome Flynn in the UK drama series Soldier Soldier. This version was subsequently released as a single and quickly reached #1 in the UK, becoming one of the country's all time biggest selling records.

Christian Singer David Phelps recorded the song on his 2008 album The Voice

The Smashing Pumpkins also released a cover of the song in their Live Smashing Pumpkins album series.

Gareth Gates version

Gareth Gates recorded a cover version of the song as his first release following his appearance on Pop Idol in the United Kingdommarker. The single reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on its first week of release, remaining at the top of the charts for four weeks and in the top 40 for thirteen weeks. It eventually went on to sell over 1 million copies. The single also charted in the top 10 in several other countries.

Track listing

  1. "Unchained Melody"
  2. "Evergreen"
  3. "Anything is Possible"


Chart (2007/2008) Peak
Australian ARIA Singles Chart 9
French Singles Chart 4
Dutch Singles Chart 7
German Singles Chart 17
Irish Singles Chart 1
Swiss Singles Chart 18
UK Singles Chart 1

Television shows

The song has become a favorite among auditioners for TV singing contests. It has often been said by Simon Cowell to be his favorite song, leading it to be a favourite among those hoping to impress him in auditions for Pop Idol, American Idol, and The X Factor. It was performed on the original series of Pop Idol by runner-up Gareth Gates, who later released it as a single. It was also sung on Australian Idol by finalist Dan England and 2006's winner Damien Leith, and on American Idol by George Trice in Season 2, Clay Aiken during the Season 2 Top 3 finals, after which he advanced to the Top 2 (finals), as well as Kellie Pickler on Season 5 Top 6 Love Songs Week, for which she was eliminated.


The song has been #1 on lists of love songs featured on the United Kingdom's Channel 4 and Five.

In 2004 Rolling Stone placed the song at #365 on their list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Uses in media

The enduring popularity of the song has led to it being used on a number of different forms of media. The song is included on the karaoke games Karaoke Revolution Volume 3 and the US version of SingStar Legends. It features in the animated film "Happy Feet", released in 2006.

"Unchained Melody" reappeared on the Billboard charts in 1990 after The Righteous Brothers' recording was used in the box office blockbuster film Ghost. Two versions charted in the US that year. There was the reissue of the 1965 original Righteous Brothers single which received a lot of airplay, but sales were minimal since it was only available as a 45 RPM single. This version peaked at #13. There was also a 1990 re-recording of the song which was available only as a cassette single. The re-recorded version saw minimal airplay, but excellent sales. It peaked at #19. For eight weeks, both versions were on the Hot 100 simultaneously. This re-release of the song topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart for two weeks in 1990. It reached #1 in the UK, becoming the UK's top selling single of 1990; it also later reached #1 in Australia, staying at number-one for seven weeks through November 1990 and into January 1991. The song later appeared in a Ford Fiesta commercial featuring two Germanmarker engineers moulding a car together, in a parody of Ghost.


  1. BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Music | Brothers in good company with hits.
  2. Robert Rodriguez, The 1950s' Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Rock & Roll Rebels, Brassey's, p.90.
  3. "Lyricist behind Unchained Melody dies", CBC Arts, July 3, 2007, webpage: Unchained-obit.
  4. RCA Victor Records in the 20-6000 to 20-6499 series
  5. RCA Victor Records in the 20-6500 to 20-6999 series

External links

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