Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The Righteous Brothers

Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield reflect on forty years of blue-eyed soul

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Many bands with famous names suffer from the "yeah, but what do they sing?" problem. Not the Righteous Brothers. In the mid-Sixties, with producer Phil Spector, they recorded a couple numbers called "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" and "Unchained Melody," huge hits upon their release that became huge hits again more than twenty years later thanks to their inclusion in the movies Top Gun and Ghost. In fact, "Lovin' Feelin'," as the Brothers refer to it, is officially the most played song in the history of radio.

The very inspiration for the phrase "blue-eyed soul," the Southern California-raised Righteous Brothers might have looked like members of the Beach Boys, but when their voices first hit the airwaves listeners thought they were black. That's because the sandy-haired rock & rollers learned to sing by listening to the likes of Little Richard, Bobby Bland, Fats Domino and Ray Charles.

Now, more than forty years after they formed, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield are still singing together, in harmony and with soul.

BILL MEDLEY

So, you're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . . . about time, huh?

Yeah, they make you wait and sweat -- so it's just like your whole career [laughs]. But it's an amazing honor. I suppose you're put into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because you made a difference, so it's just an awesome feeling.

Where were you when you found out?

I was standing in my closet in my shorts [laughs], and my manager called and said, "Do you feel any different today? You're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." And I said, "Well, now I do." That night Bobby and I sat down and had a drink together and toasted each other. It's been forty years for us this year, so it's been an incredible run.

Talk about "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." It's the biggest hit ever, and it wasn't even a likely one.

No, it wasn't. There were so many things wrong with it. It was too long, way too long. You had to come in at about two minutes and twenty seconds, and this was about a four-minute record. It was also too slow. Whoever it was who was singing it [laughs], his voice was too low, and it sounded like it was on the wrong speed to a lot of people. We thought it was a great, great song, and Phil Spector did a phenomenal production, but we didn't think it was going to be a hit. We thought there was too much going against it. But Phil Spector said, "No, this is a hit record." So we said, "Well, you go boy!" [laughs].

Was it grueling recording with Spector? Home much time did you spend on that song?

I think we spent a couple of days on "Lovin' Feelin'," like a few hours each day. But the truth this, as much as we liked it or didn't like it, it was always getting better. He really knew exactly what he wanted to hear, and he wasn't going to stop until it was what he heard in his mind. So it was a drag, but he was right.

Who was your favorite vocalist growing up?

Little Richard. There was a lot of quartet stuff going on in those days, the great black groups like the Orioles and the Cadillacs, but, man, I heard Little Richard and it just stopped my clock. I was probably about fifteen or sixteen years old, and it just turned something on in me. I said, "Man, I would love to do that." But as a fifteen-year-old white kid you're not supposed to do that. Then when I was about eighteen I got into Ray Charles. "Drown in My Own Tears" is my favorite song, and when I heard that I think I subconsciously made the decision that I needed to do that. Those great black artists came into my room every day in the form of records and taught me how to sing. So when Bobby and I hit, a lot of people thought we were black. Then a lot of people thought that maybe it was just a gimmick, that we were trying to sound black. But it really wasn't -- all those guys taught me how to sing.

I just got off the phone with Angus Young, guitar player of AC/DC and he cited Little Richard as well.

Oh yeah. Well, Little Richard is rock & roll. The Fifties, to me, is rock & roll. Anything after that is just other people's interpretation.

How long will you continue to perform?

I've always said that they'll have to come and get me with a shotgun to get me offstage.

BOBBY HATFIELD

Give me your reaction to being elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Well, it was kind of a long time coming, and I was real happy when we got nominated, and now that it's a done deal, I'm really excited. I'm just glad we're gonna be inducted while we're still above ground [laughs].

What are we gonna hear from you?

I don't know yet. I almost wish we didn't fall into that ballad deal with Phil because it would be good to come out with some rock & rollers, like how we started out. But I guess it's OK to have a ballad here and there to sweeten up the evening.

Congratulations on your forty-year anniversary.

Yeah, how 'bout that? The strange thing about it is I can remember everything.

I think that's more than AC/DC can say.

Yeah, I'll bet.

Talk about "Unchained Melody," which has been a monster hit for you twice.

"Unchained Melody" was a song I had sung with my very first group called the Variations. It was a ballad that I always dug, and I went in there and I am pretty darn sure that I knocked it off in one take. When I listen to it after this many years, I think there was a lot I could have done to make it better. It was the B-side of a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song "Hung on You," and all of a sudden the disc jockeys flipped it over and I had an accidental hit. It was kind of cool because Bill was singing lead on all of the songs then, so it was like, "Wow, who's that little shit with the high voice?" And when it came out in Ghost, my kids were about nine and ten at the time, and all of a sudden I became the hero of the neighborhood. Until then they didn't really know what I did, and then I had all these little kids knocking at my door wanting autographs.

How was your experience opening for the Beatles?

We did the first Beatles show when they did a little pre-United States tour show in Washington, D.C. And I remember it was us and Jay and the Americans and Tommy Roe. We were told by our agents that they asked us to come back, and of course that's something we'll never know. An agent will tell you anything.

That must have been a tough gig at that point.

On the West Coast it was great because the kids were familiar with us, but once we got east of Denver it was toilet city. We went to [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein about halfway through and said, "Something about trying to sing the blues in front of 50,000 kids screaming 'We want the Beatles' just isn't that much fun" [laughs]. And he understood and was totally cool about it. So we split and went home and went to work doing Shindig, so it all worked out perfect.

What's it's like to still be standing next to Bill forty years later and singing these songs?

Well, these songs are great songs. Otherwise we couldn't do it. I couldn't go out there and do "Purple People Eater" night after night [laughs]. I'm not just bullshitting or making this up: We're working because we love to work, and that's all there is to it. We do about three months in Vegas and then another sixty or so dates. And when we get too much time off, we both start getting a bit goofy and want to get back on the damn bus. But it took a long time to really comprehend what our music really meant to so many people. "'Unchained Melody' was our wedding song!" Actually for some people it was their grandparents' wedding song, and that's where it gets a little scary -- like, maybe it's time for me to get my ass out of the business.

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