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The Righteous Brothers
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
When the Righteous Brothers were rehearsing “Lovin’ Feelin,’” Bobby (Hatfield) asked producer Phil Spector, “What am I supposed to do when Medley’s singin’ this song?” Spector told him, “Go to the bank!” (1)
The picture in your mind of Bill Medley growing up in Santa Ana, California in the mid-50s and early 60s should be of Fonzi from Happy Days. Dressed in Levi’s and a t-shirt with his ducktail haircut, he couldn’t be more opposite of Bobby Hatfield, the button-down president of his Anaheim High School class of 1957-58. Medley sang in the choir of his Presbyterian Church while developing a real love of R&B by the time he was 15 or 16 years old. “The first time I heard Little Richard, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. His voice, the band, the music…he turned my head around as far as music was (concerned),” Medley remembered. (2)
Bill was a poor student and the only class that kept him in school was choir. Even that wasn’t enough as he quit school at 16. “I could sing like Little Richard, but what’s a white kid from Orange County going to do with that,” Medley recalled. How about attending hairdressing school. “My first patron was a sweet little old lady with blue hair and pin curls. I took her to sink and started shampooing. I looked down and her hair was gone. I picked up her head to look in the sink and it wasn’t there. I went to my teacher and told her that the lady’s hair was gone.” The teacher ran over to the sink, looked at the elderly patron and laughed hysterically. “I washed the blue out of her hair. Because her skin was so white, her hair blended with her scalp and I couldn’t see it,” Medley remembered. (3)
Medley’s friend, Don Fiduccia, wrote a song and asked Bill to sing it. Bill sang the song and it was a life-changing experience. “I was sitting at my mom’s piano for twelve hours at a time teaching myself to play Little Richard and Fats Domino songs,” Bill related. (3) Don and Bill started a duo called the Romancers. Bill wrote some of the songs and eventually sold two of his compositions to the Diamonds. Wanting to expand beyond a duo in 1960, Don and Bill formed a quartet called the Paramours, adding members Mike Reiter and Barry Rillera. They were signed to Smash Records and released two songs that went nowhere.
Meanwhile, Bobby Hatfield graduated from high school in 1958 and attended California State University in Long Beach. Hatfield had the passion for singing and was part of group from Anaheim called the Variations.
Rillera played in both groups and for the sake of history was the man who introduced Medley and Hatfield. Seeing each other perform, they reconfigured the Paramours with Hatfield joining Medley. For Bill, it was like a party. “We went to work at a club called John’s Black Derby. I’d just take off singing and Bobby would grab that harmony note above me and we’d go. We were singing R&B, which really wasn’t being done—not by white guys,” according to Medley. (4)
Working in a comfort zone, the group tried some original songs. “I’d written Little Latin Lupe Lu, inspired by this girl I met in beauty school. Ray Maxwell, co-owner of Moonglow Records came in to see us one night. I asked him to listen because the audience seemed to like it,” stated Medley. Maxwell was impressed. So, Medley, Hatfield and some studio musicians recorded it. “Since we were just two guys from the Paramours, we needed a different name. We tried the Medfields and Hatleys and a few others but nothing clicked. Finally, we found our name,” said Medley. (5)
“At that time, Orange County was about the whitest place in the country. There were black Marines from El Toro Marine base that heard there were these two guys singing rhythm and blues. So, they came to hear us. They had their own way of talking. If white guys liked something, they’d say ‘That’s cool’ or ‘bitchin.’’ A black guy would say, ‘That’s righteous.’ If they liked you as a friend, they’d call you ‘brother,’” explained Medley. “I think it was Bobby who said, ‘What about the name the Marines have been callin’ us, the black guys. How about the Righteous Brothers?’ I said, ‘Oh man, I would love that.’ That was it–we put it on the record. The black Marines from El Toro Marine base named us.” (5)
Little Latin Lupe Lu was destined to flop. Radio stations weren’t playing it and record stores didn’t stock it. On top of that, the Paramours were fired from the Black Derby. It appeared the career of the Righteous Brothers would come to an end before it got started. That is until Mike Patterson, a piano player from a band that played at the Rendezvous Ballroom, considered the birthplace of surf music in Balboa, California, came along in 1963. “They blew me away when I saw them play at the Black Derby. I told the people at the Rendezvous to get Bill and Bobby down here because the kids would go nuts. Booby fought it because they only paid $50 a week,” said Patterson. “Bill understood the big picture.
Patterson’s instincts were spot on. The 17-18 year surfer dudes never heard rhythm and blues performed by white singers or seen a floor show that included screaming, shouting and singers getting down on their knees. More important, Lupe Lu had just the right beat for the local dance craze, the Surfer Stomp.
The kids wanted to buy copies so they were sent to Santa Ana’s Gracie’s Music Store. “Bobby and Mike went to Moonglow Records, got a stack of singles, and took them to Gracie’s. They told Gracie’s, “If you sell them, you sell them, if you don’t use them as Frisbee’s!” (6) Gracie’s was one of the record stores in the Los Angeles listening area that reported sales to radio stations KRLA and KFWB. When KRLA was told Lupe Lu sold 1500 in a week, they asked for a copy. The station then used the song as background music for a promo spot for a local record hop. Whenever it played, the phone lines lit up asking the name of the song playing in the background. With that response, the station added the song to its rotation and the duo was back in business. The career of the Righteous Brothers was handed a pardon…and a new life!
Little Latin Lupe Lu hit the Billboard chart in May of 1963 and eventually topped at #49. It spawned a few other regional hits on the Moonglow label, Justine, Koko Joe and My Babe. (7) Those regional hits in turn helped get the duo into the movie, A Swingin’ Summer, featuring James Stacy and Raquel Welch. With the release of a few singles and two albums, a movie and getting paid $600 a night at clubs, the Righteous Brothers were ready to break out of regional status.
When the Beatles began their 24-city, 30-day US summer tour on August 19, 1964 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, one of the acts they chose to open for them was the Righteous Brothers. The duo, through their first two albums, became popular as cult figures in England because they were white guys who sounded black, which was highly regarded during the early 60s among British groups. They liked the Beatles and other groups on the tour but they decided to leave midway. “The reason we left it midway was because we had Little Latin Lupe Lu and My Babe out at the time,” recalled Bobby. “We were fine as far West as Denver. We were fine in L.A., San Diego, Las Vegas and San Francisco. But once we got East of Denver, hardly anybody knew us. Our songs were basically West coast hits. And then, there's just something about trying to sing in front of about 50,000 kids screaming ‘we want the Beatles’ that just wasn't pleasant. We went to Brian Epstein and he fully understood. He was cool about and said, ‘I understand. I wish you guys all the best. Good luck.’ And we were out of there.” (8) There was another reason for breaking from the tour. Bobby and Bill received a call to be part of a reoccurring cast on a national TV show titled Shindig!.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Developed by Los Angeles DJ and show host, Jimmy O’Neill and his wife, Sharon Sheeley, Shindig! was originally devised to replace Hootenanny, a show featuring a live variety of folk music artists on ABC in 1964. The first pilot was rejected ABC, but a revamped version was accepted and the show debuted on September 16, 1964. Originally slotted for a half hour every Wednesday, the show was expanded to an hour in January 1965. What separated Shindig! from the rest of the other teenaged-theme music shows was the live band featuring members of L.A.’s esteemed Wrecking Crew and backup singers, the Blossoms (featuring Darlene Love) as cast regulars. The show lasted nearly 16 months and led NBC to create Hullabaloo in 1965 and syndicated show, Hollywood A Go-Go. There were other spin-offs of live variety shows as well. NBC introduced Midnight Special in 1972 and Saturday Night Live in 1975.
The Righteous Brothers appeared on Shindig! a total of 29 times. (9) No longer were they a regional act. The show’s visibility put them on the level of many top-selling acts even though they hadn’t produced a big hit. That was about to change.
In September of 1963, Bobby and Bill were invited and accepted to be part of a rock and roll review show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. The show was promoted by local station KYA and was produced by two DJ’s from the station, Tom Donohue and Bobby Mitchell who later formed Autumn Records. Also on the bill were the Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, Little Stevie Wonder, Jan and Dean and the Ronettes, whose producer, Phil Spector, was conducting the backing orchestra. The Righteous Brothers had been cutting their records at Gold Star Studios, Spector's base of operations. So, he'd heard about them, but when he caught their act, heard their voices, he was sold. (10)
Spector made a call to Moonglow Records and offered a deal to lease the Righteous Brothers contract. Moonglow made the deal but not without the duo’s apprehension. “I don’t know. Spector makes these girl records. That’s not where we’re comin’ from,” Medley stated when told of the deal. (11)
The Brothers met Spector at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. “I have this song for you,” were the first words out of the producer’s mouth. Spector had hired songwriters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to write the song You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin.’ “Phil played us a few records by the Righteous Brothers, Little Latin Lupe Lu and My Babe,” explained Cynthia. “After hearing their work, Barry decided to write a song in the vein of the Four Tops Baby I Need Your Lovin.’ We wrote the chorus but couldn’t figure out how to end it. Phil told us he’d be over to help us.” The answer, according to Barry, “Gone, Gone, Gone, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.” Mann laughed and continued. “Phil told me, ‘This will be the biggest record you’ll ever have.’ Weil replied, ‘Any song that has Whoa, Whoa, Whoa can never be a big record!’ Yet, the song turned to be a giant hit.”
“We were also stuck for a bridge,” Mann told the Wall Street Journal. “Phil experimented on the piano with a Hang On Sloopy riff. It was brilliant. I built a melody on the riff while Cynthia shouted out lyrics: "Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you" and so on. When we met the Righteous Brothers a few days later, we were nervous they might not like it.” (12)
Cynthia continued, “We finished the song with Phil, played it for the Righteous Brothers as Barry and Phil sang it. There was a dead silence until Bill stated, ‘It sounds like a great song for the Everly Brothers. Bobby wasn’t happy because the song was weighted toward Bill as the duo always sang every song together with their harmony.” (13)
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archive.
Bill Medley recalled what happened next. “The song was a two-octave trip. We gave it a shot but I couldn't hit the high, emotional notes. We started in F and kept lowering it until we got down to C. When it started off with that deep, ‘You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips,’ it took on this whole different emotional feel. Phil told Barry to slow it down a little, and then we were ready to go into the studio. When we were rehearsing, Bobby asked Phil, ‘What am I supposed to do when Medley’s singin’ this song?’ Spector told him, ‘(You can) go to the bank!’” (1)
Using members of the Wrecking Crew and the Blossoms as backup singers, Spector had already recorded and overdubbed all of the backing tracks. Medley remembered the recording session. “When I put on the headphones, the music sounded as big as Montana, with a touch of New York. Phil had me sing the opening verse over and over until he had his take. Then we'd move on to the next part and repeat the process. This went on for two days—four hours each day.” (12)
The two-day session was due in part to Spector’s own self-indulgence. Medley remembered, “When it came time for me and Bobby to record our vocals, all of the sudden the recording booth was packed. Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and all kinds of other celebrities and record business giants were there. This was Phil’s moment, his party to show off his talent. We were singing while they partied. It was incredibly distracting. After about three hours, we called Phil out and said, ‘We’ll be back tomorrow at six.’ Spector responded, ‘But we’re not done.’ Medley told him, ‘We’ll come back tomorrow, and please don’t have anybody in the studio.’
“We came back the next day to an empty studio and recorded what is now the most-played song in the history of American radio. According to BMI, the music licensing agency that tracks radio play, no recording by any artist has been played as often on American radio, ever. It’s pretty cool to be a part of that.’” (1)
Barry Mann recalled when Spector called and played the record for him over the phone. “When I heard it, I yelled into the phone, “Phil, Phil, you’re playing it at the wrong speed.’ It was so much slower than what I heard at our meeting that I thought the 45 was being played at 331/3.” (13)
The final mix of the song timed at 3:45 – much too long to accommodate AM radio. Spector was unwilling to edit his masterpiece. “It was running 3:50, and Phil was really worried that no DJs would play it,” engineer Larry Levine recalled. “So I suggested that we mark the record 3:05, and if anyone asked we could say it was a typo. Phil went along with that. We knew the programmers would figure it out after they listened to it. But at least it made sure that it got played once.” (14)
Medley recalled his thoughts on the finished song, "We had no idea if it would be a hit. It was too slow, too long, and right in the middle of The Beatles and the British Invasion." (15) In spite of all that many considered wrong with the song, it was a monster hit. Recorded in October of 1964, Lovin’ Feelin’ entered the Billboard Hot 100 on December 12, 1964 where it spent 16 weeks topping the chart at #1 for two weeks beginning on February 6, 1965. (18) (19)
Among the many idiosyncrasies of Phil Spector was his disinterest of producing the album associated with his prized singles. In this case, it was Bill Medley who stepped in to complete the project. Three follow-up singles produced by Spector all hit the top ten. Just Once In My Life (#9), Unchained Melody (#4) and Ebb Tide (#5) rounded out the contract leased from Moonglow Records. (18) The Medley-produced Unchained Melody and Ebb Tide, were solos by Bobby used in an effort to restore balance to Medley-heavy hits of Lovin’ Feelin’ and Just Once In My Life.
To add to the friction between Hatfield and Medley, Moonglow Records owner, R.J. Van Hoogten allegedly shorted the duo over $28,000 in royalties. Van Hoogten had his own problems with Spector who had not turned over masters to him for sale in foreign countries as per the agreement between them. After Van Hoogten instructed the duo to do no more recording for Spector, the producer filed suit against the Van Hoogten. Hatfield and Medley set up a meeting with Spector on a number of grievances, which also included non-payment of royalties. Spector refused to talk to the duo. It was time to call in the lawyers.
While attorneys were preparing briefs, the Righteous Brothers signed a new record deal with Verve/MGM Records. "They offered us a million dollars cash and said they'd take care of the legal mess with Moonglow," Bill said. (16) The first release in April of 1966, (You’re My) Soul And Inspiration, another Mann/Weil composition, was their second #1 hit. Medley, who had produced the song, had taken all he learned from Spector and was able to recreate the wall of sound that was Spector’s trademark. Six more singles were produced for the label but each scored regressively lower on the chart. (18)
In the constantly changing record business, the Righteous Brothers were reaching their expiration date. Their sound was dated and out of sync with the late 60s. Plus, there were differences with between Bill and Bobby where the act should go. "We had different comfort zones. I loved riding the wave of success but it wasn't Bobby's happy place," Medley recalled. (17) Bill was engrossed of every aspect of the duo from recording to performing and every step in between. Bobby's interest was limited to performing onstage. The duo broke up in 1968 with Medley pursuing a solo career while Hatfield teamed up with Jimmy Walker of the Knickerbockers singing the Righteous Brothers hits.
In 1974, Medley and Hatfield reunited the Righteous Brothers and hit #3 with Rock And Roll Heaven. Two more singles on the Haven label charted but the duo drifted back into rock and roll history.
Both Bill and Bobby had later projects that were successful. Bill’s duet with Jennifer Warnes, (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Dirty Dancing. The song reached #1 and won the Grammy for best pop performance by a duo in 1987. Bobby returned to the limelight when Unchained Melody was resurrected for the movie Ghost in 1990. The song reached #13 on the pop chart. (18)
Medley and Hatfield toured through much of the 1990s and early 2000s and performed about 12 weeks a year in Las Vegas. On November 5, 2003, Hatfield was found dead in his hotel room in Kalamazoo, Michigan prior to a performance with Medley at Western Michigan University. According to the autopsy report, the cause of his death was attributed to cocaine leading to heart failure. (20)
"Bobby and I were like an old married couple," said Bill Medley at the funeral service held in Irvine, California. "Most of all, what I'm going to miss is looking to my right and seeing my friend." There aren't many people who sing at their own funeral and get a standing ovation. But Hatfield did when a nearly 40-year-old video of him singing the hit Unchained Melody was played. The service ended, most appropriately, with another Righteous Brothers song: Rock and Roll Heaven. (21)
Recorded live on Shindig! on January 13, 1965.
1) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 33.
2) Open Vault From WGBH, Chicago: “Rock and Roll; In The Groove; Interview with Bill Medley [Part 1 of 3],” WGBH Media Library & Archives, Link.
3) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 6.
4) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 11.
5) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 12.
6) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 15.
7) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 592.
8) James, Gary, Interview With Bobby Hatfield of The Righteous Brothers, May 31, 2002. Link.
9) Richmond, Peter, Film And Television Appearances By The Righteous Brothers, January 1, 2018. Link.
10) Cohen, Mitchell, Music Aficionado, How The Righteous Brothers Got (And Lost) That Lovin' Feelin', Link.
11) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 31.
12) Myers, Marc, Wall Street Journal, The Song That Conquered Radio, July 12, 2012. Link.
13) Reader, Adam, Professor Of Rock, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’: The Righteous Brothers, Link.
14) Daley, Dan, Mix Online, Classic Tracks: The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," March 1, 2002. Link.
15) Song Facts, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers, Link.
16) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 35.
17) Medley, Bill and Mike Marino, The Time Of My Life: A Righteous Brother’s Memoir, 2015, Page 43.
18) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 592.
19) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Hot 100 Charts The Sixties.
20) Wikipedia, The Righteous Brothers, Link.
21) Anton, Mike, Los Angeles Times, Remembering a Blue-Eyed Soul Brother, November 12, 2003. Link.
Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley pose after being inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame on January 18, 2003.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
© 2018 Jerry Reuss