Celebrating Seniors – Bill Medley is 75 pt 1of2
3 vintage tunes from You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ blue-eyed soul baritone singer-songwriter Bill Medley – born 75 years ago today on September 19, 1940 in Los Angeles California. Little Latin Lupe Lu, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, and Unchained Melody.
(Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield, The Righteous Brothers c. 1960s Photo: Lawren | Flickr Some rights reserved)
Bill Medley Part 1: The Phil Spector Years
Bill Medley was raised in Santa Ana, California by his musical parents – big-band leader and saxaphone player father, and piano-playing, singer mother. On his website billmedley.com he says of his musical influences: “When I heard Little Richard, I knew I wanted to do that. When I heard Ray Charles, I knew I needed to do that.” Medly was a member of his Santa Ana High School choir, coached by choir teacher Jack Coleman. While in junior high, Medley met Barry Rillera, one of three musical Mexican-American brothers. Barry and his brother Rick formed the Rhythm Rockers band in 1955, and were later joined for a time by Medley. Medley dropped out of high school at age 16 in 1956. He met a Mexican-American girl called Lupe Laguna when he attended a beauty school, and they dated for a while.
By 1962, 22-year-old Medley had been in the four-member band The Paramours for a year when tenor singer Bobby Hatfield joined them. Soon after, Medley and Hatfield became the Righteous Brothers duo. Piano and sax player Lee Ferrell (comedian Will Ferrell’s father) began playing with them in 1963.
In an article he wrote for Mail Online in 2014, Medley described meeting Karen O’Grady: “I first noticed her at church, and then, when Bobby Hatfield and I unveiled our first single, Little Latin Lupe Lu, at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach, California in 1963, I saw her in the middle of a thousand beautiful young girls. When we got off stage, I got her phone number and we started dating.” Little Latin Lupe Lu (1963) written by Bill Medley and recorded by the Righteous Brothers backed by the Rilerra brothers, reached #49 on the Billboard chart in 1963. Little Latin Lupe Lu has since been covered by numerous other artists including Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and Bruce Springsteen. Elvis Presley would come to watch the Righteous Brothers perform; he and Bill Medley in particular became good friends in the late 1960’s. Above photo of Bill & Karen Medley, Joy and Bobby Hatfield.
Baby boomer favourites The Beatles arrived in America in February 1964 for two-week tour of the US, and the Righteous Brothers served as an opening act the first week. Karen miscarried while Bill Medley was on the Beatles tour, and the Righteous Brothers left the tour to return to their home base in California and appear on television’s Shindig! (below, July 1964).
The success of Little Latin Lupe Lu was quickly overshadowed by the 1964 mega-hit You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, written by producer Phil Spector, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil. Bill Medley was initially reserved about the song’s length (too long at 3:45) and tempo (too slow). His partner Bobby Hatfield was annoyed that there was a long introductory solo vocal featuring Medley, but when he asked Spector what he was supposed to do during that time Spector told him “You can go straight to the fucking bank.” You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was released in December 1964 and went to #1 on the Billboard charts the next year. Not just a favourite of baby boomers, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ has been named one of the most-played songs in the history of American radio. Bill Medley and Karen O’Grady married in May of 1964.
Below, the Righteous Brothers performing You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.
After the promotional tour and work for You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was done in 1965, Bill Medley suffered a nervous breakdown and was briefly hospitalized. He recovered and the Righteous Brothers started opening for The Rolling Stones on their first American tour in the spring of 1965.
The Righteous Brothers had 6 US Billboard Top 100 hit singles that year, including Just Once in My Life (#9), and Ebb Tide (#5), but Unchained Melody (#4) has become an enduring classic. Originally written by Hy Zaret in 1936, when Bing Crosby turned down the chance to record Unchained Melody it gathered dust until Zaret teamed with composer Alex North in 1955. The song was used in the prison movie Unchained (1955). Four other artists recorded Unchained Melody before the Righteous Brothers version, produced by Phil Spector (Bill Medley has said he produced it but Spector is officially credited) and sung by Bobby Hatfield, was released in July 1965. The Righteous Brothers version of Unchained Melody hit the Billboard Top 100 charts again 25 years later, when it was used in the movie Ghost (1990). Below, Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody in 1965.