Music Monday: Spine-tingling mystery of Unchained Melody

Posted by Jennifer Hatt on 3 September 2012 | 63 Comments

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I was watching The Wonder Years with that adorable little Fred Savage (yep, my Senior years are on the horizon) when I first heard the song. There he was, slow dancing with the love of his life Winnie Cooper in their school gym. As sweet as they were to watch, it was the soaring notes and the simple yet gripping flow between major and minor chords that to this day conjure up the TV image from so long ago. I relived that moment in 1990, when that gorgeous creature Patrick Swayze paid a visit to his pottery-making love in the movie Ghost. I've never been able to look at a pottery wheel quite the same way again, and the haunting memory of that song remains.

Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in Ghost (Paramount Pictures, 1990)

One of the joys of being a writer is being able to bring to life (or back to life) favorite memories and things to share with readers. Unchained Melody is one of those things. Our new book in the Finding Maria series, on the Scent of a Mandarin Moon, set for release later this year, includes a love scene between the two main characters where the strains of Unchained Melody are carried from a point unknown across a city street drenched in rain to wrap them both in a moment of impulsive, tempestuous connection. While I can't share any more of ths story right now - but please stay tuned :) - I can share a few new-to-me facts I discovered about the song:

What's in a Name? Search or listen to the song lyrics and nowhere is the phrase Unchained Melody used. So, why this name for the song? As for many songs, this tune was birthed by a movie. Unchained, released in 1955, is the story of a convict torn between escaping prison to return to his family now or enduring the years of his sentence and sacrificing the years ahead with them to legally be with them in the end. Unchained Melody, written by Alex North with lyrics by Hy Zaret, is the lament of this prisoner for his wife. The movie soundtrack featured Todd Duncan on vocals, and since that time the song has been recorded in every genre from rockabilly to comedy, making it one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century. Pick an artist and he, she or they have probably recorded or performed it. Elvis? Check. Tom Jones? Of course. Queen? Yes, indeed. Even Cyndi Lauper, nicely grown out of her pop girl phase, has added a new dimension of haunting beauty to her new version. But the cover that carries my two characters away in a haze of passion is the one with which we are no doubt most familiar: the 1965 jukebox staple sung by Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers, which with his crystal-pitched vocals and Phil Spector's soaring backgrounds can still shoot tingles down my spine, even after hearing it several hundred times over the last few decades. Try it and see:

Songs tell stories in their own right. But also fascinating are the stories behind them, and the stories they give rise to, including mine.

I'll be sharing hints of the new book on our Facebook page,, if you want to like and learn more. Meanwhile, thanks for joining in today and sharing in one of my favourite songs. Is it your favourite, too? What song makes your spine tingle? 

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