Despite their professional appellation, Bill Medley (William Thomas Medley, 19 September 1940, Santa Ana, California, USA) and Bobby Hatfield (b. Robert Lee Hatfield, 10 August 1940, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, USA, d. 5 November 2003, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA) were not related. They met in 1962 at Californias Black Derby club, where they won the approbation of its mixed-race clientele. According to Hatfield, the duo gained their new moniker when a black marine expressed his admiration of their singing by yelling out Thats righteous, brothers!.
By blending Medleys sonorous baritone with Hatfields soaring high tenor, this white duos vocal style invoked that of classic R&B, and a series of excellent singles, notably the US Top 50 hit Little Latin Lupe Lu, followed. They achieved national fame in 1964 following several appearances on US televisions highly popular Shindig. Renowned producer Phil Spector then signed the act to his Philles label and proceeded to mould his Wagerian sound to their dramatic intonation. Youve Lost That Lovin Feelin justifiably topped the US and UK charts and is rightly lauded as one the greatest pop singles of all time. (In 1999, the BMI confirmed Youve Lost That Lovin Feelin as the most performed song of the twentieth-century, with in excess of nine million plays.)
A similar passion was extolled on the US Top 10 hits Unchained Melody, Just Once In My Life and Ebb Tide, but the relationship between performer and mentor rapidly soured. The Righteous Brothers moved outlets in 1966, but despite gaining a gold disc and another US chart-topper for (Youre My) Soul And Inspiration, a performance modelled on their work with Spector, the duo was unable to sustain the same success. They split in 1968, with Medley beginning a solo career and Hatfield retaining the name with new partner Jimmy Walker, formerly of the Knickerbockers. This short-lived collaboration ended soon afterwards, but the original pair were reunited in 1974 for an appearance on The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour. They scored a US Top 3 hit that year with the maudlin Rock And Roll Heaven, but were unable to regain former glories and subsequently separated.
The duo reunited on several occasions in subsequent years, notably in 1982 on the 30th anniversary edition of American Bandstand. In 1987, Medley enjoyed an international smash with (Ive Had) The Time Of My Life, a duet with Jennifer Warnes taken from the movie Dirty Dancing. Then, a reissue of the Righteous Brothers Unchained Melody topped the UK chart in 1990 after it was featured in the movie Ghost. A re-recorded version of the track was also a US hit, and subsequently the duo resumed touring together on the oldies circuit. The Righteous Brothers were deservedly inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March 2003. Hatfield was found dead in his hotel room shortly before going on stage to perform with Medley the same November. The cause of death was attributed to heart failure brought on by acute cocaine intoxication.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.