The Pop History Dig

“Al Jolson & Luckies”
1928-1940s

Famous 1920s’ singer & film star, Al Jolson, in Lucky Strike cigarette ad.  Literary Digest, December 22, 1928.
Famous 1920s’ singer & film star, Al Jolson, in Lucky Strike cigarette ad. Literary Digest, December 22, 1928.
     In 1927, Al Jolson became famous as one of the first actors and singers to star in a talking motion picture — The Jazz Singer.  But Jolson was already a big star by this time.  In fact, by 1920, he was America’s highest paid entertainer, well known for his singing.  Between 1911 and 1928, Jolson had more than 80 hit records and had performed on more than a dozen national and international tours.  He often performed in blackface makeup — a theatrical style of that era — singing jazz, blues, and ragtime.  He also liked to have stage runways extend out into the audience, where he would roam at will, sometimes teasing and cajoling his fans, or stopping to sing a song to one person in particular.  Audiences loved his perfor- mances.

     But Jolson’s appearance in the first feature-length motion picture with synchro- nized sound and dialogue sent him to another level of stardom.  In The Jazz Singer, Jolson performed six songs produced by Warner Brothers with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc system.  The film’s release  — quite the event in its day — heralded the rise of the “talkies” and the end of the silent film era. 

Being the first popular performer to sing in a film with sound, Jolson became the equivalent of a today’s “rock star.”  In fact, some would later dub him the equal of Elvis Presley when it came to the popular jazz and blues styles of that era.  In any case, The Jazz Singer boosted Jolson’s career, sending him into more prosperous roles, and he would star in a series of successful musical films throughout the 1930s. 

With his celebrity at its peak, the economic powers of that day soon came knocking on Jolson’s door, beseeching him to endorse and promote their products.  And none of those who came calling was a bigger power than the American Tobacco Co., then one of the world’s largest companies and maker of numerous tobacco products, including Lucky Strike cigarettes.

The premiere of “The Jazz Singer” in New York at the Warners Theater, October 6, 1927, the first talking motion picture and quite the event in its day.
The premiere of “The Jazz Singer” in New York at the Warners Theater, October 6, 1927, the first talking motion picture and quite the event in its day.
     The American Tobacco Co. knew full well what it was doing with celebrity endorsers such as Al Jolson in the rising film industry.  The company, in fact, would become famous, in part, for its role in using all manner of the persuasive arts and beyond — including the hiring of advertising psychologists — in crafting its advertising and promotional strategies.  American Tobacco in the 1920s was run by George Washington Hill, the man who would lead the tobacco industry into the era of mass advertising.  Hill hired some of the leading lights of his day in advertising and public relations to help advance his plans — among them, A.D. Lasker, Edward Bernays, and Ivy Lee.  American Tobacco’s advertising and PR campaigns, for example, were among the first to target women as potential smokers.  “Together, Hill and Lasker are credited with starting more people on the smoking habit than anyone in history,” writes Milt Moskowitz in his 1980 book, Everybody’s Business.  “They also helped break the taboo against women smoking in public.”  But the film-star and Hollywood connection would become especially important to American Tobacco in all of its campaigns, and later, for other tobacco companies as well.  “The links between Hollywood and tobacco go back to the beginning of talking pictures,” says Stanton Glantz, co-author of the 2008 study, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951.  “It was a way to thoroughly embed tobacco use in the social fabric.”


“Precious Voice”

“The Tobacco Celebrities”

     This is one in a series of occasional articles that will focus on the history of popular celebrities from film, tele- vision, sports and other fields who have lent their names or voice, offered endorsing statements, or made person- al appearances in various forms of tobacco advertising and promotion.  Famous actors, sports stars and other notable personalities have been endors- ing tobacco products since the late 1800s.  One recent report published in the journal Tobacco Control, for example, notes that nearly 200 Hollywood stars from the 1930s and 1940s were contracted to tobacco companies for advertising.  And while the stigma associated with smoking and using other tobacco products has increased in recent years as medical research evidence linking disease to tobacco has become more widely understood, the promotion of tobacco products, while not as blatant and pervasive as it once was, continues to this day in a number of countries.  Not all celebrities, of course, have been involved in such endorsements, and some have worked for, or lent their names to, programs and organizations that help to prevent cigarette smoking or other tobacco-related public health problems.

     Beginning in the late ’20s, American Tobacco began a campaign to link smoking with sophistication, slimness, and “sonorous voices.”  Part of this campaign in 1927 was dubbed the “Precious Voice” campaign, which dovetailed nicely with the arrival of the both the talking motion picture and the rise of radio and its commercialization.  American Tobacco, in fact, spent tens of millions of dollars on radio programs that ran between 1928 and the mid-1950s; shows which also used the company’s celebrity tobacco ads.  But in the late 1920s, following the release of The Jazz Singer, as “talking pictures” became all the rage, American Tobacco sought actor endorsements for its cigarettes.  It also began actor and singer cigarette advertising that claimed Lucky Strike spared their throats and protected their voices.  And American Tobacco ads also used another tack in 1928 — this time featuring Lucky Strike cigarettes as an alternative to fattening sweets.  “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” was the slogan that ran with this campaign in 1928-1929.  Al Jolson appeared in at least one of these ads  — as shown in the December 1928 ad at the top of this story.  That ad ran in popular magazines of the day.  Jolson is quoted in the ad’s headline saying: “I light up a Lucky and go light on the sweets.  That’s how I keep in good shape and always feel peppy.”  Part of the arrangement in such ads was also to have a tie-in with the film studio — in this case, for Jolson’s latest new film.  Near the Lucky Strike pack in the above ad, the text reads: “Al Jolson, as he appears in Warner Bros Vitaphone success, The Singing Fool.”


Feds Take Note

     In 1929, however, the federal government’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began to scrutinize cigarette ads and their testimonials by the famous personalities.  One of the campaigns the FTC went after was American Tobacco’s “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” campaign, and the use of that slogan.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. candy industry had lobbied federal regulators to restrict American Tobacco’s use of this phrase and would also bring legal action against American Tobacco to change its ads.  But the FTC also looked at the testimonials used by celebrities in the American Tobacco ads, calling them misleading.  The FTC would specifically cite Jolson’s words in one endorsement where he is making several claims about the supposed benefits of smoking Luckies — similar to those used in first ad above.  In the advertising, Jolson is quoted as saying, in part:

“Talking pictures demand a very clear voice… Toasting kills off all the irritants, so my voice is as clear as a bell in every scene.  Folks, let me tell you, the good old flavor of Luckies is as sweet and soothing as the best “Mammy” song ever written… There’s one great thing about the toasted flavor…it surely satisfies the craving for sweets.  That’s how I always keep in good shape and always feel peppy.”

     The FTC also found that Jolson did not write the attributed lines himself or review it before its use, specifically citing a 1928 Lucky Strike Radio Hour broadcast of the message.  Instead, Warner Brothers’ advertising manager A. P. Waxman, signed a release on Warner Brothers letterhead for text similar to what was used on air, stating that he acted on Jolson’s behalf.  In November 1929, the FTC issued a cease and desist order against American Tobacco, prohibiting the use of testimonials unless written by the endorser, whose opinions were “genuine, authorised and unbiased”.  In addition, American Tobacco did not acknowledge publicly in its print ads or radio broadcasts that its advertising testimonials were bought or that an advertising agency drafted them.


By the late 1930s, American Tobacco was regularly using movie-star celebrities in its ads, such as Claudette Colbert, shown here, also noting her co-staring role in the upcoming film, “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife,” by Paramount.
By the late 1930s, American Tobacco was regularly using movie-star celebrities in its ads, such as Claudette Colbert, shown here, also noting her co-staring role in the upcoming film, “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife,” by Paramount.
Celebrity Ads

     American Tobacco revised the contractual language for its 1931 endorsement campaign to ensure control over the language and messaging of the testimonials, while still conforming to the FTC’s 1929 stipulations that endorsers supply the testimonial.  While actors offered their opinions and declared the number of years they smoked Lucky cigarettes, they permitted Lord & Thomas, the ad agency, to write the actual testimonial  — “phrased in such form as to make an effective message from the standpoint of truthfulness and advertising value.”  Actors also signed revised release statements that read: “No monetary or other consideration of any kind or character has been paid me or promised me for the above statement, by [American Tobacco’s agent], or by the manufacturers of Lucky Strike Cigarettes or otherwise.”  But the money was flowing to the studios, not the actors directly, a practice that would only grow in the decades ahead, as other tobacco companies began their campaigns.  The studios would soon see big gains from the cross promotion in these ads, as their stars and latest movies were being touted, so they were generally happy to deal with the tobacco companies.  According to the study, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951, the studios also negotiated the content of testimonials, insisted that the timing of the ads and radio appearances be coordinated with movie releases, and sometimes denied permission for deals that did not serve their interest.  But all in all, it was a good deal for the studios and the tobacco companies.

     The FTC, meanwhile, in its earlier investigation of the film-star tobacco ads, had also ordered American Tobacco to disclose payments made for actor testimonials used in its advertising.  However, by 1934, American Tobacco successfully removed this disclosure requirement, presumably through its lobbying of the agency. From the late 1930s through the 1940s, two thirds of the top 50 box office stars in Hollywood would endorse tobacco products in advertising.  Soon, the FTC’s attempt to clamp down on the relationship between big tobacco and its Hollywood helpers was largely circumvented.  Some internal film industry prohibitions on actor endorsements — briefly in effect in 1931 — would be bypassed as well.  By 1937 and 1938, American Tobacco was paying to have a long list of Hollywood stars to appear in its ads, including: Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Henry Fonda, Bob Hope, Carole Lombard, Ray Milland, Robert Montgomery, Richard Powell, George Raft, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, Gloria Swanson, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, and Jane Wyatt.  The payments to stars ranged in value, in 2008 dollars, generally from $40,000 to $140,000 for each endorsement.  In all, American Tobacco payed out the 2008 equivalent of some $3.2 million for actor endorsements of Lucky Strike cigarettes in print ads and radio spots in 1937-38.  In fact, from the late 1930s through the 1940s, two thirds of the top 50 box office stars in Hollywood would endorse tobacco products in advertising.

By the late 1940s, Chesterfield cigarettes were the dominant brand being pitched by Hollywood celebs, here by Gary Cooper in 1948, also plugging his film, “Unconquered” by Parmount.
By the late 1940s, Chesterfield cigarettes were the dominant brand being pitched by Hollywood celebs, here by Gary Cooper in 1948, also plugging his film, “Unconquered” by Parmount.
     Nearly a decade later, in the early- and mid-1940s, the FTC once again turned its attention to investigating the advertising methods of American Tobacco and R. J. Reynolds for their Lucky and Camel film-star testimonials. As it did, another cigarette maker, Liggett & Myers, maker of the Chesterfield brand, took advantage of the FTC’s focus on those companies to launch its own Hollywood-celebrity ad campaign.  Liggett & Myers began a multi-year Hollywood campaign in print and on radio, spending the 2008 equivalent of $50.9 million in 1946 alone.  As a result, the Chesterfield cigarette brand gained endorsements from Hollywood stars who had formerly endorsed Lucky Strikes.  Among these new “Chesterfield celebrities” were: Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Gary Cooper, Bob Hope and Ray Milland from Paramount; Clark Gable at MGM; Fred MacMurray from Universal; and Joan Crawford at Warner Bros.  On the radio too, with its Chesterfield Supper Club, Liggett & Myers had testimonials from stars such as Barbara Stanwyck, Susan Hayward, Fred MacMurray, and Rosalind Russell.  And of course, the practice of celebrities endorsing tobacco products — celebrities from Hollywood, the sports world, and other fields — did not end in the 1940s, and in fact would expand in the decades ahead with the rise of the new medium, television.

     Stay tuned to the this website for more stories on the history of tobacco advertising by celebrities, and generally for stories on the history of advertising and its impact on modern culture. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted:  31 January 2010
Last Update:  8 June 2014
Comments to:  jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Al Jolson & Luckies, 1928-1940s,”
PopHistoryDig.com, January 31, 2010.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Lucky Strike Radio
1928-1950s

     Between the late 1920s and mid-1950s, the American Tobacco Co. spent tens of millions of dollars on radio programs that ran between 1928 and the mid-1950s; shows which also used the company’s celebrity tobacco ads.  Among these programs were: The Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra, also known as the Lucky Strike Dance Hour, which aired on NBC radio from 1928 to 1931; Your Hit Parade, which ran on NBC and CBS from 1935 to 1955; Your Hollywood Parade, an hour long weekly program broadcast from the Warner Brothers studio Hollywood lot; and The Jack Benny Program, which ran from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s.  Of the program Your Holly- wood Parade, broadcast from the Warner Brothers studio lot, the authors of Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Big Tobacco in Hollywood, 1927-1951, would write: “The radio show re- inforced the impression, also encour- aged by the print campaign, that everyone in Hollywood smoked Lucky Strike…”  In fact, on that radio program in the early 1940s, Lucky Strike “impressions” — phrases, jingles or brand name mentions of one kind or another — were being heard by listeners nearly every 30 seconds.

K.L Lum, J.R Polansky, R.K. Jackler, and S.A. Glantz, “Signed, Sealed and Delivered: ‘Big Tobacco’ in Hollywood, 1927-1951,” Tobacco Control Journal, September 25, 2008.

Moirafinnie, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” MovieMor- locks.com, May 13, 2009.

“Al Jolson,” Wikipedia.org.

Milton Moskowitz, Michael Katz and Robert Levering, “Cigarette Makers,” Everybody’s Business: The Irreverent Guide to Corporate America, Harper & Row, 1980, pp. 765-769.

John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton, “The Art of the Hustle…,” and “Smokers’ Hacks,” in Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and The Public Relations Industry, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 1995, pp. 17-32.

AFP- Paris, “Tobacco Giants Paid Millions to Stars in Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’,” September 24, 2008.

Ewen Callaway, “Hollywood Cut Secret Deals to Promote Smoking,” NewScientist.com, September 25, 2008.

“Tobacco Companies Paid Movie Stars Millions in Celebrity Endorsement Deals,” EScienceNews.com, Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tracie White, “Tobacco-Movie Industry Financial Ties Traced to Hollywood’s Early Years in Stanford/UCSF Study,” Stanford.edu, September 24, 2008.

“Not a Cough in a Carload,” Extensive On-Line Exhibit of Tobacco Ads, Lane Medical Library & Knowledge Management Center, Stanford.edu.

A. M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America., Basic Books, 2007.

R. Kluger, Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

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“Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”
1964-1965

Early 1960s photo of Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield on a 2006 issue two-CD set. Among songs included is the No.1 hit of 1965, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' '.
Early 1960s photo of Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield on a 2006 issue two-CD set. Among songs included is the No.1 hit of 1965, 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' '.
     In December 1964, a song titled “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” began to be heard on the radio.  It was a song that would one day become the 20th century’s “most played” radio song.  It was performed by two guys from California — Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield; two guys who came to be known as the Righteous Brothers.  Their stage name came about after a black U.S. Marine, attending one of their early nightclub acts, shouted out approvingly: “That was righteous, brothers!”  The label stuck, and the two singers became a distinctive duet, with Bill Medley, the taller of the two, providing the bass-baritone, and blond-haired Bobby Hatfield singing tenor.  Their style would later be dubbed “blue- eyed soul,” and there was no doubt about their vocal talent.  They had a range and style that helped create a strong and distinctive sound.  But they also had another potent ingredient in their music that helped make it distinctive — a music producer named Phil Spector. 

Music Player
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”

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     Regarded as a musical genius in the studio, Phil Spector was then coming into his most productive years.  With the Righteous Brothers, Spector made especially good use of their talents, packaging their songs in a distinctive way as he pushed the boundaries of popular music using his then-becoming-famous “wall of sound” technique.  Spector’s sound used a flood of instrumentation behind good vocals that gave pop music a near-orchestral quality.  His treatments became quite  distinctive, often described as  “full and powerful” — they changed popular music.  Spector himself, however, would also become known for his quirky and bizarre behavior, some of it violent, which years later would result in a second-degree murder conviction in the Los Angeles case of actress Lana Clarkson, for which Spector is currently serving a 19-years-to-life prison sentence.  But in his earlier life, during his 1960s’ music production and studio work with the Righteous Brothers and other groups, Spector had magical abilities and was a much sought-after producer. 

Sample 45 rpm record sleeve for 1964-65 single.
Sample 45 rpm record sleeve for 1964-65 single.

 

Honing a Hit

     Said to have been inspired in part by “Baby I Need Your Loving” — a song by the Motown group the Four Tops (#11, July 1964) — “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was written by the New York Brill Building husband-and-wife team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, along with Phil Spector.  The production of the song went through many hours of experimentation, retakes, and studio time before it was recorded and released.  As the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley would later recall:  “Barry Mann wrote this ballad and I remember him telling me he wanted to write a song that was like the Four Tops’ records, and he wanted that kind of a song.  So they wrote this ballad and Phil Spector and Barry Mann sat down at the piano and sang it to us.  And they both had real high voices.  And when they got done I said, ‘man, that’s a great song for The Everly Brothers’ — ’cause they sounded like The Everly Brothers.  They had these real high thin voices.  And I couldn’t imagine this was the song Phil Spector wanted to do with us…  So we started learning it and the complexion of the song changed dramatically by trying to find the right key.  The song has a pretty huge range to it….”

45 rpm disc showing A-side single, 'You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin' ' on Philles record label.
45 rpm disc showing A-side single, 'You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin' ' on Philles record label.
     To get up to the really high notes in the song — a song, it would turn out, that builds and builds — there had to be a low start, so they kept experimenting to find just the right start and voice.  In the end, what had begun with Mann and Spector at the piano with their high, thin sound, became something very different — but in a good way. “The whole vibe of the song” changed, explained Medley.  “And with Spector’s phenomenal production it was pretty unique.  Great song!  Great production!  And I think Bobby and I did a real good job.”  Spector also had some back-up singers on the song, namely Sonny & Cher, before they hit it big on their own.  Years later, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would single out the song, and Spector’s production, at the induction of the Righteous Brothers.  “Spector heard a deeper potential in the blend of Medley’s earthy thunder and Hatfield’s heavenly fire,” said the Hall, calling the song “magnificently produced” and citing it as a kind of “symphonic pop.”  Spector’s wall-of-sound production technique on this song, said the Hall, “scaled unparalleled heights for a pop single.”

Righteous Brothers, 1960s.  Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield, in younger days.
Righteous Brothers, 1960s. Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield, in younger days.
     Still, at the time it was made, “You Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” had a couple of quirks about it that could make it a problem — especially for radio disc jockeys playing the new record.  The opening line — “You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips” — was done very slowly in Bill Medley’s very deep bass baritone.  It was so slow and so deep, in fact, that upon hearing the record, some thought it was being played on the wrong speed.  A second possible problem was the song’s length — nearly four minutes in play time when most songs then on the radio were in the two minute range.  But Spector fixed that, at least temporarily, altering the actual 3:50 play time on the disc label by reversing the last two numbers, making it 3:05, which helped get the song past time-conscious radio DJs and music pro- grammers.  But when the song was finally played by the DJs, the sound they heard was pure gold.  It features, in part, a powerful back-and-forth between Medley and Hatfield in their respective baritone and tenor, almost in a call-and-response fashion, and gives the song a dramatic, soulful flair.  Vanity Fair called it “the most erotic duet between men on record.”

45 rpm version of 1965's ‘Unchained Melody’ on Phil Spector’s label.
45 rpm version of 1965's ‘Unchained Melody’ on Phil Spector’s label.
     “We had no idea if it would be a hit,” recalled Bill Medley some years later.  “It was too slow, too long, and right in the middle of The Beatles and the British Invasion.”  But within two months of its release, by early February 1965, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” had reached the #1 spot in the U.S. and the U.K.  It became one of the most successful pop singles of its time, despite exceeding the standard length for radio play.  Indeed, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” remains one of the most played songs in radio history, estimated to have been broadcast more than 8 million times to date.  The Righteous Brothers, meanwhile, proceeded to have three more Phil Spector-produced Top Ten hits: “Just Once in My Life” (#9), “Unchained Melody” (#4), and “Ebb Tide”(#5) — all in 1965.  Those were heady days for the two singers, a time when they were actively recording in New York, as Bill Medley later recounted:

“. . .The Brill Building – you know, that’s where they did all that great writing…. Where Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Carole King, and Neil Sedaka [were]; . . . just [where] all the phenomenal writers came from.  Well, when it was time for us to go in and record we would just call Screen Gems and say, ‘listen, we’re gonna record on the ninth of January and we need a song and we will fly into New York to hear what you guys come up with.’  So we would fly into New York at a certain time and they would parade these unbelievable artists in to us.  They would sing these phenomenal songs.  None of them were bad. They were all phenomenal.  And what a great problem to have; to try and pick the best song out of all these wonderful songs.  So I’m sure we turned down several hits.  Couldn’t do them all.  Certainly would have liked to.”

“You’ve Lost
That Lovin’ Feelin'”

The Righteous Brothers
1964-65

You never close your eyes anymore
when I kiss your lips
And there’s no tenderness like before
in your fingertips
You’re trying hard not to show it, (baby)
But baby, baby I know it

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Now it’s gone, gone, gone, woah

Now there’s no welcome look in your
eyes when I reach for you
And now you’re starting to criticize
little things I do
It makes me just feel like crying, (baby)
‘Cause baby, something beautiful’s dying

You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’
You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’
Now it’s gone, gone, gone, woah

Baby, baby, I’ll get down on my knees
for you
If you would only love me like you
used to do, yeah
We had a love, a love, a love you don’t
find everyday
So don’t, don’t, don’t… let it slip away

Baby [baby], baby [baby]
I’m begging you please, please
I need your love [I need your love]
I need your love [I need your love]
So bring it on back [So bring it on back]
Bring it on back [So bring it on back]

Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
Woah, that lovin’ feelin’
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
‘Cause it’s gone, gone, gone
And I can’t go on, woah

Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
Whoa, that lovin’ feelin’
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’
________________________
(…. ) = background chorus
[…. ] = Medley-Hatfield call-and-response

     Before the Righteous Brothers scored big with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the two had performed on the September 1964 premiere of ABC-TV’s rock `n roll variety show, Shindig!, and they continued to make appearances on the show thereafter.  They had also served as an opening act for the Beatles’ first America concert tour and later for the Rolling Stones as well.  But once their songs began climbing the charts, they were soon in demand for their own act.

 

Blue-Eyed Soul”

     The Righteous Brothers’s sound, however,  had fooled some listeners in the mid-1960s, including a few in the black community thinking the two singers were black artists.  Black music was also then called “rhythm & blues,” or R&B music, having been changed from the previous “race records” label of earlier times.  In the 1960s, a number of cities with R&B radio stations were surprised to learn that the Righteous Brothers’ songs were those of two white performers.  Rocky Grosse, Program Director at WWRL, a major R&B station in New York, was one of those with the mistaken impression.  George Woods, an on-air radio personality with WDAS in Philadelphia, is credited with coining the term “blue-eyed soul” to describe the kind of music these two white Righteous Brothers were then turning out — music enjoyed by both R&B and pop listeners.  In fact, the Righteous Brothers songs helped open up the R&B radio stations to other white artists who also had a “soul sound” to their music.

     “When we were both 13 we didn’t know each other,” Medley would later say about he and Hatfield, “but our musical college was the same.  Rock ‘n Roll caught us right at puberty.  First time I heard Little Richard, my life changed.  I would buy all these records by Fats Domino, B.B. King, Bobby Bland and Ray Charles and listen to them all day long.  When it came time for me to sing on stage, I was trying to be like them. . . .”

     The Righteous Brothers quickly became one of the top groups on the music scene in the mid-1960s.  They also became one of the first rock ‘n roll acts to play Las Vegas.  As Bobby Hatfield later recounted about those times: “. . .It was a great reception.  We were working [The Sands] with Frank Sinatra.  He was in the main room and we were in the lounge.  It was a real thrill to meet and actually become friends with people like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin.  They were all working the Sands at that time…and Bill and I became …well, not close friends, but at least acquaintances, where they knew us by name and most of them just called us ‘the righteous boys’.”

 

Post-Phil Spector

Record sleeve cover for 1966 No. 1 hit song, (‘You’re My) Soul & Inspiration.’
Record sleeve cover for 1966 No. 1 hit song, (‘You’re My) Soul & Inspiration.’
     By 1966 the Righteous Brothers left Phil Spector and the Philles label, making a better business deal with Verve Records.  Verve bought the Righteous Brothers’ contract for $1 million.  Their first song with Verve, “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” was also a No. 1 hit and a million seller.  Bill Medley, who had some experience with sound production, was able to replicate a Spector-like “Wall of Sound” treatment for the duo’s new song.  Through the remaining 1960s, however, they would have only a few more Top 40 hits.  In 1968, Medley left for a solo career.  Hatfield kept the Righteous Brothers going for a time with another singer, Jimmy Walker.  But the act wasn’t the same.  Medley had a couple of hits on his own, and for a time, neither he nor Hatfield did alone what they had done together.  In 1974 they reunited for one hit, “Rock and Roll Heaven,” and in later years did some touring together on the oldies circuit and nightclub performing in Las Vegas and elsewhere.

The Righteous Brothers’ ‘Unchained Melody’ helped make the ‘pottery scene’ from the 1990 film ‘Ghost’ one of the most memorable ever – and the film's popularity gave the song & Righteous Brothers’ music new life.
The Righteous Brothers’ ‘Unchained Melody’ helped make the ‘pottery scene’ from the 1990 film ‘Ghost’ one of the most memorable ever – and the film's popularity gave the song & Righteous Brothers’ music new life.
 

Movie Power

     However, two of the Righteous Brothers’ 1960s songs would later receive a boost from subsequent use in major films.  “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” received a second run at the music charts in 1986 after it was used on the soundtrack of the May 1986 movie, Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.  In 1990, the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody,” featuring Bobby Hatfield, was used memorably in the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore film Ghost, rising to #14 on the pop charts and becoming a million seller more than 25 years after its first recording.  “Unchained Melody” also then topped the U.S. adult contemporary chart for two weeks and was #1 in Australia for seven weeks through January 1991.  In the U.K., meanwhile, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” became the only song to enter the UK Top 10 three different times: once in 1965 when it was originally released, again in 1969 when it was re-released, and a third time in 1990 following Ghost, when “Unchained Melody’s” rise to # 1 there also brought attention to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,'” which itself rose to #3 on the UK charts.  “Unchained Melody,” however, was the best-selling UK single that year.  In the U.S., a 1990 anthology album, Best of the Righteous Brothers, also became a million seller.

     Separately, in 1987, Bill Medley’s duet with Jennifer Warnes on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” — a featured song in the film Dirty Dancing  — topped the Billboard Hot 100 that November, and later earned a Grammy Award.  The film’s soundtrack, with the song, also became a gigantic best seller — in fact, the most successful soundtrack since Saturday Night Fever, selling 14 million copies.

 

On The Radio

     In December 1999, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) announced that “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” was the No. 1 song of the 20th century in terms of songs played most frequently on American radio and television.  At that time, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ” had passed the 8 million “plays” mark. The 8 million ‘radio plays’   of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin'” equals more than 45 years of back-to-back airplay. “One million continuous performances of a song of the average length of 3 minutes represents 5.7 years of continuos airplay,” explained BMI in its announcement.  “The 8 million performances of “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling’ ” equals more than 45 years of back-to-back play.”

     The Righteous Brothers’ songs have been covered by a number of groups.  Elvis Presley, for one, frequently sang “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and “Unchained Melody” during his 1970s performances.  Dionne Warwick, Hall and Oates, and Neil Diamond, among others, have also done versions of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”  Warwick’s version hit #16 in 1969, and Hall and Oates’ remake hit #12 in 1980.

 

Homesick Blues

     But for some fans of the Righteous Brothers’ sound, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Here’s rock critic and writer Dave Marsh, recalling his memories of “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feelin” both as a young teen and in later adult years, as described in his book, The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made:

     “…The [radio] deejay told me that this [song] was by the Righteous Brothers, who I already knew from TV’s Shindig.  They were a Mutt and Jeff act.  Somber-voiced Bill Medley stood way over six feet, dark and halfways handsome; tenor Bobby Hatfield was blond, five-five or so and greaser cute…
     …Naturally, I bought the record, surprised at its red and yellow Philles label… So I sat and stared at the label and being in another line of work at the time — eighth grade — came to no unnecessary conclusions.. . . In the spring of 1987, staying at a hotel in downtown Chicago, I strapped on headphones and went for a run. . . I’d been on the road a couple of weeks, and felt home- sick, a little afraid, frightfully lonely. . .  I loved the record (wore out one copy, picked up another used), harbored a half-secret devotion to the Righteous Brothers no matter what they did well into adulthood, moved on to other things, but still turned “Lovin’ Feelin'” way up whenever it came across the radio.
     In the spring of 1987, staying at a hotel in downtown Chicago, I strapped on headphones and went for a run.  There was a parade on Michigan Avenue, and I dodged in and out among the crowd until I got down by the lake, where there was almost nobody.  I’d been on the road a couple of weeks, and felt homesick, a little afraid, frightfully lonely.  The tape I listened to was composed of random favorites, deliberately jumbled so I couldn’t remember what came next.  Somewhere over by the lake, “Lovin’ Feelin'” came on.  I jammed the volume all the way up and the clash of those voices came through again.  When they started begging and pleading — “Baby, baby, I’d get down on my knees for you,” sang Medley, “If you would only love me like you used to do,” responded Hatfield — tears sprang from my eyes. In the center of the continent, at the heart of a population of six million, I was suddenly, unmistakably, nerve-tinglingly abandoned and alone.
     God knows what passersbys thought.  But with the title — “You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin'” — echoing in my ears I understood at last:  We worship the thing we fear…”

 

Recent Years

Righteous Brothers performing in later years.
Righteous Brothers performing in later years.
     During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Righteous Brothers were sometimes performing 60-80 shows a year on the road and in concert.  They were also appearing in Las Vegas for about 12 weeks a year.  But in 2003, they were recognized for their earlier contri- butions to rock ‘n roll music.  On March 10, 2003, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Billy Joel was their presenter.  “In the mid-1960s the Righteous Brothers became a fixture on Top 40 radio and the televised rock and roll variety show Shindig!…,” says their Hall of Fame description.  “Medley’s commanding baritone and Hatfield’s forceful tenor ranked among the most indelible voices of that charmed era.”  But sadly, only several months after their Hall of Fame induction, tragedy struck, as Bobby Hatfield died suddenly in November 2003 during one of their tours.  He was 63 years old.  In 2008, an earlier 21st anni- versary special on the Righteous Brothers’ music that had been filmed in 1983 at the Roxy in Los Angeles, was aired nationally on many PBS television stations.

See also at this website “To Know, Know…Him,” for more background on Phil Spector, or go to the “Annals of Music” page for additional story choices in that category. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle

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Date Posted: 31 August 2008
Last Update: 2 November 2014
Comments: jdoyle@pophistorydig.com

Article Citation:
Jack Doyle, “Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,”
PopHistoryDig.com, August 31, 2008.

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Sources, Links & Additional Information

Righteous Bothers photo from the 1960s.
Righteous Bothers photo from the 1960s.
“The Righteous Brothers,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Roman- owski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, New York, 3rd Edition, 2001, p. 824.

“The Interview” (1996), Righteous Brothers Official Website.

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, The Righteous Brothers,” Rolling Stone, December 9, 2004.

“BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century – ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ ‘ Is Number One,” BMI.com, December 13, 1999.

Cover of 1999 CD with 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'.
Cover of 1999 CD with 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'.
Dave Marsh, The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made, New York: Da Capo Press, 1999. pp.7-8.

“Righteous Brothers,”Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Induction Year: 2003

Dave Thompson, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers,” Song Review, All Music Review.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and “The Righteous Brothers,” Wikipedia.org.

Richie Unterberger, “The Righteous Brothers,” Biography, All Music Review.

“Blue-Eyed Artists Herald Musical Integration of Airways,” Billboard, 1960s.

“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ by The Righteous Brothers,” Songfacts.com.


 

 


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