One of the Wonders of Pop Music – the making of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'"
Pop Culture Released - Mar 20, 2021
Record producer Phil Spector was not a singer, nor a songwriter, but he was an exceptional judge of talent. In 1963, he saw the Righteous Brothers perform at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and immediately wanted to make a record with them. Known as the blue-eyed brothers of soul, the Righteous Brothers were a duo, comprised of Bill Medley (bass-baritone) and Bobby Hatfield (tenor). As a duo, their contrasting vocal ranges resulted in a distinctive bluesy sound, that attracted a large contingent of African-Americans.
HOW THEY GOT THEIR NAME
After a particular performance in El Centro, California, a black U.S. Marine in the audience shouted, "That was righteous, brothers!", and at shows thereafter greeted them with "Hey righteous brothers, how you doin'?" The name stuck, and not long after they began billing themselves as "The Righteous Brothers."
It was their distinctive vocal sound that attracted Phil Spector. Up to this time, Spector had worked almost exclusively with black singers. To record the Righteous Brothers, Spector needed a song that would showcase their distinctive vocal style.
As he had in the past, Spector turned to the Brill Building in New York City for a song, specifically to the songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. He wanted them nearby, and invited the pair to come to Los Angeles and stay at the luxurious Chateau Marmont hotel, to write the song.
The pair decided to write a ballad. Mann wrote the melody first, and came up with the opening line, "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss you lips." Working very quickly, Mann and Weil then wrote the first two verses, including the chorus line, and then became stuck. They asked Spector for help with writing the bridge. Spector sat at his piano and began playing a riff from "Hang On Sloopy", and from that minor inspiration they composed the bridge.
With that done, Mann and Weil finished the song. Then they played it for the Righteous Brothers. They agreed the song was a potential hit, but felt it did not suit their more upbeat rhythm and blues style. Recalls Bill Medley: "We thought, 'Wow, what a good song . . . for the Everly Brothers'". With some retooling the song–which was originally written in the higher key of F Major–was recast in the lower key of C Sharp Major to better accommodate Medley's deep baritone voice. That and slowing down the song's tempo, "changed the whole vibe of the song", according to Medley.
When learning that Medley would sing the first verse alone, Bobby Hatfield expressed annoyance that he would have to wait until the chorus before joining in. When he asked Spector just what he was supposed to do during Medley's solo, Spector replied cheekily, "You can go directly to the bank!"
Recording dates were set, and with members of the famed "Wrecking Crew" (specifically, Don Randi on piano, Tommy Tedesco and Barney Kessel on guitar, Carol Kaye and Ray Pohlman on bass, and Earl Palmer on drums) the instrumental tracks were recorded first. After that a horn section was added (two trumpets, two trombones, and three saxophones).
To record the vocals, Spector turned to Gold Star Studios in West Los Angeles, famous for its echo chamber. It didn't come easy. Bill Medley sang the opening verse over and over again until Spector was satisfied. The process was then repeated with the next verse. In all, recording the vocals took over 39 takes and around eight hours over a period of two days.
After the vocals, a string arrangement by Jack Nitzsche was then recorded and overdubbed. Reverb was applied to further deepen the sound. During the mix, Bill Medley added yet another lead vocal track. According to music critic Robert Palmer, the effect of Spector's technique was to create a sound that was "deliberately blurry, atmospheric, and of course huge; Wagnerian rock 'n' roll with all the trimmings" (a.k.a., Phil Spector's famed "Wall of Sound").
The recorded song was slow, and a half tone lower than what Mann and Weil had composed. When Mann heard the finished record over the phone, he thought that it had been mistakenly played at 33 1/3 instead of 45 rpm, and told Spector, "Phil, you have it on the wrong speed!"
At four minutes in length, the song was unusually long, by a full minute over what most top-40 radios were playing at time. Undaunted, Spector asked his record label to list the playing time at 3:05.
Bill Medley admitted later: "We had no idea (the record) would be a hit. It was too slow, too long, and was released in the middle of The Beatles and British Invasion." Meanwhile, the record company shipped vinyl copies to record stores across the country, while Spector nervously awaited the verdict of the marketplace. He had spent out of his own pocket something like $35,000 on productions costs alone, a huge gamble for an independent record producer. "I didn't sleep for a week when that record came out," he said.
As it turned out, Spector had no reason to worry. The song debuted on Billboard's Hot 100 on December 12, 1964, and by February 6, 1965 topped the charts.
To this day the song remains highly popular on the radio; according to the performing-rights organization Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), it became the most-played song of all time on American radio in 1997 with over 7 million airplays, overtaking the Beatles' "Yesterday". At the end of 1999, the song was ranked by BMI as the most-played song of the 20th century, having been broadcast more than 8 million times on American radio and television, and it remains the most-played song ever, having accumulated almost 15 million airplays in the US by 2011.
- END -