Song of the Day #1,594: ‘Unchained Melody’ – Todd Duncan

In keeping with yesterday’s theme, today I’m writing about another song I never knew was a cover until discovering that fact through SongPop.

Like most people of my generation, my first real exposure to ‘Unchained Melody’ was through the pottery scene in Ghost. Demi Moore, at her hottest, straddled the phallic slab of clay while the late Patrick Swayze approaches from behind and straddles her… yes, that left quite an impression.

That version was, of course, performed by The Righteous Brothers, and it is far and away the most famous and successful of this song’s many versions. I also assumed it was the first.

But no, ‘Unchained Melody’ was originally written for the 1955 prison movie Unchained, a fact that also explains the song’s cryptic title. It was performed in the film and on the soundtrack by Todd Duncan, an opera singer who starred in more than 1,800 performances of Porgy and Bess.

Below is the clip from the film in which Duncan serenades a room full of prisoners with a song that would later become indelibly associated with pottery sex.

Note: While discussing Ghost, I would be remiss not to include a scene from Community in which the pottery instructor insists on a “no-Ghosting” policy in his class:

And I would be further remiss to not include this outtake from the same scene:

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time

And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?

I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me!

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea

Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
I’ll be coming home, wait for me!

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered, hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time

And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?

I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me!

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4 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,594: ‘Unchained Melody’ – Todd Duncan

  1. Amy says:

    This is fascinating. I, too, had NO idea this song existed before The Righteous Brothers. While I was initially going to be quick to dismiss the original version, I actually find it rather poignant. It certainly could never have become as popular as the version which made Ghost oh so memorable. And thanks for including the Community scene. I remember it was the few episodes around this one when we became absolutely enthralled with the show.

    I have to go back to read your commentary about covers, so I apologize if you already mentioned this one; however, in case you didn’t, the original I love – “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman – is both similar and worlds away from its cover. I guess that’s true of many of Newman’s songs.

  2. Rob says:

    I agree with Amy re: Randy Newman covers, they are typically polar opposites of the original. The most obvious choice for me is “You Can Leave Your Hat On.” Joe Cocker certainly popularized that tune by giving it the standard 80’s sheen, but in my opinion the original is far better. Harry Nilsson was well known for covering early Newman works, and mostly to great success. Songs like “Cowboy” and “Caroline” are given wonderful treatments, well worth looking into. This is a sign of a flawless songwriter – one who can have their material covered by so many performers, in so many styles. Randy Newman is a living legend.

  3. Dana says:

    I too had no idea this was a cover, though it doesn’t surprise me as I didn’t think the Righteous Brothers were known as songwriters.

    And Rob, totally agree about Newman. He is a legend. I do, however have a fondness for cocker’s version of “leave your hat on” and I actually think cocker was one of the best at infusing life and passion into his covers.

  4. Andrea Katz says:

    As a person who spent all of Sunday watching old shows of Community as well as a lover of Pottery, I salute your out takes. I love the song’s history but the Righteous Brother’s version is far and away my favorite.

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