It’s hard for Bill Medley to say when he felt most famous.
There was 1964 to 1966, when his duo the Righteous Brothers recorded some of the biggest blue-eyed soul hits of all time — Unchained Melody, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, (You’re My) Soul and Inspiration — and toured with the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
And then there was 1986 to 1990, when Medley’s music was, somewhat inexplicably, featured in a string of blockbuster movies: Lovin’ Feeling in Top Gun, Unchained Melody in Ghost, solo songs in Major League, Rambo III and, most famously, Dirty Dancing. Yes, that’s his sonorous baritone on the unkillable ’80s earworm (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.
“It was different in the ’60s because everybody was in their young 20s, and the energy level was quite different,” Medley said by phone from Las Vegas, where the Righteous Brothers have had a residency at Harrah’s for 3 ½ years. “But Top Gun, Dirty Dancing and Ghost probably made us bigger, because we still had the fans that we had in the ’60s, and now we had some new fans from the ’80s. I would suspect that the ’80s were bigger. But the ’60s were more energized.”
Nearly 60 years later, the Righteous Brothers are still at it — sort of. Shortly after their 2003 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Medley’s fellow Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield died from a drug overdose. It took more than a decade for Medley to decide to revive his old act, bringing a younger tenor named Bucky Heard on board to fill in.
Before their concert Sunday at the Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Medley talked about the duo’s multigenerational peaks and whether the Righteous Brothers will ever get a movie of their own.
We’re only a couple of years out from the 60th anniversary of the Righteous Brothers. To put that into perspective, was there ever a time in your career when you couldn’t perform for integrated audiences?
Yeah. In the early ’60s, there was a couple of concerts that we did that, in the contract, it said that the blacks had to sit in the balcony and the whites were in the front. We said, “Well, we’re not going on.” And the promoter was nice enough to change it.
Did white audiences and black audiences see the Righteous Brothers differently?
When Bobby and I first started, I think we were the first white act to introduce white kids to emotional music. You can call it soul music or whatever you want, but it’s just emotional. And we had a lot of white kids say, “Boy, I didn’t realize that it was okay for me to feel this way about music.” The black audiences, they got it right away. We weren’t trying to be — and we weren’t — a couple of good-looking guys standing on stage. We were there to bang out some songs. So the black audiences understood it right away.
Is there a logical explanation for how your music ended up in so many movies?
If I had the answer, I’d be in a lot more movies. Tony Scott, who produced Top Gun, I asked him, “Why was Lovin’ Feeling in Top Gun?” He said, “Because it’s one of my favorite songs.” Dirty Dancing, they just thought that my voice was the kind of the voice for Patrick Swayze — they wanted a ballsy, manly voice. And Ghost, the producer of the movie was driving to work and Unchained Melody was on the radio, and she said, “That’s the song for the movie.” I don’t have an answer. It’s just a godsend. If you wrote a movie about it, you’d say, Nah, this is too corny.
How significant is the royalty? Was it a windfall, having all those songs in hit movies?
Certainly concert-wise, yeah. And royalties, geez, The Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing is the song that just keeps giving. You see it in commercials and other movies and this and that. Every time it’s in another movie or commercial or this or that, I get paid.
The year that you sang Time of My Life at the Oscars was the same year Cher won for Best Actress. Is it true she was a backup singer on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling?
She was. I saw her at the Academy Awards, and I said, “Good luck.” She said, “Good luck to you.” I said, “I think you’re probably going to do well.” She said, “Well, I know Time of My Life is going to win.” And it did, and she did, and it was a good night.
Has anyone ever pitched you a Righteous Brothers biopic or musical built entirely around Lovin’ Feeling? Because it feels like in the making of that one song, there’s enough to build a whole story.
There’s been talk about doing some stuff. It really has to come from me or Bobby, and obviously, Bobby’s not here, so it would have to come from me. Two dumb white guys from Orange County singing rhythm and blues was just real interesting. So I think I might sit down with this writer friend of mine and sketch it out. I want to call it 1964, because everything happened in ’64. We recorded Lovin’ Feeling in ’64, we went on the Beatles tour in ’64, the Stones tour in ’64. And yeah, you’re right, just a play about doing that song would be pretty amazing, with Phil Spector and all of the above. Pretty interesting.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.
If you go
The Righteous Brothers
$49 and up. 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. (727) 791-7400. atthecap.com.