For the past twenty years, when asked who my music favorites were, my answer has been consistent: the Righteous Brothers or Bing Crosby, depending on my mood. Truth is, I couldn’t pick one over the other.
Bobby Hatfield, the tenor half of the Righteous Brothers, passed away in his hotel room in Kalamazoo, Michigan on November 5, 2003, the day he was scheduled to perform a show at Western Michigan University. Surfing the web just hours after the initial wire reports were posted, I came across that horrific, early-morning jolt. He was 63.
I have long been a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the Righteous Brothers and their music, and from the early 80s to the early 90s, I was a significant collector as well. My collection consists of an original tour poster from their 1974 reunion tour; tour books; rare import CDs; myriad mint albums, from their first to their last; and a good number of mint 45s, including many of their picture sleeves from the 1960s. And I am not ashamed to admit that sometime in the early 80s, I developed a teenage crush on Bobby, what with that blond-streaked hair, great tenor, and glowing and humorous stage poise.
The Righteous Brothers’ live shows provided some memorable times. At one show, my future husband, stepdaughter, and I sat at a front table. She was eight years old at the time — by far the youngest face in the crowd. Yet she was a huge fan and knew all of the old songs. While standing up on her Dad’s lap, she kept shouting, "play Little Latin Lupe Lu," and the boys obliged. Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley, the other Righteous brother, picked up on her presence, and they proceeded to bait us from the stage. They asked her to stand up, cracked jokes about their own ages and her youth, and in the end, they were so pleased to know that she was at the concert because she begged her father to take her there.
In fact, her journey to becoming a Righteous Brothers fan started via using Dad’s albums as ramps for her Hot Wheels cars, nevertheless, she certainly proceeded to get more sophisticated from that point on.
Another fond memory was meeting Bill Medley, the baritone Righteous Brother, at his Music City club in Fountain Valley, California, sometime around 1990. Oh was he ever handsome, I thought. And that deep, rich voice. After a short exchange with this blubbering, young fan, Mr. Medley proceeded to kiss my hand in the friendliest manner before we parted. My husband, standing nearby, and thinking of the Brady Bunch episode where Davy Jones kisses Marcia’s cheek and she gushes, "I’ll never wash my cheek again," said to me in facetious tones, mimicking Marcia Brady, "Oh, but will you ever wash your hand again?"
Three months after Hatfield’s passing, and after reading the various accounts of Hatfield’s career, I note that each newspaper commentary sounds exactly like the one before it. Looking at these, one would think that the Righteous Brother’s catalog doesn’t go beyond "You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Unchained Melody,” and “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration.” Alas, commercial radio in the United States is such that there is no airplay time for songs beyond these top hits.
Essentially, the Righteous Brothers were the birth of blue-eyed soul. They were at the forefront of airwaves integration with their rich, soulful, R&B-inspired voices. R&B outlets started playing their music, thinking they were black. A 1960s Billboard article titled “Blue-Eyed Artists Herald Musical Integration of Airways” says that "George Woods, an air personality with WDAS, Philadelphia, came up with the term Blue-Eyed Soul to cover these two white artists now receiving airplay on R&B stations. Once the barrier was down, R&B stations began spinning other white artists who could be said to have soul."
Like many artists of their time, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley were captured and inspired by black music, and especially the gospel sound. They got together in 1962, and made their most superb R&B music in the early years — 1963 through 1966 — when they were recording and releasing records for the Moonglow label, with Bill Medley acting as the producer. But it was the boys’ association with Phil Spector, beginning in 1964, that produced their biggest and most memorable hits, and with him as producer, they became a huge national act.
It is said that they were quite skeptical of the musical style they were producing under Spector, as his overproduction method was a radical departure from their unembellished and straight-up Moonglow recordings. Though the Righteous Brothers recordings with Spector were indeed somewhat cyclic, he made them into mainstream pop stars and allowed the rest of the world to discover these previously-unknown treasures. All the same, their pre-Spector, Moonglow recordings and post-Spector, Verve recordings remain as their finest work.
However, only four or five Righteous Brothers, Spector-era songs are common enough to receive mainstream radio airplay, and judgment of the brothers’ musical repertoire is too often based on that token output. Even their style of dress, consisting of orderly-looking, pleated white bucks, bowties, matching turtlenecks, and church-boy haircuts, downplayed the tremor that was about to occur when they let it rip with their harmonious and thundering vocals.
If truth be told, if you haven’t heard their songs like "My Babe," "Stranded in the Middle of Noplace," "Try to Find Another Man," "Little Latin Lupe Lu," "This Little Girl of Mine," "A Man Without a Dream," "On this Side of Goodbye," "Justine," "Go Ahead and Cry," "Fee-Fi-Fidily-I-Oh," "Hung on You," and the rest of their catalog of raw, unbridled rock ‘n’ roll, then you have not yet heard the complete excellence or the full breadth of the Righteous Brothers. The religious and gospel roots of the brothers is evident with magnificent songs such as "He" and "In that Great Gettin’ Up Mornin’."
Bobby Hatfield’s solos within the duo’s recordings are breathtaking, and faultless to boot. Solo efforts such as “Ebb Tide,” “Unchained Melody,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” and “For Your Love” are just a few examples of what this man was capable of. His voice is so rich, so light, so practiced, and so uniquely Bobby Hatfield, that it almost seems surreal. He was certainly the most gifted tenor of his era, and in my opinion, the most dazzling rock ‘n’ roll tenor to ever lay down a vocal track.
I am going to miss Bobby Hatfield’s voice. I am going to miss the boys’ annual stops in Detroit, and indeed, I have not missed a single, local show since the 20th Anniversary reunion tour in 1982. Contrary to the Righteous Brothers song “A Man Without a Dream,” Bobby Hatfield was very much a man with a dream. And he made it all come true.
Rest in peace, dear Bobby. You really are in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven.
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a libertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. And thanks to growing up in a house full of much-older brothers who saw rock u2018n’ roll as their ultimate liberator, she’s an avid music collector of before-her-time music, especially of 50s and 60s Hit Parade, pop, rock, R&B, instrumental, surf, psychedelic, soul, country, and bluegrass. Her greatest music passion is collecting Billboard Top 100 singles from 1955—1969, especially the more obscure, lower-order, charted singles. Joel Whitburn’s books are her music bibles. She often reflects on how it can be even remotely possible that Gene Pitney’s "Every Breath I Take" never charted higher than #42 (in 1961). See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles, and check out her website, along with her blog.