Weeks at number one: 3 (24th June – 15th July 1955) / Length: 2m40s / Label: Decca

Notable for…I’m pretty sure this song has the record for being number one’d by the most different acts…I think that The Righteous Brothers, Robson & Jerome and Gareth Gates have made a top-hit of it…should have looked it up really…but its like a test

MELODY & HARMONY ~ 7 : We all know this song as a classic I-iii-IV-V progression, which is used by about a hundred million billion songs, but most specially this one. *waits three minutes* … wasn’t that amazing. Anyway, the exciting thing here is that actually the chords are something more like I6 – IVmaj7 – V….I don’t know exactly, but more jazzy anyway. The fact that it has “melody” in the title might make you think that there was something about the melody, but in I think it’s more to do with there being nothing in the lyrics interesting enough to warrant being the title. And the “unchained” bit is kind of confusing too: it’s chained. (is it annoying when I do that? I mean, when I link to songs without telling you what they are? Because maybe they’re a song you already know…or maybe you’re playing the video for the song which this post is meant to be ABOUT, and the unexpected new video creates a horrible dissonance in your beautiful, velvety ears? I’m sorry. I’ll be better.) The actual reason it’s called “Unchained” is made explainable by this:

In case it isn't clear, this is the poster for the film "Unchained", which this song is the theme for. What it has to do with "convicts slugged in their cells by other convicts" is not known to me. As you see, the story is "ripped from the searing pages of Reader's Digest", something not on enough film posters these days

WORDS ~ 3 : Abstract nouns and personal pronouns galore. Only Morrissey can do that and make it be not boring. And he can only do it sometimes. And he can only do it because when he does chuck in a concrete noun, it’s a fantastic one, like ‘patio’, or ‘headmaster’. Not ‘river’, which is about the dullest noun this side of ‘sea’…..which is also here. But, knowing the prison context does allow a bit of backstory to creep in

VOICE ~ 6 : Reassuringly straightforward, relaxed without cockiness, and just generally wonderfully likeable. I’m quite impressed.

STRUCTURE ~ 4 : From the more famous renditions, the obvious difference is that it’s in a different time signature (!4/4 rather than 6/8!) and it’s much faster. Also, a less famous bit is the middle eight, which is really terrible.

PRODUCTION & ARRANGEMENT ~ 7 : Actually the best bit in the song is something I don’t think is in the modern versions: the ghostly “unchain me, unchain me” backing vox, which only happen once as the song sticks it up a semi-tone…..which I think might be the first trucker’s gear change so far?!?!?! It’s the first one I’ve noticed, anyway, and that is ATC (All That Counts).

COOLNESS/STYLE ~ 4 : Oh, this is that Jimmy Young! The one who DJed on radio 2 for one thousand years. He was quite young, aged 24, at this time, but according to a website: “Jimmy Young’s relaxed vocal delivery had a lot of appeal to housewives during an era in which record buying was beginning to become dominated by teenagers.” Obviously that’s a shame, but I feel like maybe that isn’t true of this portion of his career. I need to find a book on record buying demographics (because I mainly need it for my dissertation)

ORIGINALITY/NEWNESS ~ 4 : Not the actual original recording from the film soundtrack, which was by an American dude called Todd Baxter, which isn’t especially good. Better is this quite beautiful, largely instrumental version, from the song’s composer. But I think that Young’s rendition, whilst not spectacular, could fairly mount a claim to being at least the best version of the 1950s.

CATCHYNESS ~ 6 : I don’t know how, because the melody has das wanderlust (that’s German for a love of hiking, I think), and the lyrics are practically an invitation to amnesia, but something about this song is just indescribably sticky. And beautiful.

CONNECTION/EMOTIONAL HOLD ~ 2 : He’s in the prison, right? He’s not out yet? With this assumption made, I think the 6/8 version works so much better, because it feels infinitely slower, and although I’ve not yet spent time in the slammer, I’ve heard that tempus doesn’t exactly fugit in there

MORALITY/INTENT ~ 4 : Another English theft of an American hit, and more band-wagon jumping, but unlike Eddie Calvert, they do at least make it possible to distinguish between the recordings, and there’s a cozy charm here that it’s difficult to dislike

OVERALL ~ 47/100

Spotify here, lyrics here, or buy it: CD or mp3 (customers who bought “Unchained Melody” by Jimmy Young also bought “The Climb” by Joe McElderry)


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