Soul Serenade: The Righteous Brothers, “Just Once In My Life”
On August 30, 1964, I saw the Beatles at Atlantic City Convention Hall. They played for about 20 minutes, and I barely heard a thing above the screaming of the throng. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The opening acts that night were the Bill Black Combo, Bill had played bass with Elvis Presley in his early trio; the Exciters, who had a big hit with “Tell Him”; and a duo from L.A. called the Righteous Brothers who were still not exactly a household name at that point.
Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield had been recording for a year, and had moderate success with their single “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” but real success was still on the horizon. It would get closer when the duo appeared on the pilot of the new music tv show Shindig! two weeks later, and the following year the duo would have one of the biggest years that any act has ever had.
Although they had a number of hits, there is little doubt in my mind that the high water mark for the Righteous Brothers was a trio of singles they released in 1965 and 1966. The run began with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” a Phil Spector-produced monster hit that would go on to become the most played record in radio history according to BMI. According to estimates, the song has been played on the radio eight million times.
But it’s the middle record of the three that has always been my favorite Righteous Brothers record. “Just Once In My Life” found Medley and Hatfield back in the studio with Spector. The song was written by Spector along with Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and released on Spector’s Phillies Records. Although it was a hit, peaking at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100, it didn’t begin to approach the success of their previous record. Very few records ever do.
Since it was a Phil Spector record, we know that the backing musicians were card-carrying members of the Wrecking Crew, the indomitable group of musicians who played on nearly every hit created in L.A. in the ’60s including those produced by Spector and Brian Wilson. Eleven years later, Wilson’s Beach Boys cut “Just Once In My Life” for their 15 Big Ones album. Perhaps inspired by the Righteous Brothers original, the Beach Boys version is notable for a stunning lead vocal by Carl Wilson.
It’s no secret that Phil Spector is not an easy guy to get along with. Tales of his eccentricities, and worse, have circulated for years. So it’s no surprise that the Righteous Brothers couldn’t get along with him, despite the success the team had. He sold their contract to Verve/MGM Records in 1965, and the next year the duo released the final record in their stunning trilogy.
“(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” might have sounded like a Phil Spector record, but it wasn’t. In fact it was produced by Bill Medley, who was obviously paying attention when he was in the studio with Spector. The song was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and just to insure the Spector connection, Medley used Spector’s arranger Jack Nitzsche. The resulting record was the second #1 hit for the Righteous Brothers.
Of course there were other hits for the Righteous Brothers. In 1965 alone, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” “Just Once In My Life,” “Unchained Melody,” and “Ebb Tide,” all produced by Spector, hit the charts in a big way. However after “Soul and Inspiration,” things began to dry up until “Rock and Roll Heaven” returned Medley and Hatfield to the Top Ten in 1974. Not including reissues, it was their last major hit.