The Righteous Brothers at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino is an unchained celebration of days gone by, a priceless wall of remembrance featuring the hits “Unchained Melody” and “Lovin’ Feeling”.
Don’t feel bad if it’s strange to hear Bill Medley, one half of the Righteous Brothers at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino, sing “Unchained Melody,” the duos’ most famous single.
You wouldn’t expect it. Medley, after all, is an original Righteous Brother, whose style of “blue-eyed soul” took America by storm when he teamed up with Bobby Hatfield in 1962 Los Angeles.
Their version of “Unchained Melody,” written by Alex North and Hy Zaret in 1955, is considered the definitive version. It topped Billboard charts in two separate years spanning decades – 1965, the year it was released; and 1990, when it re-entered the zeitgeist via that sexy pottery scene in the movie “Ghost.”
But the ballad sounds strange on Medley’s tongue because the baritone/bass vocalist didn’t sing at all on the classic track. That honor went to the other Righteous Brother, Bobby Hatfield. Hatfield and Medley had agreed to each have a solo track on the 1965 album “Just Once in my Life.” Both, understandably, wanted his solo piece to be “Unchained Melody.” Hatfield won the honor of singing the towering melody in a coin toss. Thank God he did – his contratenor performance absolutely soars.
Sadly, Hatfield is unavailable for the Harrah’s gig, having died of a cocaine overdose in 2003.
Kindly, elderly, and quick to say “God bless you” to his adoring, nostalgic fans in the tiny Harrah’s theater, Medley clearly never wanted to get his crack at “Unchained Melody” in such a tragic way. He turns the song into a moving tribute to Hatfield, augmented by touching slideshow footage of their long friendship. It imbues his off-range, jarringly different rendition a special poignancy.
The rest of the show is much more lively. Contratenor duties are taken over by Bucky Heard. Middle-aged Heard is so visibly younger than the geriatric Medley, you might as well call him the Righteous Baby Brother. He crushes the high notes made famous by Hatfield, though.
Medley, meanwhile, holds down the low end like a bass half his age. He can’t hit some of the power notes he did as a younger man, notably the climactic “Baby!” exclamations in “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Still, his commanding, instantly-recognizable lead vocal performance makes it clear that this is the Righteous Brothers, not half-a-tribute band.
This is even more impressive given that the Righteous Brothers’ sound is intimately linked to the production style of Phil Spector. (Serving 19-to-life for murder, Spector is also unavailable.) The immediacy of the performance, supported by a live eight-piece band, makes it clear how much of that lovin’ feeling came from the Brothers themselves, not just from the Spector “wall of sound.”
As the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee of the duo, Medley holds court for most of the show, charming like a beloved granddad. He showers the audience with gratitude for their continuing devotion, cracking wise about how “Lovin’ Feeling” unseated the Beatles for the most radio play of all time.
Most of the Brothers’ hits, including “Unchained,” “Lovin’ Feeling,” were written by other people. The exception is the Medley-penned “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” which Medley and Heard yuk up like dirty grandpas with slightly regressive racial attitudes. It’s a perfect opportunity to indulge your inner Jack Black from “High Fidelity” and disparage the Mitch Ryder version. How can it be B.S. to state a preference?
Verdict: With Bill Medley’s voice leaping to life from some of the most iconic tracks of all time, and Bucky Heard stepping ably into some unfillable shoes, The Righteous Brothers at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino is an unchained celebration of days gone by, a priceless wall of remembrance.