On July 3, 2007 the Tin Pan Alley lyricist who penned the words to “Unchained Melody,” one of the most frequently recorded songs of the 20th century, died at age 99 (just a month shy of his 100th birthday). Written in 1955 for a low-budget prison film titled “Unchained,” it brought Zaret and Alex North, the composer, an Academy Award nomination for best song.
The song was recorded by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Lena Horne, U2, Guy Lombardo, Vito & the Salutations, Joni Mitchell and (my personal favorite) the Righteous Brothers. In all, the song has been recorded more than 300 times, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ASCAP listed it in 1999 as one of the 25 most-performed musical works of the 20th century.
Hy Zaret’s works ranged from jingles to songs about science to ballads of love and war. Mr. Zaret liked to recall the time the composer Alex North called him to say he had written a song for a movie and needed words. Mr. Zaret replied that he was busy painting his house, but found the time to write the lyrics for “Unchained Melody.” Zaret refused the producer’s request to work the word “unchained” into the lyrics, instead writing to express the feelings of a lover who has “hungered for your touch a long, lonely time.”
This is one of those songs that always made me stop and get lost in a moment. The lyrics accompanied by the haunting quality of the music still gives me goosebumps to this day. NPR did a wonderful piece on the death of Mr. Zaret stringing together pieces of all the different recordings of the song. The version done by the Righteous Brothers stuck out for me, but perhaps you were first touched by a different version. Either way, I am grateful to Mr. Zaret for creating such an indelible piece of music. May he rest in peace.
AP News Wire: Entertainment
New York Times: Arts