Summer 1955 brought a heatwave to many parts of the country, particularly Yorkshire, and the UK enjoyed a modern record of low unemployment (barely 1% of the workforce).
It was also the summer of Unchained Melody. Written for a little-known prison movie called Unchained, also released that year, the music came from Alex North, and lyrics were by Hy Zaret. The film centred on a prisoner deciding whether to go on the run or finish his sentence and live in peace with his family. Zaret only agreed to write the lyrics if he could leave out the film’s name, which might have helped with its longevity, ultimately. Todd Duncan sang the original vocals in the movie.
The song is now a standard, and one of the most covered in history, with well over a thousand recorded versions in various languages. In the summer of 1955 alone, four versions existed in the chart at one time – by Al Hibbler, Les Baxter, Liberace and future Radio 2 DJ, Sir Jimmy Young.
Leslie Ronald Young was born 21 September 1921 in Cinderford, Gloucestershire. He suffered greatly with illness as a child, nearly dying from bronchitis, double pneumonia and pleurisy. But he would later excel at sport, and turned down a place with Wigan’s rugby league team.
He worked as an electrician and physical training instructor for the RAF before becoming a singer in 1950. His cover of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Too Young was a big sheet music seller in 1951, and he signed with Decca Records a year later. But it was 1955 that proved his most successful year in music, with two number 1s to his name.
By all accounts Young was a radio legend and a thoroughly nice person to boot. However, his version of Unchained Melody is a strange mess. It makes Robson and Jerome sound like the Righteous Brothers.
Whilst I admit I’m not much of a personal fan of crooners and opera-style singers like Al Martino and David Whitfield, I can appreciate the slickness of the production of their hits and their ability to sing. Young’s Unchained Melody sounds amateurish by comparison, with strings and guitar backing that seems ill-matched and uneven, and poor Young is either putting no effort in or bellowing, as if the producer is prodding him every now and then to display some passion.
In spite of all this, record buyers loved it for some reason, and he enjoyed three weeks at the top. Unchained Melody would return to number one three more times, courtesy of The Righteous Brothers in 1990, Robson & Jerome in 1995 and Gareth Gates in 2002.
Written by: Alex North & Hy Zaret
Producer: Dick Rowe
Weeks at number 1: 3 (24 June-14 July)
The Clash guitarist Mick Jones – 26 June
Criminal Ruth Ellis – 13 July
30 June: Gloster Meteor jet fighter crashed on takeoff in Kent, killing all crew members and two fruit-pickers. Later that day, two Hawker Sea Hawk jets crash into the North Sea in two separate incidents, leaving one pilot dead.
13 July: Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be hanged in the UK before the death penalty was abolished. She had shot dead her lover, racing driver David Blakely on Easter Sunday (10 April).