Widely regarded, and for good reason, as one of the greatest songs of the last century, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is probably mad genius producer Phil Spector’s finest work.
Spector had begun his career as co-founder of the Teddy Bears, and was responsible for their 1958 US number 1 To Know Him Is to Love Him. They split the following year and he moved into production, becoming the apprentice of Lieber and Stoller. He co-wrote Ben E King’s Spanish Harlem with Lieber and produced the original version of Twist and Shout by the Top Notes. In 1961 he formed a record label with Lester Sill. Acts including the Crystals and Darlene Love began having hits on the new Philes Records, and in 1963 he used them all, along with the hitmaking session group known as the Wrecking Crew, to produce the classic Christmas album A Christmas Gift for You from Philes Records. The LP hit record shops on 22 November, the day President Kennedy was assasinated.
The hits kept coming, and Spector was on top of his game. In 1964 he was conducting the band for a show featuring one of his best acts, the Ronettes. Also on the bill were the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Hatfield and Bill Medley. Previously, Hatfield had been in a group called the Variations, while Medley sang in the Paramours. Barry Rillera was in both groups and suggested that the duo would work well together. Hatfield and Medley formed a new version of the Paramours and signed to the small label Moonglow Records in 1962. However the following year the group split, but Hatfield and Medley decided to continue as a duo. They would perform for Marines at the El Toro base, where black Marines began calling them ‘righteous brothers’. And so, the name stuck. As they searched for fame they wound up supporting both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on their US tours.
Spector worked out a deal with Moonglow and took the duo under his wing. He commissioned Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Mann had previously been a performer, co-writing Who Put the Bomp with Gerry Goffin and recording it. Mann and lyricist Weil fell in love, married and began a career together as brilliant songwriters. Hits included We Gotta Get Out of This Place by the Animals. Mann came up with a new melody and the opening line was inspired by reversing a lyric he had used in I Love How You Love Me, namely: ‘I love how you close your eyes when you kiss me’. The duo came up with the majority of a song, including the placeholder line ‘You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin’ Spector came up with some elements, including ‘Now it’s gone, gone, gone, whoa, whoa, whoa’, which Weil disliked. But she and Mann were pleased with an idea for the bridge he came up with, which was a piano riff similar to Hang On Sloopy.
The trio took the song to the Righteous Brothers, who thought it had potential – but not for them, for the Everly Brothers. Spector, Mann and Weil slowed the song right down so it could fit with Medley’s deep baritone, and the duo started to think they might have something they could work with, but they were used to equal status on records, and Hatfield was unhappy at waiting until the chorus to join in. When he asked Spector what he was supposed to do in the meantime, the producer said ‘You can go directly to the bank!’
The Righteous Brothers weren’t needed for a few weeks until the instruments were all recorded. As usual, Spector used his trademark technique of building up layer upon layer of music, with the Wrecking Crew as his band. Eventually the perfectionist Spector was pleased with the epic, delibarately blurry sound he had created. Medley and Hatfield were brought in and spent 39 takes in two days recording the vocal. The Blossoms, which featured Darlene Love, provided backing vocals, and also involved at the song’s climax was Cher, who had helped out on the Ronettes’ Be My Baby.
You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ is truly majestic and few songs capture the heartbreak and sense of loss in a failing relationship better. It starts so slow and quietly, to the point that many (including Mann) believed they were playing it at the wrong speed to begin with, so deep is Medley’s baritone. The opening line is just genius. And thanks to Spector’s knack of timing, the build-up is done perfectly. By the end, Medley and Hatfield are raging to return to the love lives they knew, but to no avail. It’s gone, gone, gone. Grand, lush arrangments in sad songs were nothing new to the charts – the UK charts were full of them until the advent of rock’n’roll, but none had the Spector sound. He might have been a paranoid control freak (and eventually, a murdering psychopath), but like Joe Meek, he was one clever bastard too.
With the recording over, the Righteous Brothers wondered if they’d made the right choice. This style of song was hardly in fashion at the height of the British Invasion, after all, and at three minutes and forty seconds length, it was also longer than most tracks. Spector refused to cut it back, but he was sneaky and requested the vinyl label would say ‘3.05’ to trick DJs into playing it. Despite his cockiness, the producer began to have serious doubts himself. His publisher Don Kirshner thought it should have been called Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’, for instance. He devloped a spastic colon and didn’t sleep for a week.
All the work and stress paid off, and then some. By and large, critics loved it from the get-go, and understandably wondered if we’d reached the pinnacle of pop. Released in the UK in January, it took four weeks to climb to the top. In that time, Cilla Black, then at the top of her game, rush-released a verison of her own, and the two versions were nearly neck-and-neck at one point. The difference in the two versions was gaping. Black’s was not only clearly a cheap knock-off, but her chorus was bloody horrible and offensive to the ears. Fair play to the Rolling Stones producer, Andrew Loog Oldham, who was so disgusted he decided to take out a full-page advert in Melody Maker, extolling the beauty of the original. It was in fact Oldham that first coined the term ‘Wall of Sound’ to sum-up the Spector sound. The public saw sense, and for the first time, Spector had a UK number 1. He later said this song was his greatest achievment at Philes Records.
Its legend has only grown over the years. It regularly appears in the lists of greatest songs of all time, and in 2015 the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress chose it as one of the 25 songs that has ‘cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy’. But it was in the UK that the ultimate tribute took place, when in 1996 the comedy actor Paul Shane performed You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ on the BBC1 daytime show Pebble Mill. Ever since, ‘BABEH BABEH!’ has become the ultimate expression of the beauty of music.
Written by: Phil Spector, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil
Producer: Phil Spector
Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 February)
Director Martha Fiennes – 5 February