Tag Archives: barry mann and cynthia weil

157) The Righteous Brothers – “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration”

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil began work on “(You’re My) Soul and Inspiration” for The Righteous Brothers as a follow-up to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” but soon abandoned it for being too derivative of the previous hit. (Phil Spector enlisted Gerry Goffin and Carole King to write the equally beholden “Just Once in My Life” instead.) Once Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield cut ties with Spector and jumped to another label, though, a near-facsimile of their greatest hit seemed like the ideal way to kick off the next phase of their career: a reminder of their finest moment and proof they could do it themselves. Mann and Weil dutifully completed the song for the duo, even as they sensed they were writing their own knockoff. In Fred Bronson’s The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Weil praises Medley’s production on the record but remains less enthusiastic about the song itself: “It will always be ‘Lovin’ Feelin” sideways to me.”

While “Soul and Inspiration” is better than Weil gives it credit for, her assessment isn’t too far off. “Soul and Inspiration” feels as though it had been assembled from the Ikea instructions for “Lovin’ Feelin'”; the end product more or less resembles the original model, but the connections between the pieces don’t fit together quite right. Both songs open on Medley’s bass-baritone croon plumbing the depths of his despair over a lost love. From there, “Lovin’ Feelin'” builds gradually as subtle behavioral changes pile up, one by one, until the weight of the evidence forces a painful but undeniable conclusion. There’s no such process of discovery in “Soul and Inspiration” – the narrator knows before the song even begins that she’s leaving him. As a result, the Brothers are basically treading water, begging her not to leave, until the mandatory explosion of a chorus, in which they beg louder.* The rest of the song sticks to the “Lovin’ Feelin’” template: a hushed moment of pleading (here, a spoken-word monologue by Hatfield); a re-escalation in which Medley cries in anguish for her return; and one final chorus where the Brothers are reunited and no stop is left unpulled. “Soul and Inspiration” compresses this trajectory into under three minutes – a full minute shorter than “Lovin’ Feelin’,” but without the valleys and gentle slopes that gave the previous hit its impact. Instead, the Brothers rely on an extended wordless coda to round it out to an acceptably epic running time.

Even if “Soul and Inspiration” misses some of its predecessor’s subtlety, though, its foundation is so solid that it mostly winds up working anyway.  Medley doesn’t just imitate Spector’s production style; he understands how such intense feeling needs a Wall of Sound to shore it up. Not only do Medley and Hatfield have voices distinctive and powerful enough to compete with string crescendos and cymbal crashes, but there’s a sincerity to their delivery that keeps the song just this side of over-the-top. It’s easy to believe that the Brothers could have carried on making hits in this vein for years, especially as Spector, their greatest competition, would retreat from the recording studio just a few months later. Instead, the record ended up as their final Top 10 hit of the decade, and the duo split in 1968. By the time of their reunion and comeback hit, 1974’s “Rock and Roll Heaven,” their fondness for looking back on past glories had ossified into permanent nostalgia, the gracefulness and dramatic swell of their classic period replaced by generic AM Gold sheen. 7

* “Soul and Inspiration” can’t even get that quite right. The great melody leap in the chorus, which should be the peak of emotional intensity, instead lands awkwardly on the word “my,” chopping it into two syllables (“mah-hah”).

Hit #1 on April 9, 1966; total of 3 weeks at #1
157 of 1016 #1’s reviewed; 15.45% through the Hot 100

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Filed under 07, 1966

127) The Righteous Brothers – “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'”

Phil Spector may have built his name defining the girl group sound, but his biggest hit was for a blue-eyed soul duo, sung by a man whose slo-mo baritone belied the fact that he was himself barely out of his teens. “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” may have only stayed at #1 a modest two weeks, but it has since become the most-played song in the history of radio. It also became the last #1 Phil Spector would have in the 1960s. But given the sheer spectacle of Spector’s production – the most elaborate of his recordings to date – it’s not a bad way to go out. Even the song’s first line (“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips”) echoes and reverses the opening of one of Spector’s earliest productions, The Paris Sisters’ “I Love How You Love Me” (“I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me”), as if drawing opening and closing parentheses around his first hit-making era. The record certainly sounds like Spector in everything-must-go mindset, chucking in every spare instrument and vocalist, every climactic build and release, as if wanting to use them all up before they could be taken from him.

Which, in a sense, they were. The British Invasion didn’t just kick-off a rock and roll revivial, of course; it also started the trend of self-contained bands writing their own material and playing their own instruments. Unlike the teenage girls comprising the bulk of the Philles Records stable, these young men were less willing to let their strings be pulled, even by a master puppeteer. Spector’s sessions with The Righteous Brothers were an omen of pushbacks to come. The duo had already netted a few hits on their own, most notably the self-penned “Little Latin Lupe Lu,” so they were already accustomed to a certain degree of autonomy. Spector’s decision to jettison tenor Bobby Hatfield from the bulk of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” in favor of Bill Medley’s mostly solo lead was standard operating procedure – think of the Crystals records where no actual Crystal appears, or the absence of the male half of Ike & Tina Turner on “River Deep – Mountain High” – but The Righteous Brothers bristled at the producer’s insistence of complete control. (As consolation, Hatfield did sing solo on both “Unchained Melody” and “Ebb Tide,” their other two Top 5 hits helmed by Spector.)

Luckily, Medley and Hatfield acquiesced, allowing Spector to scale to the top of the Wall of Sound and create a record that made his previous sonic baroqueries sound like campfire strum-alongs in comparison. Rather than building “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” toward one great explosion in the third act, every chorus – every verse, even – boils over, upping the stakes for each subsequent segment, till at last it threatens to snap beneath the weight of all that drama. That it holds tight is proof of Spector’s artistry. Despite its continual snowballing, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” never feels overblown; despite a kitchen-sink arrangement, it never feels excessive. While Spector himself would soon retreat from the studio and wait out the rest of the ’60s as a near-recluse, his uncanny knack for balancing pomp with pop would be the template imitated by his contemporaries and beyond, to the point that, when he did return to producing at the end of the decade, it was only natural that it was for the ultimate self-contained British Invasion rock band. 9

Hit #1 on February 6, 1965; total of 2 weeks at #1
127 of 1002 #1’s reviewed; 12.67% through the Hot 100 

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Filed under 09, 1965