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