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190408 April 8, 2019


The Secret Inside Unchained
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

You've Seen Riots
You've Seen Inhuman Guards
You've Seen Convicts Slugged in Their Cells by Other Convicts
But You've Never Seen What You Will See In Unchained

    I was listening to the radio the other day and I heard something that I had never heard before. It solved a mystery I did not even know I had. The DJ was talking about a movie which was released when I was nine years old and one I had never seen or even heard anything about, but one which has a significant place in my memories. Before you scroll down to read the rest of the story, stop for a minute and see if you can guess what is the secret in this movie.

    Unchained is a 1955 prison film directed by Hall Bartlett and starring Elroy Hirsch, Barbara Hale, Chester Morris, Todd Duncan, Jerry Paris (later of The Dick Van Dyke Show) and Johnny Johnston. It is based on the non-fiction book Prisoners are People by Kenyon J. Scudder.

    Here is the plot of the film. Steve Davitt is in a medium security prison and is struggling with two options: finishing his sentence, or seeing his wife and family by escaping the prison. After receiving what he believes to be an unjust recommendation from the Adult Authority Board, he attempts his escape but is surprised by a trustee-inmate whom he has befriended. A fist-fight ensues. Steve Davitt wins the fight, heads for the fence to escape. After he starts climbing the fence, he hesitates twice, looks back and sees his trustee-friend on the ground and decides against going over the barbed wire fence after all. The scene ends with Steve Davitt turning around and heading back to the medium security prison.

     The secret lies in the title of the movie.

    Sometime in the film, Todd Duncan, staring as one of the convicts, is laying in his bunk and another convict starts playing the guitar. At that moment Todd begins to sing a song which became a classic when it was re-released during the reign of the Class of 1965. Personally, I thought this song was released much earlier, like in the Thirties. Have you ever heard of Todd Duncan? I would guess not, but I am sure you have heard many versions of the song he introduced in the movie and one which was even nominated for an Academy Award in 1956 but was beat out by Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing.

    In 1954, Alex North was contracted to compose the score for the prison film Unchained (released in 1955). North composed and recorded the score, and then was asked to write a song based upon the movie's theme. North asked Hy Zaret to write the lyrics, but Zaret initially declined, saying he was too busy painting his house. North was able to convince him to take the job, and together they wrote "Unchained Melody." Zaret refused the producer's request to include the word "unchained" in his lyrics. The song eventually became known as the "Unchained Melody" even though the song does not actually include the word "unchained". Instead, Zaret chose to focus on someone who pines for a lover he has not seen in a "long, lonely time."

    Yes, the movie was Unchained and the song got its name from the movie; hence, Unchained Melody became the title of the prison song we have all grown to love. The best-known version of Unchained Melody was recorded by the duo The Righteous Brothers for Philles Records in 1965. The lead vocal was performed solo by Bobby Hatfield, who later recorded other versions of the song credited solely to him. According to his singing partner Bill Medley, they had agreed to do one solo piece each per album. Both wanted to do Unchained Melody for their fourth album, but Hatfield won the coin toss. Of the hundreds of recordings made, the Righteous Brothers' version in July 1965, with a solo by Bobby Hatfield, became the jukebox standard for the late 20th century. Hatfield changed the melody and many subsequent covers of the song are based on his version. 

    I did not know it was originally a "throwaway" song. It was originally released as the 'B' side of the single "Hung On You" as the follow-up single to "Just Once in My Life". However, "Hung On You" failed to interest radio DJs who instead chose to play the 'B' side "Unchained Melody". According to Medley, producer Phil Spector, who would deliberately place a throwaway song that wasn't meant to be played on the 'B' side, was incensed that the DJs chose to play the 'B' side and started calling radio stations to get them to stop playing "Unchained Melody". However, he failed, and the song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 14 in the UK in 1965.

YouTube Video

    I spent the better part of a day researching and collecting data, pictures and videos to write this article. I am counting on some of you having your own personal memories of a moment in your life when this song was heard, maybe a wedding or another important time when it played a part in your future. Maybe it brings back some memories of parking at one of the Monte Sano lookouts.  If nothing else, how many tears did you cry when it was featured in another movie titled Ghost? By the way, the song was also included in the Best Soundtrack Academy Awards nomination for Ghost in 1990. Please, let me know what you think of this revelation of the song from Unchained.

Memphis, TN - My condolences to you Auburn alumni on the basketball loss to Virginia. I admit I did have Virginia on my bracket, it was a tough way to lose such an important game, but I think we all have to admit Auburn did a lot better this year than expected.

    I had fun with this week's edition of the Traveller and hope to get some kind of feedback from my few loyal followers who I can rely on. 

South Parkway, Huntsville, AL
Thursday,  April 25, 2019
11:00 AM

       Attention to all fellow classmates from the classes of ’64, ‘65 and ’66.

    Due to a recent lease disagreement between Galen’s and their landlord, Galen’s unfortunately has had to vacate their current location on Andrew Jackson Way. They will hopefully find a new place in that same area very soon. However, our group will need to meet at another location, at least for this time.

    Everything else is still the same as far as date and time. Hope to see you all there!
Patsy Hughes Oldroyd ‘65
H (256) 232-7583
C (256) 431-3396

Judy Fedrowisch Kincaid
C (256) 656-3667
Please let us hear from you by phone, text, email or on Facebook. Thanks!

Galen's Restaurant Closes
(From their Facebook Site)

Dear friends, 

    It is with sadness that we must announce the closing of the Five Points location. Most of you know that opening for dinner has always been a goal of ours. Unfortunately, a new lease agreement could not be reached where we could do so. 

    The community has been so welcoming and it was a pleasure to serve you all! We have made new friends and connected with old friends. Celebrated with team victories, births, and reunions. Shared in the pain of those who are in poor health and those who have passed. Because we have genuine love for you all, you have become family. 

    The closing of this chapter is not one we intended, but was chosen for us. Please remember that you will be thought of often and missed terribly. Thank you for giving US the HONOR of serving you. 

All the best,