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North used the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained (1955), hence the song title. Todd Duncan sang the vocals for the film soundtrack. The song was nominated for an Oscar in 1955.It has since become a standard and one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, most notably by the Righteous Brothers. According to the song's publishing administrator, over 1,500 recordings of "Unchained Melody" have been made by more than 670 artists, in multiple languages.
In 1955, three versions of the song (by Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, and Roy Hamilton) charted in the Billboard Top 10 in the United States, and four versions (by Al Hibbler, Les Baxter, Jimmy Young, and Liberace) appeared in the Top 20 in the United Kingdom simultaneously, an unbeaten record for any song. Of the hundreds of recordings made, it was the July 1965 version by the Righteous Brothers, performed as a solo by Bobby Hatfield, that became a jukebox standard for the late 20th century. Hatfield made a change to the song during the recording sessions. Hatfield initially recorded a couple of takes of the song as it was written, but returned later for another session, changing the melody for the "I need your love" line in the final verse, and sang it much higher instead. The Righteous Brothers' cover of "Unchained Melody" is now widely considered the definitive version of the song. This version achieved a second round of great popularity when it was featured in the film Ghost (1990). In 2004, it finished at number 27 on AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs survey of top tunes in American cinema.