Time Goes By So Slowly

The song that I am writing about today was originally written as part of a score for a 1955 movie starring the former football player Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch called Unchained, which was based on the book Prisoners are People, which was published by Kenyon Judson Scudder in 1952.  Both the book and the movie follow the story of a man serving time in a medium-security prison, and the song was written for the movie to reflect the mood of the prisoners as they wait for time to pass.  The movie features a scene, where an inmate perches on a bed in his prison dorm and sings a song, accompanied only by a mournful acoustic guitar for a group of his fellow prisoners, “Time goes by so slowly and time can do so much”.  He is deeply conflicted and must decide whether to behave himself behind bars and serve out his sentence or try to escape so he can see his wife, who he loves deeply and misses so very much.  The movie version of the song was performed by Todd Duncan, who also had a minor role in the movie.

‘Unchained Melody’ was written by composer Alex North and lyricist Hyman Zaret.  There is a man named William Stirrat who used the pen name Hy Zaret, that took credit for writing the lyrics to ‘Unchained Melody’ when he was only 16 years of age.  He said that he wrote it about the prettiest girl in his neighborhood and had it published in his local newspaper.  The lyrics were inspired by Stirrat’s young unrequited love with Mary Louise “Cookie” Pierce, but he has been considered to be an imposter.  North composed the score for the film and was then asked to write a theme song.  Alex North was an American composer best known for his many film scores, including A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.  He was the first composer to receive an Honorary Academy Award, but he never won a competitive Oscar despite fourteen nominations.  Zaret refused the producer’s request to work the word “unchained” into the lyrics, instead he expressed the feelings of a lover who hungered for the touch of his wife “a long, lonely time.”  Other songs that Zaret co-wrote were ‘My Sister and I’, a hit in 1941 for Jimmy Dorsey; ‘So Long, for a While’, the theme song for the radio and TV show Your Hit Parade; ‘Dedicated to You’ which was sung by the Mills Brothers and Ella Fitzgerald and the Andrews Sisters’ novelty song ‘One Meat Ball’.

With Todd Duncan singing the vocals on this song, it was nominated for an Oscar in 1955, but the Best Song award went to the hit song ‘Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing’, which had music by Sammy Fain and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.  Les Baxter, Al Hibbler, Jimmy Young, Liberace, Roy Hamilton, June Valli, Harry Belafonte, Perry Como and Eddy Arnold all took a crack at this song in 1955 and many of these made the charts, but then the song went into hibernation for 10 years.  When ‘Unchained Melody’ was recorded by The Righteous Brothers it reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 14 in the UK in 1965.

The Righteous Brothers came together from two different California-based doo-wop bands singing songs of the ‘50s in the early 1960s, when their respective groups the Paramours which Bill Medley was a part of, combined with Bobby Hatfield’s Variations.  In 1963 they decided to go it alone using the name The Paramours.  The duo was booked at a club in Irvine California that was frequented by some African-American servicemen who were quite taken with their soulful performance, and would call out, “that was righteous, brothers” at the end of their songs.  Thus the duo known as The Paramours soon became The Righteous Brothers.

While in Daly City in 1964 with one of his groups The Ronettes, music producer Phil Spector happened to catch a performance by The Righteous Brothers.  Spector immediately approached the guys about coming to work for him and learned they were already under contract with Moonglow.  Undeterred, he negotiated a deal with Moonglow that gave him the US, UK and Canadian rights to songs he produced with The Righteous Brothers for his own label, Philles Records.  When Phil Spector leased the Brothers recording contract from Moonglow Records for his own Philles label, he used studio musicians from the fabled Wrecking Crew in their recording sessions including Carol Kay (guitar and bass), Barney Kessel (guitar), Don Peake (guitar), Larry Knechtel (piano), Earl Palmer (drums), Lou Blackburn (horns), and arranger Jack Nitsche are among those who helped create Spector’s “wall of sound” on the Righteous Brothers singles he produced.

Bill Medley is the taller of the two, and he provided the bass-baritone, and blond-haired singer Bobby Hatfield was the tenor. The lead vocal for this song was performed solo by Bobby Hatfield.  ‘Unchained Melody’ was recorded more than 300 times, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which listed it in 1999 as one of the 25 most-performed musical works of the 20th century.  The Righteous Brothers were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2003.  Hatfield passed away in 2003 from a heart attack at the age of 63.

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
I’ll be coming home, wait for me

Oh, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered, for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

Written for 2/24/19 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “Harmony/Melody/Music”.

20 thoughts on “Time Goes By So Slowly

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