|Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil|
How songwriting spouses Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann joined with Phil Spector and the Righteous Brothers to create one of the most-played songs in history, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."
Forty-eight years ago this summer, songwriting spouses Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann wrote "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" with Phil Spector. Today, the song is No. 1 on BMI's list of most-played songs on radio and TV since the royalty-collection agency's founding in 1939. (Ascap, the other major royalty organization, doesn't track such data.)
In the years since the Righteous Brothers' "Wall of Sound" hit, dozens of artists have covered the slow-burn ballad about lost love and the near-tears wish for its return. (click below to read more)
Veterans of pop-rock's golden age, Ms. Weil, 71, and Mr. Mann, 73, have won two Grammys and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. Last week, they and surviving Righteous Brother Bill Medley, 71, talked about the song's evolution and how Mr. Spector (currently serving a sentence in California for second-degree murder) summoned them to Los Angeles in 1964 to write a song for the Righteous Brothers, whom he had just signed. Edited from interviews.
Barry Mann: We flew out from New York and checked into the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood—the only hotel that let you roll a rented piano into your room. Up at Phil's house, he played us records by the Righteous Brothers. They were white but sounded remarkably like Sam and Dave.
Cynthia Weil: We all planned to write together the next day. But back at the hotel, Barry and I started a draft. We loved the yearning of the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Loving." Barry came up with our opening line: "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips."
Mr. Mann: My heart had been broken a few times, so it wasn't a stretch. I also might have been influenced by "I love how your eyes close, whenever you kiss me"—the opening line to "I Love How You Love Me," a song I had co-written in 1961.
Ms. Weil: About an hour later, Barry and I had two verses—the story part—and the chorus.
Mr. Mann: But we were stuck for a bridge and an ending. We called Phil and played him what we had. He said he had tears in his eyes when he heard Cynthia's line, "Something beautiful's dying."
Ms. Weil: At Phil's the next day, he added the "whoa-whoa-whoa's." As a lyricist, I cringed. They sounded like filler.
Mr. Mann: For the bridge, Phil experimented on the piano with a "Hang On Sloopy" riff. It was brilliant. I built a melody on the riff while Cynthia shouted out lyrics: "Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you" and so on. When we met the Righteous Brothers a few days later, we were nervous they might not like it.
Ms. Weil:Bill and Bobby [Hatfield] stood at the piano while Barry played and sang the melody and Phil sang harmony. At the end, there was dead silence. Bill said, "Sounds good—for the Everly Brothers." At first he didn't hear the soul. So Phil asked them to try it.
Mr. Mann: But Phil wanted Bill to sing the verses alone, with Bobby joining on the chorus.
Ms. Weil: They had always sung together, and Bobby wasn't happy. He said to Phil, "What am I supposed to do while the big guy is singing?" Phil snapped, "You can go to the bank."
Bill Medley: Bobby and I went into the studio a few weeks later to record the vocals. Phil had already recorded and overdubbed all of the instrumental tracks. When I put on the headphones, the music sounded as big as Montana, with a touch of New York. Phil had me sing the opening verse over and over until he had his take. Then we'd move on to the next part and repeat the process. This went on for two days—four hours each day. My emotion on there was real. Two years earlier, my wife at the time of the recording—Karen—was my girlfriend and had broken up with me for about six months. I really ate it. That's the ache you hear.
Mr. Mann:Several weeks after we returned to New York, Phil called to play us the finished record. I yelled over the phone to get Phil's attention: "Phil, you've got it on the wrong speed." The song we had written had been about three ticks faster and a tone and a half higher. Phil came on and said, "Barry, that's the record."
Ms. Weil:At first, we were surprised the song was a hit. It ran 3:45—which was an eternity on the radio back then. But Phil loved it. What he did was change the time on the label to 3:05, so deejays would think it was shorter.
Mr. Mann: One night in early '65, our phone rang at 3 a.m.
Ms. Weil: It was Brian Wilson calling from L.A. He said, "Your song is the greatest record ever. I was ready to quit the music business, but this has inspired me to write again. I want to write with you guys." Half asleep, all I could say was, "Now?"