It’s the love song of my life — the anthem of of romance since 1955 — and is featured prominently as the soundtrack to every peak of love I’ve ever had. So it’s only fitting that this beautiful, fantasy-laden power ballad would be the lead song for my wedding.
The first time I heard the “Unchained Melody,” was while watching the movie Ghost with my dad and sister back in the early 90s. I’m fairly sure I’d heard it before then, either on the radio or on one my dad’s hundreds of LPs by way of an old record player or an even older Victrola.
(I’ll admit it, as a girl I simply adored Patrick Swayze, whether in Ghost or Dirty Dancing, the man was an absolute 1980s heartthrob).
The track picked up again later in the 90s, during a dinner my dad and I were invited to, in honor of my uncle, who was a local police officer. There was a small dance area and a dee jay and this song rolled out of the speakers, swelling the small room with romance and legacy — more on that below — in a way I don’t remember feeling before.
The “Unchained Melody” was written in 1955 by a couple men who needed a track for a prison film being produced at the time. The melody had been crafted especially for the movies, but the lyrics are the words of a lover pining for his beloved from behind bars. Perhaps because of when it was penned, I associate it with the 1950s, when the world was a lot freer and romance was true and deliberate, not just an afterthought after doing the deed.
My parents grew up in the 50s and 60s in Niagara Falls, NY. I think of them when I watch Grease, or mobster flicks or sit down at one of two specific homegrown Italian restaurants in our downtown. The fantasy that I created in my heart grew into an idealistic, make-believe dreamworld — one that didn’t exist. But in my mind, with the radio on and the windows down, driving down Main Street was like flying on the wings of that, unchained romance.
The song came back around in 1997, when I danced with someone I met at my junior prom. The dee jay pumped the first few notes into the candlelit night and I grabbed the closest person I could find. It didn’t hurt that I found him irresistible, and could sense he felt the same way about me. I tossed my arms around his neck and he set his hands on my hips, he stared at me while I pretended not to notice — and I feel madly in love for the first time.
After that, sometimes I’d just play the “Unchained Melody” just to conjure up memories of that night — when romance was deep, rich, wild and just a hairs breadth away from being real. And today, I still associate the song with my first unhinged dive into love.