When Bobby Hatfield died in 2003, I felt some regret that I hadn’t had an opportunity to enjoy his angelic voice in person. And then real life happened and I continued on, only occasionally thinking about the Righteous Brothers and the music I enjoyed during my tween/teen years.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and I somehow became involved with a nostalgic online discussion about the Righteous Brothers and the era of “Blue-Eyed Soul.” Blue-eyed soul is, in a nutshell, R & B/Motown-sounding music performed by white singers. Some of the greats, in my humble opinion, include such artists as Bobby Caldwell, Roy Head, Average White Band, ELVIS!, and of course, the Righteous Brothers.
Many young people had never heard the term, but kind of understand it once they listen to the music. I just compare Eminem to other rappers. I’m not a fan of rap music, largely because I like the sound of musical instruments, melody, talented voices, lyrics, harmony, and minimal profanity. I prefer actual songs as opposed to people with no musical talent yelling (supposed “singing”) into microphones about their latest, um, *lay* or whatever.
But I digress.
At the South Point
My aunt has been crazy about Bill Medley from the beginning. Despite being a woman who was raised in the Jim Crow South, she would not have kicked his shoes from underneath her bed, if you get my drift. She and every black woman I know fell immediately in love with Bill’s sexy baritone voice. Plus, he was tall, lanky, and oozed male sexy.
Although it was my birthday, I decided to drag Joycie along because she would enjoy it. And she did!
The show was satisfying and triggered a deluge of memories and fun.
Bill is not the young stud he used to be, but he does older stud quite well if I do say so myself. Instead of the short dark hairstyle he had in the 60s, his hair is a shaggy ice gray and still looks very touchable. One thing we did not expect was his sense of humor and ability to quip (seemingly) ad-lib.
Bucky Heard is the “new” Righteous Brother. He apparently classically trained – he sang an excerpt from Nessun Dorma! He doesn’t have Bobby’s almost countertenor voice, but his range pairs well with Bill’s husky baritone. To be honest, he’s not Pavarotti, but then, NO ONE ELSE is Pavarotti! May he RIP.
And, yes, your girl really likes opera and other classical music. I got beat up a lot in Philly as a child, but that’s another saga.
Earlier I mentioned how much I like actual music. The Righteous Brothers’ musical backup does not disappoint. There are two saxophones – a baritone and a tenor – a trumpet and trombone, drums (KILLER drums!), guitars, a keyboard, and an occasional harmonica showcase talent at its finest. The lead guitarist, who has an uncanny resemblance to Bruce Willis, makes his guitar speak. in addition, several of the band members, including said lead guitarist, have stunning voices. The backup singers include a guy who sings with an Earth, Wind, and Fire tribute band, Bill Medley’s daughter McKenna, and a former member of the Shirelles. OF COURSE Bill introduced everyone by name, but really. Who takes notes at a concert?
The EW&F dude, by the way, would make an extraordinary stand-in for a tenor if Bucky, for instance, fell ill. The only problem is that he’s skinny, black, and wears dreadlocks. So while he may be off-brand for the look, his voice is spot on.
So What Wine Pairs with Righteous?
This was more difficult than I thought because of the long musical career of the Brothers. In the beginning, Bobby and Bill’s voices rang with youth and purity. Now Bobby is gone, and Bucky and Bill bring a different, mature dynamic.
Bobby’s voice, especially when singing Unchained Melody, had an amazing purity, especially when hitting the higher notes. His performance was the reason why this song has been one of the best-selling for the Brothers.
This song (in my opinion) would be a stellar pairing with a White Bordeaux. His voice pairs wonderfully with the Sauvignon Blanc with its high notes, and the Semillon’s honeyed character reflects Bobby’s lower ranges.
Bucky’s voice makes me think of pairing it with an unoaked Chardonnay, ideally from one of the coastal regions of California. Sonoma Coast and the Central Coast from Santa Barbara to Monterey are some of the best when looking for such a Chard. The unoaked Chardonnay I have in mind is not only unoaked, thereby preserving the purity of the higher notes, but is mellowed by spending time on its lees, mellowing the acidity and warm, round characters to the wine.
And Then There’s Bill
In his youth, Bill’s baritone was deep, rich, and vibrant. When I listen to his early work, I immediately think of a young Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, with its nuanced flavors of dark fruits, spice, and strength, wrapping up with a long finish and grippy, attention-seeking tannins. The baritone would grab you *right here* (the here is up to you), and not let go. Joycie would make a comment about “right here,” but I want to keep this at least PG 13.
Now Bill is in his 80s and still on the road, singing the classics. Naturally, his voice is no longer the vibrant Cabernet but more like a classic Grand Cru Burgundy. I thought of that immediately when he sang Unchained Melody, which was Bobby’s signature performance. The emotion was clear, and even his deeper voice showcased the varying medleys (no pun intended) in his performance. From the rich notes to the emotional, whispered ending, Bill was pure Grand Cru.
A Grand Cru Burgundy is, in my opinion, one of the most legendary and finest of wines. The most expensive wine ever sold was a 1945 Romanée-Conti, a legendary Burgundy hailing from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. This bottle sold for over $558,000 at a prominent auction in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2018. That type of legendary status is Bill.
Some may say the Brothers are just music and wine is just a beverage. But we know that’s not exactly the truth once you look past the surface. The classic voices and the nuanced character of great wines are intertwined on a higher level.
While many groups have come and gone, maybe leaving behind a hit or two, the groups from the special era that the Righteous Brothers represent are few. Some are still performing for enthusiastic audiences even if the groups’ numbers have been diminished by time. Like many people of our generation, I wish the Righteous Brothers a continued successful career.