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"Unchained Melody" --
The Future Of Disney
And Cultural Appropriation
In A Global Economy

May 17th 2024

I was recently at a wedding (*working as a waiter) when to my surprise a halfway decent wedding singer belted out a pretty solid rendition of the 1955 Classic, "Unchained Melody." I had heard the song before... I think we all have... and recently some of my co-workers and I had been enjoying the music app Pandora's, "1950's playlist," so the tune instantly caught my attention, as I'd recently been attempting to enhance my musical taste with classics from that era. Regardless, the tune instantly caught my ears and the wedding singer, a black man, did a terrific job of capturing the spirit of the song despite missing horribly on just about every other song throughout the night.

But there I was... at Los Angeles Country Club... working at a fairly high-end wedding, somewhat impressed by this wedding singer who nailed a song after a long night of abysmal performances which drew a lot of, "side eye," and, "funny looks," from the crowd.

Then after a few toasts and a long night of cleaning up... the wedding was over and I went back to my living quarters for the night eager to hear the original version of the song, which I was told was titled, "Unchained Melody." And, it was, but to my surprise I discovered online that, "Unchained Melody," was most famously recorded in 1965 by a white duet called, "The Righteous Brothers," who have a hilariously stern appearence on the cover of the original album. And instantly I thought, "a white guy sang this?" Or did they steal it? Because the song sounds like a very soulful, "black song," or something more befitting to a soul or R&B duet, and the song was recorded during a notoriuosly racist period of US history, where perhaps black men didn't have the advantage of the recording technology but did a black man originally perform the song, unbeknownst to history? And recording music myself, I can attest that even today it's difficult to record professionally due to different speaker types and audio compression settings.

But I had no idea, in fact, I still don't know... but instantly I took to the internet to research the tune. So it turns out that, "Unchained Melody," perhaps one of the most iconic songs in US history... was originally recorded in 1955 (*10 years before, "The Righteous Brothers") by Alex North, a famous composer best known for his work on the film, "A Street Car Named Desire," and then 10 years later, in 1965, "The Righteous Brothers," who the song is most known for, recorded the song again... which is the version that is most commonly played for audiences today and it's a truly enchanting song and I give it high marks regardless of the politics behind the tune.

"Unchained Melody," Unchained...

Nevertheless, the song was originally written by a man named Hy Zaret for the movie, Unchained, in 1955, hence it's title and it appears that the final version of the song was of some debate even then, as 3 versions of the original song were recorded in 1955 (2 of which were performed by black artists named Al Hibbler and Roy Hamilton) and then the final version of the song was recorded by, "The Righteous Brothers," 10 years later in 1965, further lending creedence to the possibility of foul play, appropriation or perhaps even artistic thievery. However, let me also point out that the song also sounds a lot like, "All I Want For Christmas," which was recorded in 1994 by Mariah Carey... and that might further compliment the lore behind the song, as Mariah is of mixed race origin and clearly something happened back in 1955, as is evident just by, "The Righteous Brothers," stern expression's on the 1965 album cover.

But this is a classic case of NOT JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS, also. Was the song originally sung or written by a black artist? Perhaps who was denied the privilege of recording the tune in the racist 1950's era or earlier? Is the song, "a black song," as many black artists have covered the song elegantly in years since? And what is the story behind, "The Righteous Brothers," ultimately claiming the tune in 1965, 10 years after it's original creation? Well, sadly, a lot of information and misinformation regarding the specifics of the song are lost to history but 3 versions of the song originally were recorded in 1955... 2 of which were recorded by black men and all of which didn't make the final cut in 1965. So it seems that this topic of RE-RECORDING CLASSIC SONGS and ultimately appropriating the song to any 1 single artist was something of a snafu even back then, as it still is today, in some circles of the recording industry. Whereby even today, "originality in music," especially in pop and mainstream music, is coveted by artists and to this day artists like; Tupac, Pharrell, Jay Z, Kanye West, Diddy, and others constantly rip songs from other artists and past era's and call them their own.

Nevertheless, I have to know... did Alex North, Hy Zaret and, "The Righteous Brothers," steal this song? Because as an artist myself (BilliamsWorld.com) I feel very strongly about this topic. Drake has done this to me... and beyond just that, is this another one of those moments in US history where politics won out over music? In this example race politics of the 1950's? Or did, "The Righteous Brothers," TRULY DESERVE to lay claim to the track? And it sounds like a soulful, African American song... but is it? And is the stern expression on the album cover a testament to the politics surrounding, "The Righteous Brothers," ultimately laying claim to the music?

Furthermore, as much as it seems that the song very likely was STOLEN from a black artist during this time, IE BETTY BOOP actually being a black women named Esther Jones, a super hot model from the 1915 era... who was mixed race... and got 0 credit for the character... we can just as easily assume that "The Righteous Brothers," really just nailed the song, fair and square? And ultimately claimed the best rendition of the music?

And we may never know.

But in either event; Tupac, Drake, Pharrell and Diddy... alone, have more than made up for it culturally speaking by ripping dozens of white artists (myself included **BilliamsWorld.com**, Ye and Drake have taken multiple things from my mixtapes and put it on their mainstream records) in recent decades and beyond and to be 100% objective, why should African Americans have recording technology that STILL hasn't been invented in Africa today, back in 1955? To keep it 100% real. Whereby, we could take it 2 steps further and ask, "why aren't Africans inventing this recording technology themselves, even today?" And when they do, do they help white artists record? Almost never.

But What If...

Regardless, if the tune was originally written by say... LUIS ARMSTRONG or someone like that, however, fans do deserve to know. So I researched further. And again, it's a situation where the music industry is one of the most, "cloak and dagger/shady," enterprises in the US, particularly pop music and surely Mariah Carey knew that she was being childish when she wrote, "All I Want For Christmas," to the exact same cadence 30 years later. And now, as a rapper myself, I NEED TO KNOW and the CIA surely knows the answer to this question, as I assume several people inside of the music industry are surely aware of this answer. Whereby, now this debate gives the song increased relevance, regardless of it's true origin which then adds to the luster of the song today and hence leaves it a mystery for people like me. But... apparently Alex North and Hy Zaret claimed to have written the song almost 20 years previously in 1936, further lending creedence to the possibility that some of the song was indeed taken from the more soulful, black artists, of that time.

So, yet again, this happens, Tupac stole songs from underground artists in the 1990's, Kanye has stolen dozens of songs, Pharrel and Puff steal songs all of the time. In fact, COPYWRITING LYRICS, I find to be ridiculous in itself, similarly to copywriting music notes. Does anyone own the piano sound? Are we COPYWRITING single sentences? Are we going to allocate specific chords to individual artists? The whole thing is a can of worms legally and probably always will be.

Nevertheless, did, "The Righteous Brothers," steal the song? Is that why they named themselves, "The Righteous Brothers?" And there's a clear motive... as perhaps being a POP STAR was originally for, "whites only," possibly debating the technology of recording entirely, which now is almost entirely done in the African American sphere of influence, the opposite of the 1950's.

The 1950's Was Different

And there are massive perks to being a musician and the power of music is almost infinite even today, further lending creedence to the possibility that the song was in fact, "stolen," to some extent. So there's a clear motive in not giving a black artist credit for the song... and since the song is so good... it's hard not to dissect the reasoning and motivations behind the original recording. And it's ironic that I'm writing this article as Drake took the hook for his, "On A Tuesday," song from one of MY OWN underground mixtapes (BilliamsWorld.com) as did Kanye West on his 2013 album. So I don't particularly see it as this terrible crime like some people might, as I've seen this go both ways in the music industry, with whites and blacks and personally, I don't think that music should be, "copywrited," like technology patents and things of that nature. And I've worked a minimum wage job while Drake sang my words on the radio, giving me a unique perspective on this legal debate.

Where if someone records a stronger version of a song then in my opinion... the fans benefit most by the competition of it. Does it suck to have your lyrics stolen? Juice World stole some of mine and made a bunch of money off of them while I was dirt poor, so I can pretty fairly say, I don't see it as a regular PATENT situation. And ya it sucked when I was working a dead end job and he was on the radio... saying things that I had said on my underground mixtapes but at the same time, he made a better album than I did. So in terms of the art of music, there's some give and take there. *Not to mention that the modern, "record deal signing bonus," is upwards of 3,000,000$ US dollars, meaning that these days you're expected to contribute in the underground before cashing that check. Furthermore, when I do get established in my career, we'll settle up later. I don't so much worry when Kanye takes something from me, I should say, because he's powerful as f*** not just in music but all around the world and I suspect that one day he'll repay the favor.

Does It Matter?

Nevertheless, that's my personal opinion of the practice of STEALING SONGS and you still see it today. For example, Eminem today thinks that it's unfair that I rap like him, (BilliamsWorld.com) but at the same time... what is every white artist copying Eminem? Again, it's a case by case situation, in my opinion. But back to, "UNCHAINED MELODY," where the very title hints to the strong possibility of some foul play and wrongdoing, let alone the era of the song and who the song was inevitably attributed to, 10 years after it's original creation. And like most things the true story behind this song is probably even more CLOAK AND DAGGER than we all know and it wouldn't be the first time in the music industry that someone got buried in a hole, over such a dispute. In fact, after not really finding much online to sway me either way, everything that I've researched today is simply speculation and now I'm just going to assume that it was stolen and that similarly to Jimmy Hoffa, we may never know who originally wrote and sang the song. Furthermore, "stealing songs," is never as cut and dry as other sorts of theft. FASHION THEFT is much more subtle and it's really a core issue of property rights, in that, who owns music at all?

And that's kind of f***ed up... but as someone who has experienced this himself, hearnig Drake literally sing my lyrics on the radio, as I worked a minimum wage job in 2014... I kind of think that whoever sings it best, deserves the credit, as to benefit the fans who simply want the BEST version of the song! And personally, I don't want COPYWRITE law to become the driving force in the music industry, where then suddenly every artist is mad because you're using the instrumental from Eminem's, "Till I Collapse," which you'll never hear another hip hop beat sound like again because then in the 1990's Dre and them turned this exact debate into a GANG ISSUE leading to Jay Z's takeover of the US music industry. And have you ever heard that sound from, "Till I Collapse," on another song, since Jay took over the music industry? And that has nothing to do with attorney's.

And recently, or in the last 10 years, I discovered this myself, competing with Eminem in the underground. Where I had no idea that these guys were such d-bags about originality and like Mariah Carey ripping the cadence to, "UNCHAINED MELODY," in her song, "All I Want For Christmas," it's pretty much police'd internally now, within the music industry. Which is also why I look at it today like, "nobody owns the piano," and I PERSONALLY think that copywriting chords is taking the legality of music too far and hurting the music industry in many ways, to this day. But, any true artist or any real stand up human-being would typically give the original artist credit or at least some acknowledgement... and when do lames make it in pop music? Whereby, being, "cool," and not being an A-hole over s*** like this is half of the job. And this is why nobody thinks that Drake is cool despite the Obama Administration standing behind him in music, just like Sinatra before him. But in essence d-baggery only hurts the artist attempting to screw another artist over, in my opinion. And it hurt Sinatra, who also won't be remembered by history for this same reason. And as a musician, I know that Tupac stole songs from underground artists in the 1990's as well and and the streets talk. The streets don't forget.

It Was Probably Stolen

But yea, long story long, I'm 99% sure that, "The Righteous Brothers," stole that song but unfortunately, we may never know however, this debate only adds to the relevance of the song! Further making it an all time classic and it's alluded to by the name of the artist and the title of the song for this very reason! And regardless, it's still one Hell of a song and as is so often the case in music... who really cares? And if anything the mystery and cloak and dagger nostalgia of the song only improves its mystique, from my perspective.

Furthermore, there will be a better song one day even if it is a historical work of art... but in music especially, it's one of those mediums that is hard to OWN like other work product or other things of that nature. And in my opinion it's funny because I've actually had a similar experience happen to me personally (BilliamsWorld.com), multiple times, to a lesser extent, which not many people can say. So I feel a certain CREDIBILITY in speaking on this topic from an ethical perspective, as well.

Nevertheless, this topic then evolves into a much more serious topic of, "CULTURAL APPROPRIATION," and then how do we allocate art to different cultures moving forward? And no black man invented the microphone in 1955... so to give an African American the PRIVILEGE of recording the song wouldve in essence been unfair to the scientists who INVENTED the recording technology at that time, which still hasn't been invented in Africa to this day. Which would be another way to view this or look at this from an even more objective point of view. Whereby, then do we credit the inventor of the microphone, also?

Furthermore, no great artist ever sat around worrying about royalty fee's, I'll tell you that and this is one of many reasons that I'm going to inevitably be better than both Kanye and Eminem one day.

Anyway... despite a flood of money pouring into lawyer's pockets from Taylor Swift's camp... I tend to look at it strictly from a fans perspective and I even think that music downloads should be free. Yet, however you might feel about this topic, this runs contrary to other industries where greed typically prevails in legal disputes due to, "the golden rule," or, "whoever has the gold, makes the rules."

Originality In Film And Disney

But let's take this topic further and examine Disney in recent years in another medium, film. Today, Disney is making, "weak sequels," to classics like, "THE LION KING," and, "The Little Mermaid," seemingly entrenched in a cultural and legal debate regarding the film studios 70 year monopoly and lack of originality, themselves. For example... half of, "Pinnochio," is stolen from Dickens, "Moby Dick." Likewise, half of, "Star Wars," is stolen from Shakespeare's, "Macbeth" and half of, "The Lion King," is stolen from African lore. Yet, today Disney is kind of backtracking on some of those decisions due to backlash, particularly in terms of their BILLION DOLLAR ENTERPRISE which revolved around stealing hundreds of stories... dating back to when they began in the early 1920's up through today. But is Disney a, "bad company?" I don't know because that's a problem that you WANT TO HAVE --and most entrepeneurs would be lucky to have such a problem. Yet, with that being said I would be cooler about it if I were in their shoes or if I were... Bob Iger their CEO, however, today you're seeing Disney backtracking on some of those profits, spreading the wealth more, hiring more black actors and marketing their movies to a broader, global audience, surely in an attempt to mend those wounds... and financial disparities, which lawyers should not even have to enforce, in my opinion.

AND IN THE GRASS ROOTS... it's really up to the fans to police it in my opinion. So if it really bothers you then boycott, "THE LION KING,"... if it really upsets you. Or you can be appreciative that a company took the time to create such a masterpiece, it's up to you.

However, moving forward... I do kind of think that more film studios should be established abroad, as to avoid this issue altogether. Hollywood should loosen it's grip on the film industry and cities like London, Paris, Moscow, Bollywood and Hong Kong need to take the reigns a little more in the film industry... but as we speak, Marvel is arguing over this very topic by arguing that that would lead to too much overlap in films. Which I kind of dislike, because they've kind of monopolized film and limited the jobs created by the art to a few select studios; Fox, LionsGates, Warner Brothers. Where personally, like how America keeps casting Robert Pattinson and Hugh Jackman and other foriegn actors, my issue is that you could cast more people... if it wasn't such a monopoly and why is the US always casting foreigners now? When foreigners should be making their own movies in their countries, creating MORE JOBS in film and music. But the sad truth is that a lot of old actors and studios don't want the COMPETITION! Despite Travolta owning a small fleet of private jets from his GREASE profits in 1975. And it's frustrating to me, as an aspiring actor because Tom Hanks made 50000 zillion dollars in 1992, but now we just don't cast anyone from America anymore because him and Travolta are mega rich? And it's pretty gross actually, for example when John Travolta is a stuck up POS about it, also, in my opinion. Then some kid like me whoops his old ass in front of his girl, which Ye and I are talking about right now. And Eminem and I can agree on that.

But to conclude... I think the answer is to divide the music and film industry abroad... but that's up to the artists. And there's so few great artists today, that the fans may never understand that opinion, to some extent.

But to conclude I'd like to echo the words of MARCUS AURELIUS almost 2 millenia ago... "What is wickedness? Wickedness is nothing that we haven't seen before in every village and every town."

-William Larsen, Founder, Civilians News