The Righteous Brothers: Mysti-Bliss at 2:55

12 Jan

Reportedly, Phil Spector, his hand-picked marksmen, and the two Righteous Brothers hammered through “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” from August to November 1964, and you know who was alive then? Not me.

I tried to coax some context from my parents, lowly adolescents at the time, albeit to no avail. They were woefully unaware in their microcosmic dioramas that Heartbreak History was going down in Los Angeles as summer tripped toward fall, which then slid into blizzards of promenades where they and other agog-orbed everybodies heard this song for the very first time, the paint still fresh and sweet. (I cursed their luck as I begrudgingly twirled partners to the pizza-box whimper of Bon Jovi, whose “I’ll Be There for You” nevertheless crowds my senses with the nectar of Doublemint gum, Aqua Net, and post-clutch expectations.)

My first “Lovin’” rush came through the pocket-comb prism of Hall & Oates, soaped down and hollowed out, a Xerox of a Xerox of pale-faced blue-eyed soul. A few years later it tumbled into the mitts of Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards, et al; their “Top Gun” barroom mayhem inspired scores of off-key parrots shit-deep in cheap beer and Cupid-drunk on cheaper love. Does no one respect the classics?

O’ to’ve been a stealth intruder during Spector’s grandiose construction. To have witnessed the impatient Bobby Hatfield, the Brothers’ honey-toned half, demanding to know what he was supposed to do while partner Bill Medley sopped up all the tape, only to have Spector, that bargain-carpeted pipsqueak custom-fitted over a tyrant scumbag, allegedly riposte, “You can go straight to the fuckin’ bank.”

Phil was sure an asshole, but he was an asshole with ears. His techniques and omniscience were once beyond reproach. After all, the dude had been moving units with alarming ease since he was a 19-year-old nobody leading his Teddy Bears to No. 1 (“To Know Him Is to Love Him,” 1958).

And he was right about “Lovin’” too: Hatfield is strictly support for the first two minutes — a chorus-bolster — then his tenor breaks free at exactly the right moment, when his Brother can no longer carry the burden alone. “Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you,” Medley sighs, weary, lonesome, defeated. Into the breach steps Hatfield with the save: “If you would only love me / like you used to do,” pleaded with every last-ditch pine a pain can articulate. Spector’s Wall of Sound surge falls back to a light pulse and lets the duo do its thing.

The song plays well to both men’s strengths: Bill could testify, Bobby could beg. Who the hell with a heartbeat could resist such a combo of honest regret? When the two then rise in a back-and-forth call/response —“baby” to “baby,” “please” to “please,” trading “I need your loves” and “bring it on backs” — it’s just not fair.

But that’s not even the best part, oh, no. Spector & Co. reserve the goosebump payload for the 2-minute, 55-minute mark, after the voices have spent themselves and left an open gasp for a downpour of strings and a crash of drums, an airborne soul touching terra firma following a hopeful glance that became a yes that became a freeze-frame kiss. The same DNA comprised “Be My Baby,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” and any number of play-’em-agains bearing crescendos that carried crushes through many a suburban daydream. It was a Spector specialty, that heavy, narcotic pain, creating a lovelorn beauty unachievable in life, the musical embodiment of teenaged yearning. If only she could see me. If only she ever knew. If only I could ever express myself, she’d see that it was true.

The Righteous Brothers at 2:55 is that moment: a cocktail of heartache and hope. Bring back that lovin’ feelin’. It still hurts even now, despite the fact that I know it’s coming, as I’ve known since the song and I first became acquainted, back when I pretended sentiment was beneath me. I saw every girl then. I’ve seen every girl since. That tiny sonic hiccup and they’re all fucking there, a cruel parade of vanished futures. And then they’re gone, gone, gone. Dust, glimpses, ghosts.

Songs like this don’t grow old. They age with you, their import intact. You can hear them ’til they’re empty — examine their structures, plumb their mysteries, dismiss their formulas — but when you set them loose, they find you. They hit you where you’ve always lived.

As heard on The Essential Phil Spector (2011)

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