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Soundtracking: Ghost

by Chris Feil

A convergence of the romantic, the spooky, and the outright earnest happened in the early 90s with Ghost, most notably immortalized through song through the ripe feeling of The Righteous Brothers’ version of “Unchained Melody”. It was the kind of megasmash that only this era could have produced, and the kind of instantly classic movie moment that distills the era. But for the past thirty years, the sight of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in clay-mate-tion has been burned into our minds and our cultural loins in ways few musical scenes can equally measure.

We all know the scene: in the middle of the night, Swayze’s Sam Wheat stumbles to his beloved potteress, Moore’s Molly. As The Righteous Brothers begins on their fully functioning jukebox (by today’s standards, they’d be hipsters if not for Sam’s Wall Street job), Sam wraps himself around her as they try and fail to make some kind of very phallic vase. The song swells and they’re off to making passionate whoopy before even washing their clumpy hands. It’s all terribly, terribly sexy and it inspired a generation of lovers to take pottery classes and multiple generations of mocking, loving tributes.

Ghost is a straightfaced love story despite its outlandishness, and “Unchained Melody” is appropriately huge in its feeling. It’s an uncanny song for this romance, unabashedly earnest but with an otherworldly, gloomy quality. Bobby Hatfield’s vocal seems to come from beyond, the faint echo in the sound mix having a ghostly sound of grave sexual consequence. It’s a song that can and does manage a lot of the heavy lifting to project an earth-shattering kind of love, the kind you’d refuse to leave behind in the afterlife.

The song’s use in Ghost is iconic enough to also usurp its legacy to another film entirely, if understandably so. “Unchained Melody” originated as an original, Oscar nominated song for (wait for it) a prison B-movie called Unchained. After it become something of a standard repeated by many artists, The Righteous Brothers contributed their version a decade after its creation. Even though it was originally a B-side for the duo, it would still ultimately become the definitive version well before Sam and Molly got horny for pottery.

And yet the legacy of the song is inextricable from the genre-bending film - to hear it is to immediately envision the entwined, gloopy fingers of Swayze and Moore, a glimpse of that very image immediately flickers the opening coo into your brain. The kind of lighting bolt of culture that inspired immediately copycats and parodies - you can imagine the endless memes it would have created today. Instead, we had (and still have) the song set to riffs on its singular sexuality, or jabs about ghost boyfriends and the like. Singers on reality singing competitions can’t take a swing at the song without their celebrity judges making a punchline about clay.

But even beyond the jokes, there is still something indelible about the convergence of peak Patrick Swayze clad only in jeans, Demi’s bowl cut and sleeveless linen, and The Righteous Brothers conjoining them in profound musical ache and desire.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (14)

The 1990 Best Actress nominees-I’d almost want to replace Demi Moore in Meryl Streep’s or Julia Roberts’ spot. That a summer time flick could sustain so much support by Oscar time (and win 2 awards) showed that it had credibility. Moore has to believe (and convince us) if loss, anger, bargaining and a complete hope in this ‘con artist?’ Oda Mae. She so wanted to see Sam once again beyond her suspicions that her performance completely worked and stays with us! A Bravo performance.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Maurice Jarre's score for this is sublime - and I say should've won the Oscar.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

I don't love this movie, but there's no denying the chemistry between the 3 leads and Unchained Melody is the perfect song for that moment.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

I remember how mind-blowing it was when I found out that Unchained Melody was already nominated for an Oscar 35 years before Ghost came on the scene, and it's still somewhat jarring to hear how different it sounded in Unchained.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

When stars were stars and movies were movies not all branded.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

At least you've got the title right this time!

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterScott S.

I agree with TOM Ghost is the definitive grieving wife performance,you totally felt Molly's loss and there was minimal histrionics,Swayze and Moore also had killer chemsitry,for the movie to work both those actors had to work in those roles,it's not the deepest of performances and on the surface hasn't much to it but you believe the history but Moore invests it with so much feeling.

None of the Whoopi scenes would have worked without the passion in the central duo

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Such sweeping romance yet found in the every day. I remember weeping buckets while seeing this with my cousin. The romantic ache of it all. Swoon!

OTOH, it's one of the most overplayed songs of all time, and I can live without it for a few more years.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

This movie is a great entertainment, hours pass like minutes and it's edited like a puzzle with all the pieces in the right places. A simple idea with the right ingredients. Funny to think that Whoopi Goldberg, one of my favorites, owes two of her biggest hits to Bette Midler, one favorite of mine too. Bette said no to Ghost and Sister Act.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMelchiades

another wonderful piece, Chris. It's so interesting how some moments in hit films become such cultural touchstones that you can feel you know them even if you haven't seen the film or if you only saw the film once a million years before. and other hit movies vanish entirely, leaving no cultural mark.

October 9, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I've always liked Demi Moore. She was perfect in that Charlie's Angels movie!

If he doesn't actually retire, Tarantino should hook her up. Daryl Hannah is no more talented than Demi and he got a gar-gantuanly great performance out of her.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJF

I’ve seen ghost over 100 times and the performances are sublime. It was the hit of 1990

October 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Still my mom's favorite movie all because of THAT SCENE!

October 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSanty C.

Hear, hear, re: Jarre's score. I made my boyfriend and roommate, both around 30, (re)watch Ghost with me last weekend, and it still holds up—miraculously! (Honestly, there are so, so many ways it could've—should've?—gone horribly, horribly off the rails, but it remains iconic due largely to the central trio, swooning music and heartbreaking moments.)

October 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

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