Unchained Melody Tutorial
the 1-6-4-5 progression

Unchained Melody tutorial

"Unchained Melody" was written in  1955  with music by Alex North and lyrics by Hy Zaret.

North used the music as a theme for the little-known prison film Unchained, hence the name.  It has since become one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, by some estimates having spawned over 500 versions in hundreds of different languages.

Les Baxter  released an instrumental version which reached #1.

Then came song recordings by Al Hibbler reaching #3 on the Billboard charts; Jimmy Young which hit #1 in the United Kingdom; and Roy Hamilton , reaching #1 on the R&B Best Sellers list and #6 on the pop chart. Hundreds of other recordings followed.

However, it was the July 1965 version by The Righteous Brothers that became a jukebox standard for the late 20th century, achieving a second round of great popularity when it was featured in the 1990 blockbuster film Ghost.

In 1955, Alex North and lyricist Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song as a theme for the obscure prison film Unchained, and their song eventually became known as the "Unchained Melody".

The song does not actually include the word "unchained", and songwriter Zaret chose instead to focus his lyrics on someone who pines for a lover he has not seen in a "long, lonely time"

The 1955 film centers around a man who contemplates either escaping from prison to live life on the run, or completing his sentence and returning to his wife and family. One mans marriage is another mans prison sentence. please forgive my editorial attempt at humor...

One of the side effects of doing these popular song tutorials is that I get to learn all this interesting history on the songs I have been playing for years.

However the real reason I am sharing this is because of visitor requests for the song and because it is yet another example of the common chord progressions that make up much of popular music.

unchained melody tutorial - the chord progression

As you can see from the chord chart below the verse is a simple I-VI-IV-V (1-6-4-5) progression. 

This is a close relative of the 1-6-2-5 progression and indeed, in this case the F major chord could be substituted by a Dm7 chord as both will give you that sub dominant sound. A Dm7 chord is just an Fmaj triad with a D note added to the bass.

Two other things to note is the iii minor (E minor) chord in measure 20 and the Eb chord which is played twice during the bridge.

If you are looking for the function of the Eb chord, I would call it the b7 chord in the key of F as we have shifted briefly to that key for the bridge.

The song has an unusual harmonic device in that the bridge ends on the tonic chord, rather than the more usual dominant.

In this Unchained Melody tutorial I have included a video below to help you out so you can see the chords played. The video I will also discuss the feel of the song and give you a great exercise to help you learn this progression easily in all your favorite keys.

Hope you got something from the video and will take the time to leave me a comment, question  or suggestion for more songs or free lessons I can create to to help you along the way.

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After checking out dozens of home study courses that teach you to play by ear and focus on chord progressions I am convinced that the folks at Hear and Play have the best, most well rounded program available for just about all styles of music from Gospel to Jazz. Read my review or visit Hear and Play for more information.

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