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The Time of My Life

By Bill Medley with Mike Marino

Da Capo Press

228 pages, $26.99

By Dan Herbeck

NEWS BOOK REVIEWER

Eleven words, sung in the deepest, most mournful voice this side of Ray Charles, kicked off one of the most successful songs in the history of recorded music.

“You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips,” sang Bill Mediey.

That was the killer opening line to “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” the huge 1965 hit by Medley and Bobby Hatfield, better known as the Righteous Brothers.

“His voice personified the soul of a man wounded by love,” another great musical interpreter, Billy Joel, said of Medley’s work on the song. “It still hits me in the gut every time I hear it.”

Joel isn’t the only person who was knocked out by “Lovin’ Feeling.” The song produced by studio madman Phil Spector made the Righteous Brothers one of the biggest acts in America. Nearly 50 years after its release, the song was recently ranked by Rolling Stone magazine at No. 34 on the list of the greatest 500 songs ever. And the recording organization known as Broadcast Music Inc. lists it as THE most played song of the entire 20th century.

The song was a big part of what has been one hell of a ride for Medley, a talented singer, songwriter and producer who is still out there performing at age 73 – 11 years after Hatfield’s death.

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Medley, mind you. As a kid growing up in Orange County, Calif., he was treated like dirt by his father because his birth was an unwanted “surprise.” In 1976, Medley’s first wife, Karen, was sexually assaulted and murdered, in an unsolved crime that haunts the singer to this day.

At one point in his career, Medley literally lost his voice, and it wasn’t easy to get it back. His four-decade, on-and-off partnership with the mercurial Hatfield was not always a picnic, either. Hatfield drank too much, hated the responsibilities of stardom, had temper tantrums and died of a cocaine overdose in a Kalamazoo, Mich., hotel shortly before he and Medley were scheduled to hit the stage.

Medley tells about it all – the good times and bad – in a fast-moving, at times very emotional memoir that pulls back the curtain to offer some interesting insights into the world of recorded music.

“When I think about it, it’s really mind-blowing that I had hit records in four different decades,” writes the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. “I’m not sure that will ever happen again, and not because someone isn’t good enough. I think it’s harder to have a long career now than it’s ever been. The world is changing so quickly now that the public forgets you almost before they get to know you.”

He’s right, too. Can you possibly imagine someone like Justin Bieber still having hit songs 40 years from now? Or even 10 years from now?

Medley, a tall, lanky guy blessed with one of the most soulful voices ever to emerge from a white man, keeps the story moving along with interesting tales about his encounters with all kinds of celebrities.

He starred on the old “Shindig” TV show, and at various times, toured with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Jack Benny. He hung out in Las Vegas with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, and even had some encounters there with the very private Johnny Carson. He’s had close friendships with Brian Wilson, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell and other stars. He worked closely with the very strange Spector, now doing time for murdering an actress. Medley also had romances with some very beautiful and – in their day – very famous women.

Through it all, Medley comes off as a humble guy who genuinely appreciates his audiences and the good things that have come his way.

“Passion, it’s what separates a singer from the entertainer,” he writes. “I hope I have passion for my music, my family and my friends until they start shoveling dirt on my face … Every time I go on stage, it’s like a first date.”

Dan Herbeck is a veteran News reporter and observer of American popular music.