The Truth about Lip/Track Syncing in the ‘50s and ‘60s

Adapted from Random Reaction Super Show #4, originally released February 1, 2024.

Recently, my producer Kyle and I reacted to an old clip of The Righteous Brothers (more precisely, Bobby Hatfield) performing “Unchained Melody” on The Andy Williams Show.  While I had already seen the video, this was Kyle’s first viewing. In introducing the clip, I noted that, while there was a possibility that Hatfield was lip syncing, the vocal take was both different and better than the original studio version and was thus worth a listen regardless. 

As we watched the video, I observed the performance closely, coming to the conclusion that Hatfield was not lip syncing. I announced my conclusions in the commentary, and Kyle agreed. To my surprise, when we released the reaction video, a number of commenters claimed that Hatfield would never have performed to a pre-recorded track because lip syncing simply did not exist in the days of The Andy Williams Show

Since bossfan49, one of our biggest fans and supporters, replied to these assertions as well as I would have, I’ll quote his response from the comment section here:


“For tv shows, sometimes the bands would perform everything live. Sometimes the band would mime along to a recording and only the vocals were live. Sometimes everything was mimed- instruments and vocals.  It depended on the show, the artist, the producers, management etc…”


This, of course, is 100% correct, and I have nothing to add—except proof.


Here’s the late great Bobby Darin lip-syncing his heart out on The Dick Clark Beech-Nut Show in 1959:



Here’s a snippet from a 2021 Forbes interview, in which my favorite artist of all time, John Fogerty, discusses singing live vocals to a pre-recorded backing track while he and the rest of Creedence Clearwater Revival fake-played on The Ed Sullivan Show:


"[Forbes Contributor] Clash: Were you live or lip-syncing on the show?

Fogerty: The music was prerecorded, and I sang live. I knew if I let the show crew do it - they weren’t used to recording rock-and-roll musicians - it was hit and miss. It could be really good, or not so good. When The Beatles were on, you could hardly hear the instruments, there was so much screaming. A lot of times, I noticed that the music got lost. You couldn’t hear the drums, perhaps. So I went there with a prerecorded tape, and I sang live."


And, finally, here’s a paragraph from a 2004 New York Times article on lip syncing as a phenomenon:


“No one could quite figure out what sort of royalties singers deserved for a live TV performance, so in the early days they just faked it. Later, the practice continued out of sheer expediency. On ‘American Bandstand’ and most variety shows of the 1960's, vocals and instrumentals were all faked; Keith Moon, the drummer for the Who, famously registered his contempt for the custom by flubbing his part on the Smothers Brothers' show.”


Why, then, did so many commenters on our video insist that lip synching on television was a modern invention? Best guess:

The commenters watched the original first-airing broadcasts under the assumption that all performances were live, and, having never looked into the practice later in life, they’ve been operating under that impression ever since. 

As for the performance that started this conversation, no, Bobby Hatfield was not lip syncing. However, I stand by my initial comment that he could have been, because faking it on TV was a common practice of the time.

Cole Powell is an award-winning singer/songwriter and Z-list YouTuber. Armed with degrees in computer technology and liberal arts and sciences, Powell seeks to pontificate his pitiful opinions to the masses through any means the internet allows.

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