Killing Me Softly with His Song

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"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Single by Roberta Flack
from the album Killing Me Softly
B-side"Just Like a Woman"
ReleasedJanuary 21, 1973
Format7" single
RecordedNovember 17, 1972
GenreSoul
Length4:46
LabelAtlantic
Writer(s)Charles Fox
Norman Gimbel
ProducerJoel Dorn
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Where Is the Love"
(1972)
"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
(1973)
"Jesse"
(1973)
 
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"Killing Me Softly with His Song" is a song composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. It was a number-one hit in 1973 for Roberta Flack. The song has been remade by numerous artists.

Disputed origins[edit]

Norman Gimbel came to California in the mid-1960s. He was introduced to the Argentinean-born composer Lalo Schifrin (then of Mission: Impossible fame) and began writing songs to a number of Schifrin's films.[1] Both Gimbel and Schifrin made a suggestion to write a Broadway musical together, who Schifrin gave Gimbel an Argentinean novel to read as a possible idea. The book was never made into a musical, but in one of the chapters, the principal character describes himself as sitting alone in a bar drinking and listening to an American pianist 'killing me softly with his blues.'[1] Gimbel put the idea in his 'idea' book for use at a future time with a parenthesis around the word 'blues' and substituted the word 'song' instead.[2]

According to Lori Lieberman, the artist who performed the original recording in 1972, the song was born of a poem she wrote after experiencing a strong reaction to the song "Empty Chairs," written, composed, and recorded by Don McLean.[3] She then related this information to Gimbel, who took her feelings and put them into words. Then, Gimbel passed the words on to Fox, who set them to music.[4]

Fox himself, however, has specifically repudiated Lieberman's having input into the song's creation, saying: "We [ie. Gimbel and Fox] wrote the song and [Lieberman] heard it and said it reminded her of how she felt at [a Don McLean] concert. Don McLean didn't inspire Norman [Gimbel] or me to write the song but even Don McLean thinks he's the inspiration for the song according to his official website!"[5] However in a Daily News article[6] about the song, Gimbel said:

“Lori is only 20 and she really is a very private person,” he said. “She told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean” (”I felt all flushed with fever / Embarrassed by the crowd / I felt he had found my letters / And read each one out loud / I prayed that he would finish / But he kept just right on…”)

“I had a notion this might make a good song so the three of us discussed it. We talked it over several times, just as we did with the rest of the numbers we wrote for the album and we all felt it had possibilities.”

Don McLean said he didn’t know the song described him, and when asked about it, he said “I’m absolutely amazed. I’ve heard both Lori’s and Roberta’s version and I must say I’m very humbled about the whole thing. You can’t help but feel that way about a song written and performed as well as this one is.”

Don McLean validated Lieberman both on his website and from the stage of a concert he invited her to attend in 2010. However, the matter only reached an unequivocal conclusion when contemporaneous articles from the early 1970s were exhumed, all of them vindicating Lieberman. On April 5, 1973, Norman Gimbel had informed The Daily News, "She [Lori Lieberman] told us about this strong experience she had listening to McLean...I had a notion this might make a good song so the three of us discussed it. We talked it over several times, just as we did for the rest of the numbers we wrote for this album and we all felt it had possibilities". [7]

Original recordings, then the Roberta Flack version[edit]

"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Single by Roberta Flack
from the album Killing Me Softly
B-side"Just Like a Woman"
ReleasedJanuary 21, 1973
Format7" single
RecordedNovember 17, 1972
GenreSoul
Length4:46
LabelAtlantic
Writer(s)Charles Fox
Norman Gimbel
ProducerJoel Dorn
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Where Is the Love"
(1972)
"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
(1973)
"Jesse"
(1973)
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Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" from Killing Me Softly

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Lieberman was the first to record Fox and Gimbel's song in late 1971, releasing it in early 1972.[8] Helen Reddy has said she was sent the song, but "the demo... sat on my turntable for months without being played because I didn't like the title."[9]

Roberta Flack first heard the song on a flight from Los Angeles to New York City on which the Lieberman original was featured on the in-flight audio program. After scanning the listing of available audio selections, Flack would recall: "The title, of course, smacked me in the face. I immediately pulled out some scratch paper, made musical staves [then] play[ed] the song at least eight to ten times jotting down the melody that I heard.... When I landed, I immediately called Quincy [Jones] at his house and asked him how to meet Charles Fox. Two days later I had the music." Shortly afterwards Flack rehearsed the song with her band in the Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston JA but did not then record it.[10]

In September 1972, Flack was opening for Marvin Gaye at the Greek Theater; after performing her prepared encore song, Flack was advised by Gaye to sing an additional song. Flack - "I said well, I got this song I’ve been working on called 'Killing Me Softly...' and he said 'Do it, baby.' And I did it and the audience went crazy, and he walked over to me and put his arm around me and said, 'Baby, don’t ever do that song again live until you record it.'"[11]

Released in January 1973, Flack's version spent a total of five non-consecutive weeks at number-one in February and March 1973, being bumped to number 2 by the O'Jays' "Love Train" after four straight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Charles Fox suggested that Flack's version was successful while Lieberman's was not because Flack's "version was faster and she gave it a strong backbeat that wasn't in the original."[5] According to Flack: "My classical background made it possible for me to try a number of things with [the song's arrangement]. I changed parts of the chord structure and chose to end on a major chord. [The song] wasn't written that way."[12]

Flack later won the 1973 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Female Performer, with Gimbel and Fox earning the Song of the Year Grammy.

In 1999 Flack's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[13] It also ranked #360 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #82 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.[14]

Chart performance[edit]

Weekly[edit]

Country (1973)Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[15]19
Canada (RPM)[16]1
Germany (Media Control AG)[17]30
Ireland (IRMA)10
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[18]3
Norway (VG-lista)[19]4
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[20]32
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[21]6
US Billboard Hot 100[22]1
US Hot R&B Singles[22]2
US Hot Adult Contemporary Singles[22]2

All-time[edit]

ChartPosition
US Billboard Hot 100[23]92
Preceded by
"Crocodile Rock" by Elton John
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
February 24, 1973 (four weeks)
Succeeded by
"Love Train" by The O'Jays
Preceded by
"Love Train" by The O'Jays
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
March 31, 1973 (one week)
Succeeded by
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence

The Fugees version[edit]

"Killing Me Softly"
Single by Fugees
from the album The Score
ReleasedMay 31, 1996
FormatCD Single
Recorded1995
GenreHip hop soul
Length4:58 (album version)
4:16 (radio edit)
LabelRuffhouse
ProducerA Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees
Fugees singles chronology
"Fu-Gee-La"
(1996)
"Killing Me Softly"
(1996)
"Ready or Not"
(1996)
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The Fugees' "Killing Me Softly" from The Score

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Hip hop group the Fugees covered the song on their 1996 album The Score, with Lauryn Hill singing the lead vocals. Their version, titled "Killing Me Softly," became a hit, reaching number two on the U.S. airplay chart. The song went to number one in the United Kingdom, where it became the country's biggest-selling single of 1996. It has since sold 1.36 million copies in Britain.[24] The version sampled the 1990 song "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest from their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. ATCQ themselves had sampled the riff from the song "Memory Band" found on the self-titled album of 1960s psychedelic soul Chicago band called Rotary Connection. The Fugees single was so successful that the track was 'deleted' and thus no longer supplied to retailers whilst the track was still in the Top 20 so that attention could be drawn to the next single, "Ready or Not." Propelled by the success of the Fugees track, the 1972 recording by Roberta Flack was remixed in 1996 with the vocalist adding some new vocal flourishes: this version topped the Hot Dance Club Play chart. In 2008, "Killing Me Softly With His Song" was ranked number 25 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop and #44 on its list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s."

Track listing[edit]

UK CD1
  1. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version W/Out Intro) - 4:03
  2. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Instrumental) - 4:03
  3. "Cowboys" (Album Version) - 3:35
  4. "Nappy Heads" (Remix) - 3:49
UK CD2
  1. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version With Intro) - 4:16
  2. "Fu-Gee-La" (Refugee Camp Global Mix) - 4:15
  3. "Vocab" (Refugees Hip Hop Mix) - 4:07
  4. "Vocab" (Salaam's Acoustic Remix) - 5:54

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1996–97)Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[25]1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[26]1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[27]1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[28]1
Canada (RPM)[29]6
Denmark (IFPI)1
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100)1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[30]1
France (SNEP)[31]1
Germany (Media Control AG)[32]1
Ireland (IRMA)1
Italy (FIMI)1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[33]1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[34]1
Norway (VG-lista)[35]1
Spain (AFYVE)[36]8
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[37]1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[38]1
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[21]1
US Billboard Pop Songs1
US Billboard Hot 1002
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs48
US Billboard Adult Pop Songs20
US Billboard Adult Contemporary30

Other versions[edit]

Other major artists to cover the song include Johnny Mathis, Carly Simon, Teresa Teng, Cleo Laine, Blossom Dearie, Al B. Sure!, Carole King, Herb Alpert, Engelbert Humperdinck, Tori Amos, Lauryn Hill, Alison Moyet, Perry Como, Harry Connick, Jr., The Jackson 5, Precious Wilson, Mina, Anne Murray, Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '77, Luther Vandross, Colbie Caillat, Susan Boyle, Toni Braxton, Céline Dion, Alicia Keys, Anastacia, Jaco Pastorius, The Plain White T's, The Youngblood Brass Band, Shirley Bassey, John Holt, Vicki Lawrence, Usha Uthup, Gene Pitney, Allison Iraheta, Eva Avila and the Singers Unlimited, Pandora, The Ventures, Milton Nascimento, Neal Schon, Andy Williams, and The Undisputed Truth.[39] Some versions performed by male artists reverse the gender pronouns (with notable exceptions Luther Vandross, The Jackson 5, and the Plain White T's).

In 1975, an instrumental version of "Killing Me Softly" served as the main musical theme of the film The Drowning Pool, starring Paul Newman. Charles Fox received credit as composer and conductor.

In April 1976 this song was covered by Teresa Teng in her album World of Love (愛之世界).

R&B artist Al B. Sure was the next to cover the song in 1988 on his debut album In Effect Mode... and experienced some success with it. He was voted the top new Male R&B solo artist in 1989.

A version was performed by Yta Farrow on the album Neptune's Child in 1990.

A Eurodance version was covered by Brazilian singer Regina Saraiva in 1996. This version went on to be a club hit across Europe.

A live instrumental version was recorded by Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers in 1998.

In 1999, Susan Boyle, an amateur singer who quickly rose to fame on the internet and in the news media after her appearance on Britain's Got Talent in 2009, used "all her savings" to pay for a professionally cut demo tape, which she later sent to record companies, radio talent competitions, local and national TV and which has now been released on the Internet. It consisted of "Cry Me a River" and her version of "Killing Me Softly with His Song". Boyle gave away a few copies to her close friends.[40]

In 2001, Neal Schon performed an instrumental version on the album Voice.

In 2002, Kimberly Caldwell performed the song during the second season of American Idol.

The song was used in the 2002 film About a Boy when Nicholas Hoult's character sings a terribly off-key version of it at a talent show.

Bassist Marcus Miller covered the song live on two of his albums, the first being The Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg (2003),[41] and the second is Master of All Trades (2007) with special guest Roberta Flack.

In 2008, saxophonist Jazz Hamilton covered the melody on the album My Soul as a smooth Latin jazz ballad.

In 2012, Katrina Parker performed the song for the semi-final round of NBC's The Voice. The accompanying single peaked at 25 in the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart.[42]

Jahmene Douglas covered the song on the X Factor UK week 4 of season 9.

Lulu Roman (of Hee Haw fame) covered the song for her 2013 album At Last.

Cover versions in other languages[edit]

CountryArtistTitleTranslated titleLyrics by
ArgentinaSergio Denis"Matándome suavemente""Killing me softly"
BrazilJoanna (1991)"Morrendo de amor""Dying of love"
BrazilZezé Di Camargo (1986)"Faz eu perder o juízo""Makes me lose my mind"Alf Soares
BulgariaYordanka Hristova (1973)"Всичко започна през юни""It all started in June"Hr. Platov
CubaOmara Portuondo (2006)"Matándome suavemente""Killing me softly"
Czech RepublicHelena Vondráčková (1974)"Dvě malá křídla tu nejsou""Two little wings are not here"Zdeněk Borovec
DenmarkSanne Salomonsen"Søgte mit indre""Sought my innermost"
DenmarkClemens"Flammende Oprør" (Rap containing samples from Sanne Salomonsen "Søgte mit indre")"Flaming rebellion"
EstoniaEls Himma (1974)"Millest sa elad ja hingad""Of what you live and breathe"Vally Ojavere
FinlandPäivi Paunu (1973), Marion Rung (1974)"Jokainen päivä on liikaa""Every day is too much"
FranceGilbert Montagné"Elle chantait ma vie en musique""She was singing my life in music"Eddy Marnay
FranceAmaury Vassili (2010)"Mi fa morire cantando""He kills me singing"
GermanyKatja Ebstein (1973)"Das Lied Meines Lebens ""The song of my life"
GermanyManuela"Etwas in mir wurde traurig""Something inside me became sad"
GreeceMarina Adamopoulou (1974), Aleka Kannelidou (1981)"Τ' Αγόρι" (1974), "Πόσο γλυκά με σκοτώνεις" (1981)"The Boy", "How sweetly you kill me"Dimitris Iatropoulos
ItalyMarcella Bella (1973), Lara Saint Paul (1973), Ornella Vanoni (1973)"Mi fa morire cantando""He kills me singing"
JapanMariko Takahashi, AI, Misato Watanabe, Saori Minami"Yasashiku Utatte""Sing to me tenderly"
MexicoPandora"Mátame muy suavemente""Kill me very softly"Graciela Carballo
NetherlandsDe Foetsies (1996)"Hij maakte me gek (...met z'n vingers)""He made me crazy (...with his fingers)"
NorwayInger Lise Rypdal (1973), Penthouse Playboys (1996)"Sangen han sang var min egen""The song he sang was my own"
PolandAnna Jantar"Zabijasz mnie swoją piosenką""You're killing me with your song"
RomaniaDelia Matache (2003)"Parfum de Fericire""Perfume of Happiness"
SpainTino Casal"Tal como soy""The way I am"
SpainPitingo"Suavemente me matas con tu canción""You kill me softly with your song"
SwedenLill Lindfors (1973, Svensktoppen hit),[43] Lotta Engberg (1997)"Sången han sjöng var min egen""The song he sang was my own"
TurkeyNilüfer Yumlu (1974)"Ayrılık Hasreti""Longing for Separation"Mehmet Teoman
VietnamKhánh Hà, Thùy Hương"Nỗi Đau Dịu Dàng""Soft pain"
VietnamBảo Thy ft. Vương Khang"Lạc Lối""Lost Along The Way"

Charts on which "Killing Me Softly" reached number one[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Davis, Sheila (1984). The Craft of Lyric Writing. Writers Digest Books. p. 13. ISBN 0-89879-149-9. Retrieved 2010-09-22. 
  2. ^ http://www.don-mclean.com/killingmesoftly.asp
  3. ^ Lori Lieberman - Killing Me Softly (The Story Behind).
  4. ^ Billboard Magazine, June 22, 1974. Page 53.
  5. ^ a b Daeida February 2012 p.11
  6. ^ A Killer of a Song, Daily News, April 5, 1973
  7. ^ O'Haire, Patricia “A Killer of a Song,” Daily News
  8. ^ Cad, Saint. "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". listverse.com. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Reddy, Helen. The Woman I Am. Penguin Group, New York, NY. ISBN 1-58542-489-7. p.158.
  10. ^ Fox, Charles. Killing Me Softly: My Life In Music. Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD. ISBN 978-0-8108-6991-2. (2010) P.X.
  11. ^ http://947thewave.radio.com/2011/04/27/roberta-flack-recalls-debuting-killing-me-softly-at-the-greek-theatre-with-marvin-gaye/#ixzz1mIGhzrHf
  12. ^ Cresswell, Toby. 1001 Songs. Hardie Grant Books, Pahran, Aus. ISBN 978-1-74066-458-5. (2005) P.388.
  13. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame
  14. ^ http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/specials/hot100/charts/top100-titles-90.shtml
  15. ^ "Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  16. ^ Canadian peak
  17. ^ "Die ganze Musik im Internet: Charts, News, Neuerscheinungen, Tickets, Genres, Genresuche, Genrelexikon, Künstler-Suche, Musik-Suche, Track-Suche, Ticket-Suche – musicline.de" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  18. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Roberta Flack search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  19. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song". VG-lista.
  20. ^ "Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart.
  21. ^ a b "Purple Rain". ChartStats.com. Archived from the original on 2012-07-30. Retrieved October 4, 2011. 
  22. ^ a b c "Purple Rain > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles" at AllMusic. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  23. ^ Bronson, Fred (August 2, 2013). Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs. Billboard.com. Retrieved November 7, 2013.
  24. ^ Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  25. ^ "Australian-charts.com – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  26. ^ "Fugees – Killing Me Softly – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  27. ^ "Ultratop.be – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  28. ^ "Ultratop.be – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  29. ^ Canadian peak
  30. ^ "Fugees: Killing Me Softly" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland.
  31. ^ "Lescharts.com – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in French). Les classement single.
  32. ^ "Die ganze Musik im Internet: Charts, News, Neuerscheinungen, Tickets, Genres, Genresuche, Genrelexikon, Künstler-Suche, Musik-Suche, Track-Suche, Ticket-Suche – musicline.de" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  33. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Fugees search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  34. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". Top 40 Singles.
  35. ^ "Norwegiancharts.com – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". VG-lista.
  36. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  37. ^ "Swedishcharts.com – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". Singles Top 60.
  38. ^ "Fugees – Killing Me Softly – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart.
  39. ^ On their 1973 album Law of the Land.
  40. ^ Leach, Ben (20 April 2009). "Early recording of Britain's Got Talent's Susan Boyle unearthed". Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  41. ^ "The Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg overview". Allmusic.com. 
  42. ^ "Bubbling Under Hot 100 (19/05/2012)". Billboard Magazine. 
  43. ^ Svensktoppen 1973

External links[edit]