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Killing Me Softly With His Song by Roberta Flack

Album: Killing Me SoftlyReleased: 1973Charted:
  • This was written by the songwriting team of Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, and first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1972. The story goes that the song was inspired by Don McLean, a singer/songwriter famous for his hit "American Pie." After being mesmerized by one of his concerts at the Troubadour theater in Los Angeles - and in particular McLean's song "Empty Chairs" - Lieberman described what she saw of McLean's performance to Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who were writing songs for her new album, and they wrote the song for her.

    In a 1973 interview with the NY Daily News, Gimbel said: "She 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 with the rest of the numbers we wrote for the album and we all felt it had possibilities."

    When we spoke with Charles Fox in 2010, he refuted this story: "I think it's called an urban legend. It really didn't happen that way. Norman Gimbel and I wrote that song for a young artist whose name was Lori Lieberman. Norman had a book that he would put titles of songs, song ideas and lyrics or something that struck him at different times. And he pulled out the book and he was looking through it, and he says, 'Hey, what about a song title, 'Killing Me Softly With His Blues'?' Well, the 'killing me softly' part sounded very interesting, 'with his blues' sounded old fashioned in 1972 when we wrote it. So he thought for a while and he said, 'What about 'killing me softly with his song'? That has a unique twist to it.' So we discussed what it could be, and obviously it's about a song - listening to the song and being moved by the words. It's like the words are speaking to what that person's life is. Anyway, Norman went home and wrote an extraordinary lyric and called me later in the afternoon. I jotted it down over the phone. I sat down and the music just flowed right along with the words. And we got together the next morning and made a couple of adjustments with it and we played it for Lori, and she loved it, she said it reminds her of being at a Don McLean concert. So in her act, when she would appear, she would say that. And somehow the words got changed around so that we wrote it based on Don McLean, and even Don McLean I think has it on his Web site. But he doesn't know. You know, he only knows what the legend is."
  • Gimbel and Fox also wrote the theme songs to the TV shows Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. They are the only credited songwriters on "Killing Me Softly With His Song," but Lori Leiberman has claimed authorship. A press release put out on Lieberman's behalf states: "Lieberman to this day is never given credit for lyrics and her version. McLean said he had no idea the song was about him. 'Someone called me and said a song had been written about me and it was #1,' McLean recalled. 'It was an honor and a delight, and I give Lieberman the credit. My songs have always come from my personal thoughts and experiences, so it's overwhelming when someone is moved and touched by them like Lori was.'"
  • Flack heard Lieberman's version on an in-flight tape recorder while flying from Los Angeles to New York. She loved the title and lyrics and decided to record it herself. In an interview with The New Musical Express, Flack said: "I was flicking through the in-flight magazine to see if they'd done an article on me. After realizing they hadn't, I saw this picture of a little girl called Lori Lieberman. I'd never heard of her before so I read it with interest to see what she had that I didn't." Flack decided to record the song but felt it wasn't complete, so on arriving in New York she went into the studio and started experimenting. She changed the chord structure and ended the song with a major rather than minor chord. Flack worked on the song in the studio for 3 months, playing around with various chord structures until she got it just right.
  • Talking about the first time he heard from Roberta Flack, Charles Fox told us: "Quincy (Jones) gave her my number. I was at Paramount Pictures one day walking through the music library, and someone handed me a telephone and said, 'This is for you.' And the voice on the other end of the line said, 'Hi, this is Roberta Flack. We haven't met, but I'm going to sing your songs.' So it was kind of magical at that - that thing just doesn't happen to people. She had just won the Grammy Award for 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.' Beautiful record. So it's kind of remarkable to get a call from her in the first place. And she did go on to sing other songs. And actually, she sang on the main title for me of a show that was called Valerie after Valerie Harper."
  • This won Grammys in 1974 for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal. Flack's "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" won Record of the Year the previous year, making her the first artist to win the award 2 consecutive years. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • This was a US and UK #1 hit for Fugees in 1996. They did a Hip-hop version featuring the vocals of Lauryn Hill. The Fugees wanted to change the lyrics and make it a song about poverty and drug abuse in the inner city with the title "Killing Him Softly," but Gimbel and Fox refused.
  • Toni Collette, Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult performed this in the film About A Boy. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bertrand - Paris, France
  • The singer-songwriter Colbie Caillat was first inspired to start singing when she heard the Fugees version of "Killing Me Softly" at the age of 11.
  • The Fugees version is a popular Karaoke choice, but usually not a good one. Kimberly Starling of The Karaoke Informer says: "With a minimal background track virtually every girl loses the melody. They all think they sound great on this one, yet they do not."
  • The song was covered by Leah McFall on the UK edition of The Voice in 2013. Her version landed at #36 on the British singles chart after she sung it in the semi-finals.
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Comments: 23

In a Daily News article about the song, Norman 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."
Victoria - Greenwood, In
As a kid, I heard that "Please, Mr, Please" (don't play B-17) by Olivia Newton John was referring to "Killing Me Softly With His Song." I have always wondered if anyone else had ever heard that. I have always doubted that such a legend exists, since the lyrics refer to the B-17 song as a country love song. But I thought it would be an interesting chain of songs inspiring songs, if true.Victoria - Greenwood, In
One song can make the difference. as does LIFE, over and over, teaching us our life lessons, as the words become tides of our times at times. If not learned, they will repeat. Songs bring us together to learn.Kimberly - Landing, Nj
Dave Steinfeld: "There are different stories of what 'Killing Me Softly' was about. Can you shed any light on that?"

Roberta Flack: "The song was written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. Charles Fox is still here, Norman isn't. They wrote the song for a young [singer] named Lori Lieberman. She was a big fan, as I am, of Don McLean.

Don was working at the Troubadour, where we all went to perform back in the '70s, and [Lori] goes to see him. Norman and Charles have written a song for her called 'Killing Me Softly With His Blues.' By the time she comes back from seeing Don McLean, she was just moved. So she goes back and tells Charles and Norman about this experience and they sit down and rewrite the words. And they basically tell her story.

I heard it the first time [on an airplane and] I broke out all the blank paper that I had, made my own scores and started to write the song down. I could actually hear myself singing it. When I got to Kennedy Airport, I called Quincy [Jones] before I got in the car and I said, "Listen. You've gotta help me find Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel." He said, "I know Charlie and Norman! What you want, baby?" The rest is history!"

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Rob - Boston, Ma
Although Lori Lieberman did the song first,she was not the only one to record and/or release it before Roberta Flack.
Other versions that predate Flack's include: "Hysear" Don Walker, who did the song as a slow jazz instrumental, Anne Murray also did a pre-Flack version, included on her "Danny's Song" Album, that was almost identical to Lieberman's in both style and arrangement. Bobby Goldsboro's regendered version also predated Flacks.

For me, even though Roberta Flack's version was much more popular, and i like it,
Lieberman's original, is by far the best version, because it's being sung by the very person
who had the experience of seeing McLean perform. Lori's has much more feeling to it.
I also like the early version by Anne Murray as well.
Christopher - Charlotte, Nc
On February 24th, 1973 "Killing Me Softly with His Song" became #1 and stayed there for four weeks; then "Love Train" by The O'Jays took over the top spot for one week. But "Killing Me Softly with His Song" reclaimed #1 for another week, for a total of 5 weeks at #1 and 16 weeks in the Top 100!!!Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
In the opening line of the refrain, I had always thought she was saying, "Strumming my fate with his fingers," which I find slightly more poetic than "pain," because of that little alliteration (the two f's), which complements the one in the third line ("softly" and "song" - two s's); and when listening to it now, I can hear it either way. But everyone has it the way it appears here ("pain"), so that's probably right. Still, if I ever perform this, maybe I'll do it my way, even though I'm not Paul Anka ;-)Fred - Laurel, Md
Jackson 5 cover is the best, so soul-touching - Michael's voiceAnastasia - Kyiv, Ukraine
I love the Fugees cover, it's very beautiful. I just don't like the part in the end where they yell, etc.Lilly - Chicago, Il
The song "empty chairs" was the Don McLean song that inspired this poem. At the time, Don McLean was not A-list.Kenneth - Albany, Ny
The Jackson 5 cover of this song is incredible!Aya - Nsw, -
On their second album [b] The Score [b], the Fugees proved that hip hop could be about much more than gangstas. Lauryn Hill's stunning voice was at the heart of this major hit remake of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song."Bertrand - Paris, France
first time i remember hearing this song was in an episode of Quantum Leap,

great song from the time when music had feelings
Stewart - Geelong, Australia
Lori Lieberman's song was specifically about Don McLean's little known song "Empty Chairs" http://tinyurl.com/2kh27sT - San Francisco, Ca
First heard this song 30+ Years ago in a womens clothing store when I was shopping with my mom when I was Three! She took FOREVER to look at the clothes, make up her mind, and buy her stuff! My lil' sis could at least sleep in her stroller, but me, I was running all over the store hiding under the clothing racks, while this song played! My mom yelled and snapped her finger for me to "Get Out From Under There!"; the ROUND clothing racks were the Best!Dave - Oak Park, Mi
It was in about a boy OSTAlberto Colonna - Turin, Italy
I have always loved this song. Roberta Flack's version is absolutely one of the sweetest songs ever but I also really like the funked up hip hop version by the Fugees. The first time I heard their version was when they were the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. It was one of the only times I didn't think the updated version ruined the song. Now, knowing it was about Don McLean, makes it mean that much more.Jeanie - Clarkesville, Ga
This song never resignated with me until I found out it is about how she felt after seeing a performance by Don McLean. I've had the same feeling when seeing other artists perform. You get goose bumps it's so good.Cassandra - Katanning, Australia
The movie, About A Boy, was the best ever. The song's pretty ill tooBridget - Hull, Canada
Me and my friends make fun of this song and sing, "Killin' me softly with his ax."Stephanie - Denver, Co
This is the definitive version of this song - The Fugees' 1996 cover was abysmal.Dave - Cardiff, Wales
Spoofed by MAD as "Killing me softly with his bomb".Scott Baldwin - Edmonton, Canada
It was featured in the 2001 movie, About a BoyTaylor - Jackson, Mi
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