Written by pop songwriter Carole Bayer Sager ("A Groovy Kind Of Love
") and composer Marvin Hamlisch ("The Way We Were
"), this sensitive ballad has the narrator wondering if her significant other has fallen out of love with her. She musters the courage to ask him, if only he'll "break it to me gently."
Bayer Sager and Hamlisch got together to work on music for a TV pilot, but the lyricist wasn't feeling it. "He played me this thing and I didn't particularly like it," Bayer Sager told Billboard. "I said, 'I don't think that's something I could do very well, but if you want to write a pop song with me, I have this title, 'Break It To Me Gently.'"
The pair didn't have a particular artist in mind while they wrote the song, but by the time it was finished, Franklin was the first person they thought of. They met in the Queen of Soul's house and played her the demo. "I was stunned that I was sitting in Aretha Franklin's living room, at her piano, with a big chandelier in the room, playing this song," Bayer Sager recalled. The songwriter left the house with a keepsake: a recording of Franklin spontaneously singing along with the tune. "I played it in my car every day for probably months until she actually made the record," she said.
This was Franklin's last entry on the Hot 100 during from her tenure at Atlantic Records, which lasted from 1966 to 1979. She didn't make the chart again for three more years, until "United Together" peaked at #56 in 1980.
Bayer Sager and Hamlisch, who also produced the track, thought they were writing a pop hit, so they were surprised when the single made a meager showing on the tally, yet went to #1 on the R&B chart.
Ray Parker Jr., who wrote and performed the Ghostbusters theme
, plays guitar on the track, along with jazz musician Lee Ritenour.