Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Killing Me Softly with His Song

First recorded by Lori Lieberman (1971).
Hit versions by Roberta Flack (US #1/R&B #2/UK #6/CAN #1 1973), The Fugees (US #2/UK #1 1996).

From the wiki: “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. However, Charlie Fox has specifically repudiated Lieberman’s having input into the song’s creation, saying: ‘We [ie. lyricist Norman Gimbel (‘Girl from Ipanema‘, ‘So Nice (Summer Samba)‘) and composer 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!’ Instead, the song has its origin in a novel.

“According to Gimbel, he was introduced to Argentinean-born composer Lalo Schifrin (Theme to Mission: Impossible) and began writing songs to a number of Schifrin’s films. 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.’ 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.

“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.’

“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 #2 on the U.S. airplay chart. The song went to #1 in the United Kingdom, where it became the country’s biggest-selling single of 1996. ”

Roberta Flack, “Killing Me Softly with His Song” (1973):

The Fugees, “Killing Me Softly” (1996):

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