Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

First recorded by Peggy Seeger (1957).
Also recorded by The Kingston Trio (1962), Joe & Eddie (1963), Peter, Paul & Mary (1965).
Hit version by Roberta Flack (recorded 1969, US #1/MOR #1/CAN #1/UK #14/AUS #1/NZ #17/SA #2 1972).

From the wiki: “‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is a 1957 folk song written by British political singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger (half-sister of folk singer Pete Seeger), who would later become his wife, to sing. At the time the couple were lovers, although MacColl was married to someone else. Seeger sang the song when the duo performed in folk clubs around Britain.

“During the 1960s, it was recorded by various folk singers before becoming a major international pop hit for Roberta Flack when re-released in 1972 (after its original album release, on First Take, in 1969) following the song’s inclusion in the 1971 movie Play Misty for Me.

“There are two conflicting accounts of the origin of the song. MacColl claimed he wrote the song for Seeger after she asked him to pen a song for a play she was in. He wrote the song and taught it to Seeger over the telephone. Peggy Seeger, on the other hand, claimed that MacColl, with whom she’d begun an affair in 1957, used to send her tapes to listen to while they were apart and that the song was on one of them.

“The song entered the pop mainstream when it was released (as ‘The First Time’) by The Kingston Trio on its 1962 hit album New Frontier and in subsequent years by other pop folk groups such as Peter, Paul & Mary, the Brothers Four, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and others.

“The song was recorded by Roberta Flack in 1969. She knew the song from the Joe & Eddie version which appeared on that folk duo’s 1963 album Coast to Coast (as ‘The First Time’). Flack would regularly perform ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ in her set-list at the Pennsylvania Avenue club Mr Henry’s where Flack was hired as resident singer in 1968. In February 1969, Flack would record the song for her debut album First Take, an arrangement that was much slower-paced and more than twice the two and a half minute length of Seeger’s original.

“Flack’s recording might have gone unnoticed if not for its use in the movie Play Misty For Me, Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut. She would recall how Eastwood, who had heard her version of ‘The First Time…’ on his car radio while driving down the LA Freeway, phoned out of the blue to her Alexandria (Virginia) home, remembering ‘[Eastwood said:] ‘I’d like to use your song in this movie…about a disc jockey [with] a lot of music in it. I’d use it in the only part of the movie where there’s absolute love.’ I said okay. We discussed the money. [Eastwood would pay $2000 to use the song.] He said: ‘Anything else?’ And I said: ‘I want to do it over again. It’s too slow.’ He said: ‘No, it’s not.’ ‘

“Released as a single in 1972, three years after its recording and original album track release, Flack’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ topped music charts in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

“Songwriter MacColl himself made no secret of the fact that he disliked all of the cover versions of the song. His daughter-in-law wrote: ‘He hated all of them. He had a special section in his record collection for them, entitled ‘The Chamber of Horrors.’ He said that the Elvis version (1972) was like ‘Romeo at the bottom of the Post Office Tower singing up to Juliet.’ And the other versions, he thought, were travesties: bludgeoning, histrionic, and lacking in grace.'”

The Kingston Trio, “The First Time” (1962):

Joe & Eddie, “The First Time” (1963):

Peter, Paul & Mary, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (1965):

Roberta Flack, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (1969):

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