Killing Me Softly with His Song
The song was written in collaboration with Lori Lieberman, who recorded the song in late 1971. In 1973 it became a number-one hit in the United States and Canada for Roberta Flack, also reaching number six in the UK Singles Chart. The song has been covered by many artists; the version by the Fugees won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
- 1 Lori Lieberman version and disputed origins
- 2 Roberta Flack version
- 3 Fugees version
- 4 Other cover versions
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Lori Lieberman version and disputed origins
According to Lori Lieberman, who performed the original recording in 1971, the song was born of a poem she wrote after experiencing a strong reaction to the Don McLean song "Empty Chairs", writing some poetic ideas on a napkin at the Troubadour Club after seeing him perform the song, and then relating this information to Norman Gimbel, who took her feelings and converted them into song lyrics. Gimbel passed his lyrics to Charles Fox, who set them to music.
According to Gimbel, he was introduced to the Argentinian-born composer Lalo Schifrin (then of Mission: Impossible fame) and began writing songs to a number of Schifrin's films. Both Gimbel and Schifrin made a suggestion to write a Broadway musical together, and Schifrin gave Gimbel an Argentinean novel—Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar—to read as a possible idea. The book was never made into a musical, but in chapter two, the narrator describes himself as sitting in a bar listening to an American pianist friend "kill us softly with some blues". Gimbel put the phrase in his "idea book" for use at a future time with a parenthesis around the word "blues" and substituted the word "song" instead.
Don McLean said he had not known that the song described his singing and, when asked about it, 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."
Nevertheless, Fox repudiated Lieberman's role in the song's creation, saying: "We [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 or me to write the song but even Don McLean thinks he's the inspiration for the song."
McLean supported Lieberman, both on his website and from the stage of a concert which he invited her to attend in 2010. However, the matter only reached an unequivocal conclusion when contemporaneous articles from the early 1970s were retrieved, all of which vindicated Lieberman. In an April 5, 1973 article in the New York Daily News, Gimbel was quoted as follows: "She [Lori Lieberman] 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 just kept 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 for the rest of the numbers we wrote for this album and we all felt it had possibilities."
When Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts) 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." In the New York Daily News article , Patricia O'Haire asked Lori Lieberman about how the song came about – what or more specifically who was the inspiration for it:
“Don McLean,” she said simply. “I saw him at the Troubadour in LA last year. (“And there he was this young boy / A stranger to my eyes”) I had heard about him from some friends but up to then all I knew about him really was what others had told me. But I was moved by his performance, by the way he developed his numbers, he got right through to me. (“Strumming my pain with his fingers / Killing me softly with his sond/ Telling my whole life with his words.”)
Norman Gimbel picked up the story. “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 / Embarassed 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.” “Norman had a phrase he liked, ‘killing me softly with his blues'”, Lori went on to explain. “But I didn’t feel the word “blues” was quite what the effect was. It wasn’t contemporary enough, somehow. We talked about it a while and finally decided on the word “song” instead. It seemed right then when we did it.”
Following Norman Gimbel's death in December 2018, Don McLean issued a statement through social media refuting claims made by Gimbel and Norman Fox:
Norman Gimbel passed away today. I never got to meet him and I’m quite sure I would not want to. A few years ago I received the nastiest phone call from this guy who claimed I was trying, on my own, with no reason, to claim his song “Killing Me Softly With His Song “ was written with me in mind. He was abusive and obnoxious and I thought he must be off his meds.
He followed this call up with a legal letter making libellous assertions and threats. I sent his lawyer the article and he shut his nasty mouth. I never heard another word. This article is the true story. Both writers and Lori Lieberman are supporting the version of events that Lori has related. I was caught in the middle and had no idea all this bullshit was going on behind the scenes. Let me say I don’t need any “Love Boat “ theme song writer to enhance my reputation.
Roberta Flack version
|"Killing Me Softly with His Song"|
One of A-side labels of U.S. vinyl single
|Single by Roberta Flack|
|from the album Killing Me Softly|
|B-side||"Just Like a Woman"|
|Released||January 21, 1973|
|Recorded||November 17, 1972|
|Studio||Atlantic, New York City|
|Roberta Flack singles chronology|
German single picture sleeve
Lieberman was the first to record the song in late 1971, releasing it in early 1972. 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".
Roberta Flack first heard the song on an airline, when 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, Jamaica, but did not then record it.
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 later said, "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.'"
Released in January 1973, Flack's version spent a total of five non-consecutive weeks at #1 in February and March, more weeks than any other record in 1973, being bumped to number 2 by the O'Jays' "Love Train" after four straight weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard ranked it as the No. 3 song for 1973.
Charles Fox suggested that Flack's version was more successful than Lieberman's because Flack's "version was faster and she gave it a strong backbeat that wasn't in the original". 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.". In actual fact the only chord changed by Flack was the chorus chord under "Fingers" which was changed from Major to Minor. Flack plays electric piano on the track. The bass is played by Ron Carter, the guitar by Hugh McCracken and the drums by Ray Lucas. The single appeared as the opening track of the album of the same name, issued in August 1973.
In 1999 Flack's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It ranked number 360 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and number 82 on Billboard's greatest songs of all time.
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||1|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||19|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||30|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||3|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||32|
|UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)||6|
|US Billboard Hot 100||1|
|US Hot R&B Singles||2|
|US Hot Adult Contemporary Singles||2|
|"Killing Me Softly"|
|Single by Fugees|
|from the album The Score|
|Released||May 31, 1996|
|Fugees singles chronology|
Hip hop group Fugees covered the Flack version of the song (as "Killing Me Softly") on their album The Score (1996), with Lauryn Hill singing the lead vocals. Their version became a hit, reaching number two on the U.S. airplay chart. The song topped the charts 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. The Fugees recording won the 1997 Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and their video earned the MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video.
This version sampled the 1990 song "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) from their debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. ATCQ themselves had sampled the riff from the song "Memory Band" from psychedelic soul band Rotary Connection's 1967 eponymous debut album. 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. Flack and the Fugees have performed the song together since then. In 2008, "Killing Me Softly" was ranked number 25 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop and number 44 on its list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s".
"Killing Me Softly" was the last song the Fugees recorded for The Score, after member Pras Michael made the suggestion to cover it. They wanted to "see how we can create break beats. And of course, we all love A Tribe Called Quest and we went in like 'Okay, let’s cut that sample.'" They then added a bass reggae drop. Initially, the Fugees wanted to change the lyrics of the song to make it anti-drugs and anti-poverty but the songwriters, Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, refused.
The Fugees' version features "percussive rhythms" with "a synth sitar sound, Wyclef's blurted chants, Hill's vocal melisma on the scatted bridge, and a bombastic drum-loop track".
In January 1997, Spin called the song "an instant classic, pumped out of every passing car from coast to coast, with Lauryn Hill's timeless voice never losing its poignant kick". Celebrating the album's 20th anniversary in February 2016, Billboard reviewed the song, saying: "It's a lovely cover that maintains the spirit of the original while taking the material in new directions."
Bounty Killer remix
- "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version W/Out Intro) – 4:03
- "Killing Me Softly" (Album Instrumental) – 4:03
- "Cowboys" (Album Version) – 3:35
- "Nappy Heads" (Remix) – 3:49
- "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version With Intro) – 4:16
- "Fu-Gee-La" (Refugee Camp Global Mix) – 4:15
- "Vocab" (Refugees Hip Hop Mix) – 4:07
- "Vocab" (Salaam's Acoustic Remix) – 5:54
Charts and certifications
Sales and certifications
Other cover versions
|Perry Como||And I Love You So||1973|
|Vicki Lawrence||The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia||1973|
|The Jacksons 5||1974|
|The Undisputed Truth||Law of the Land||1973|
|Dottie West||If It's All Right With You / Just What I've Been Looking For||1973|
|Johnny Mathis||Killing Me Softly with Her Song||1973|
|Lynn Anderson||Top of the World||1973|
|Bobby Goldsboro||Summer (The First Time)||1973|
|Rusty Bryant||For the Good Times||1973|
|Vikki Carr||Ms. America||1973|
|Sergio Mendes & Brasil '77||Love Music||1973|
|The Ventures||Only Hits!||1973|
|John Holt||1000 Volts of Holt||1973|
|Anne Murray||Danny's Song||1973|
|Maynard Parker||Midnight Rider||1973|
|The Hiltonaires||Made in England 6||1973|
|Shirley Bassey||Never, Never, Never||1973|
|Ray Conniff and The Singers||You Are the Sunshine of My Life||1973|
|Clint Holmes||Playground in My Mind||1973|
|Elaine Delmar||Elaine Delmar||1973|
|New World||Believe in Music||1973|
|Perry Como||And I Love You So||1973|
|Andy Williams||The Way We Were||1974|
|Petula Clark||Come on Home||1974|
|Charlie Byrd||Byrd by the Sea||1974|
|Janice Hoyte||I'm a Winner||1974|
|Frances Yip||Frances Scores Hits||1974|
|Engelbert Humperdinck||My Love||1974|
|Ohashi Junko||Feeling Now||1974|
|Lena Martell||That Wonderful Sound of Lena Martell||1974|
|Swingle II||Words and Music||1974|
|Aura||Oh, My Love||1974|
|Jr. Walker & The All Stars||Jr. Walker & The All Stars||1974|
|Bobby Vinton||The Bobby Vinton Show||1975|
|The Les Humphries Singers||The Les Humphries Singers Live||1975|
|Peters & Lee||Favorites||1975|
|The Geoff Love Singers||Close to You||1975|
|The Singers Unlimited||A Capella II||1975|
|Therapy||Bringing the House Down||1975|
|Sandra Reemer||Trust In Me||1976|
|Cleo Laine & John Williams||Best Friends||1976|
|The Brothers Four||New||1976|
|Brenda Lee||Just for You - Something Nice||1976|
|Val Doonican||Some of My Best Friends Are Songs||1977|
|Rita Remington||Magical, Musical, Memories||1978|
|Hampton Hawes||At the Piano||1978|
|Howard Carpendale||Und so geh'n wir unsere Wege||1978|
|Precious Wilson||On the Race Track||1980|
|Roberta Flack & Peabo Bryson||Live & More||1980|
|Kimiko Kasai||Love Talk||1984|
|The Eddy Starr Singers||28 Golden Love Songs||1984|
|Mina||Finalmente ho conosciuto il conte Dracula vol. 1||1985|
|Al B. Sure!||In Effect Mode||1988|
|Samurai & Hardbartle||SynTronic MegaHits||1990|
|Linda Imperial||Killing Me Softly (Single)||1991|
|Des'ree||Why Should I Love You?||1992|
|Päivi Mäkinen & Mökö||Rakkaudesta elämään||1993|
|Amii Stewart||Lady to Ladies||1994|
|Curiosity||Back to Front||1994|
|Ron Sanfilippo||Now and Then||1994|
|Cassandra Wilson||Spirit of '73 - Rock for Choice||1995|
|Michelle||Avex Reggae System Vol. 7||1996|
|Destroy All Monsters||Silver Wedding Anniversary||1996|
|The Spades||Killing Me Softly (Single)||1996|
|Georgetown Phantoms||Spank Your Eardrum||1997|
|Siiri, Boris Björn Bagger & the International Acoustic Band||1st Acoustic Grafitti||1997|
|Gitte Hænning||My Favorite Songs||1998|
|Victoria Abril||Enciende mi pasión||1998|
|The BB Band||That Soul Sound of the 70's||1999|
|Cindy Scott||Red Hot - Cindy Scott Captured Live in England||2002|
|Susan Wong||Close to You||2002|
|Marianna Leporace||Pop Acústico||2002|
|Chenoa||Mis canciones favoritas - En concierto acústico||2003|
|Kimberly Caldwell||American Idol Season 2 - All-Time Classic American Love Songs||2003|
|Cheryl Bentyne||The Lights Still Burn||2003|
|Coco d'Or||Coco d'Or 2||2006|
|Perpetuum Jazzile||Čudna Noč||2006|
|Don Latarski and Marilyn Keller||Nightingale||2006|
|Michael Sagmeister||Soul Ticket||2006|
|The Mardi Gras Band||Requests||2007|
|Georgeana Bonow||Pop Bossa - When Pop Goes Bossa||2008|
|Deborah Sasson||Pop Classics||2008|
|Layla Zoe||Live at Errington Hall||2008|
|Starburkes & The Tea Leaf||Acoustic Coffee House||2009|
|Colbie Caillat||iTunes Session||2010|
|Shanti Snyder||Born to Sing||2010|
|Chelsey Forrest, Kirk Smart||Talk to Me Nice||2010|
|Soul Kitchen-Band feat. Gail Anderson||15 Years Soul Kitchen - The Band||2011|
|Virginia Belles||Good Morning Mr. Jefferson||2011|
|Afro Blue||The Sing-Off Season 3 Episode 6 - Hip Hop (Album)||2011|
|Harvard Opportunes||Out Loud||2011|
|Joanie Samra - Jesse Green||Serendipity||2011|
|Ruth Jacott||Simply the Best - One Woman Show||2012|
|Katrina Parker||The Voice - Killing Me Softly with His Song (Single)||2012|
|Sussan Kameron||Romantic Nights||2012|
|Keiko Lee||Keiko Lee Sings Super Standards 2||2012|
|Connie Evingson||Sweet Happy Life||2012|
|Sydney Claire||Rocks in My Bed||2012|
|The Dear Abbeys||Proclamation||2012|
|Miss Murphy||The Voice [AU] - Killing Me Softly (Single)||2013|
|Keaira LaShae||The Voice - Killing Me Softly with His Song (Single)||2013|
|Nancy Sinatra||Shifting Gears||2013|
|Lulu Roman||At Last||2013|
|Ale Vanzella||Indie Bossa II||2015|
|Norah Benatia||IDOL 2016 Topp 3 (EP)||2016|
|Joseph Vincent||Killing Me Softly (Single)||2016|
|Scott & Ben||Scott & Ben - Acoustic Cover Sessions Volume 2||2016|
|Meg Birch||Acoustic Covers Pop||2017|
|Scary Pockets feat. India Carney||Nu Funk||2017|
|Alyssa Bernal||Killing Me Softly (Single)||2017|
- List of number-one singles in Australia during the 1970s
- List of RPM number-one singles of 1973
- List of number-one singles in 1973 (New Zealand)
- List of Hot 100 number-one singles of 1973 (U.S.)
- List of number-one singles in Australia during the 1990s
- List of number-one hits of 1996 (Austria)
- List of Dutch Top 40 number-one singles of 1996
- List of European number-one hits of 1996
- List of number-one hits of 1996 (France)
- List of number-one singles of 1996 (Ireland)
- List of number-one singles in 1996 (New Zealand)
- List of number-one singles from the 1990s (UK)
- List of number-one dance singles of 1996 (U.S.)
- List of Mainstream Top 40 number-one hits of 1996 (U.S.)
- List of Billboard Rhythmic number-one songs of the 1990s
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- "Austrian single certifications – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in German). IFPI Austria. Enter Fugees in the field Interpret. Enter Killing Me Softly in the field Titel. Select single in the field Format. Click Suchen.
- "Ultratop − Goud en Platina – singles 1996". Ultratop. Hung Medien.
- "French single certifications – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique.
- "Scoring in France". Billboard. 23 November 1996. Retrieved 8 January 2019.
- "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Fugees; 'Killing Me Softly')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie.
- "Dutch single certifications – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Retrieved December 15, 2018. Enter Killing Me Softly in the "Artiest of titel" box.
- "New Zealand single certifications – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". Recorded Music NZ. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
- "IFPI Norsk platebransje Trofeer 1993–2011" (in Norwegian). IFPI Norway. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
- "Guld- och Platinacertifikat − År 1987−1998" (PDF) (in Swedish). IFPI Sweden. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
- "The Official Swiss Charts and Music Community: Awards (Fugees; 'Killing Me Softly')". IFPI Switzerland. Hung Medien. Retrieved 15 December 2018.
- "British single certifications – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". British Phonographic Industry. Select singles in the Format field. Select Platinum in the Certification field. Type Killing Me Softly in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.