Killing Me Softly with His Song

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"Killing Me Softly with His Song" is a song composed by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. 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 US and Canada, for Roberta Flack, also reaching number six in the UK Singles Chart. The song has since been covered by numerous artists.

The Lori Lieberman version, disputed origins[edit]

Norman Gimbel came to California in the mid-1960s. He was introduced to the Argentinean-born composer Lalo Schifrin (then of Mission: Impossible fame) and began writing songs to a number of Schifrin's films.[1] 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 2, the principal character describes himself as sitting in a bar listening to an American pianist friend 'kill us softly with some blues.'[1][2] 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.[3]

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.[4][5] She then related this information to Gimbel, who took her feelings and put them into words. Then, Gimbel passed the words on to Fox, who set them to music.[6]

Don McLean said he didn’t know the song described him 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 has repudiated Lieberman's having input into the song's creation, saying: "We [i.e. 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 according to his official website!"[7]

Don McLean validated Lieberman both on his website and from the stage of a concert he invited her to attend in 2010. However, the matter only reached an unequivocal conclusion when contemporaneous articles from the early 1970s were exhumed, all of them vindicating Lieberman. In an April 5, 1973 article in the Daily News, Norman 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".[8]

The Roberta Flack version[edit]

"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Single by Roberta Flack
from the album Killing Me Softly
B-side "Just Like a Woman"
Released January 21, 1973
Format 7" single
Recorded November 17, 1972
Genre Soul
Length 4:46
Label Atlantic
Producer(s) Joel Dorn
Certification Gold
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Where Is the Love"
"Killing Me Softly with His Song"
Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" from Killing Me Softly

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Lieberman was the first to record Fox and Gimbel's song in late 1971, releasing it in early 1972.[9] 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."[10]

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." Shortly afterwards Flack rehearsed the song with her band in the Tuff Gong Studios in Kingston, Jamaica but did not then record it.[11]

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 – "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.'"[12]

Released in January 1973, Flack's version spent a total of five non-consecutive weeks at number-one in February and March 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.[13]

Charles Fox suggested that the reason Flack's version was more successful than Lieberman's was because Flack's "version was faster and she gave it a strong backbeat that wasn't in the original."[7] 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."[14] 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.[citation needed] The single appeared as the opening track of the album of same name on August 1, 1973.

Flack later won the 1973 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female, for the single, with Gimbel and Fox earning the Song of the Year Grammy.

In 1996 a house remix of Flack's version went to number one on the US dance charts.[15]

In 1999 Flack's version was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[16] It also ranked #360 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and #82 on Billboard's Greatest Songs of all time.[17]

Chart performance[edit]


Chart (1973) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[18] 19
Canada (RPM)[19] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[20] 30
Ireland (IRMA) 10
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[21] 3
Norway (VG-lista)[22] 4
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[23] 32
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[24] 6
US Billboard Hot 100[25] 1
US Hot R&B Singles[25] 2
US Hot Adult Contemporary Singles[25] 2


Chart Position
US Billboard Hot 100[26] 92
Preceded by
"Crocodile Rock" by Elton John
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
February 24, 1973 (four weeks)
Succeeded by
"Love Train" by The O'Jays
Preceded by
"Love Train" by The O'Jays
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
March 31, 1973 (one week)
Succeeded by
"The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence

The Fugees version[edit]

"Killing Me Softly"
Single by Fugees
from the album The Score
Released May 31, 1996
Format CD single
Recorded 1995
Genre Hip hop soul
  • 4:58 (album version)
  • 4:16 (radio edit)
  • 4:00 (radio edit: without intro)
Label Ruffhouse
Fugees singles chronology
"Killing Me Softly"
"Ready or Not"
The Fugees' "Killing Me Softly" from The Score

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Hip hop group Fugees covered the song (as simply "Killing Me Softly") on their 1996 album The Score, with Lauryn Hill singing the lead vocals. Their version, titled "Killing Me Softly," 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.[27] The version sampled the 1990 song "Bonita Applebum" by A Tribe Called Quest 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. In 2008, "Killing Me Softly" was ranked number 25 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop and #44 on its list of the "100 Greatest Songs of the '90s."

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version W/Out Intro) – 4:03
  2. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Instrumental) – 4:03
  3. "Cowboys" (Album Version) – 3:35
  4. "Nappy Heads" (Remix) – 3:49
  1. "Killing Me Softly" (Album Version With Intro) – 4:16
  2. "Fu-Gee-La" (Refugee Camp Global Mix) – 4:15
  3. "Vocab" (Refugees Hip Hop Mix) – 4:07
  4. "Vocab" (Salaam's Acoustic Remix) – 5:54

Chart performance[edit]

Illegal chart entered US|2

Chart (1996–97) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[28] 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[29] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[30] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[31] 1
Canada (RPM)[32] 6
Denmark (IFPI) 1
Europe (Eurochart Hot 100) 1
Finland (Suomen virallinen lista)[33] 1
France (SNEP)[34] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[35] 1
Ireland (IRMA) 1
Italy (FIMI) 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[36] 1
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[37] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[38] 1
Spain (AFYVE)[39] 8
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[40] 1
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[41] 1
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[42] 1
US Adult Contemporary (Billboard)[43] 30
US Adult Top 40 (Billboard)[44] 20
US Dance Club Songs (Billboard)[45] 48
US Mainstream Top 40 (Billboard)[46] 1
US Radio Songs (Billboard)[47] 2
Preceded by
"Three Lions" by Baddiel and Skinner and The Lightning Seeds
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single
June 2, 1996 – June 30, 1996
(four weeks)
Succeeded by
"Three Lions" by Baddiel and Skinner and The Lightning Seeds
Preceded by
"Three Lions" by Baddiel and Skinner and The Lightning Seeds
UK Singles Chart Number 1 single
July 7, 1996 – July 13, 1996
(one week)
Succeeded by
"Forever Love" by Gary Barlow

Other versions[edit]

In 1975, an instrumental version of "Killing Me Softly" served as the main musical theme of the film The Drowning Pool, starring Paul Newman. Charles Fox received credit as composer and conductor.

A Eurodance version was covered by Brazilian singer Regina Saraiva in 1996. This version went on to be a club hit across Europe.[citation needed]

Bassist Marcus Miller covered the song live on two of his albums, the first being The Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg (2003),[48] and the second is Master of All Trades (2007) with special guest Roberta Flack.

Charts on which "Killing Me Softly" reached number one[edit]


  1. ^ a b Davis, Sheila (1984). The Craft of Lyric Writing. Writers Digest Books. p. 13. ISBN 0-89879-149-9. Retrieved 2010-09-22. 
  2. ^ Cortázar, Julio (1966). Hopscotch. Pantheon Books. p. 15. ISBN 0-394-75284-8. 
  3. ^ "The "Killing Me Softly" Story". 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Lori Lieberman - Killing Me Softly (The Story Behind) on YouTube
  6. ^ Billboard Magazine, June 22, 1974. Page 53.
  7. ^ a b Daeida February 2012 p.11
  8. ^ O'Haire, Patricia “A Killer of a Song,” Daily News
  9. ^ Cad, Saint. "Top 10 Famous Songs With Unknown Originals". Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Reddy, Helen. The Woman I Am. Penguin Group, New York, NY. ISBN 1-58542-489-7. p.158.
  11. ^ Fox, Charles. Killing Me Softly: My Life In Music. Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD. ISBN 978-0-8108-6991-2. (2010) P.X.
  12. ^ "Roberta Flack Recalls Debuting "Killing Me Softly" At The Greek Theatre With Marvin Gaye « 94.7 The WAVE – Smooth R&B". 2011-04-27. Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  13. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1973
  14. ^ Cresswell, Toby. 1001 Songs. Hardie Grant Books, Pahran, Aus. ISBN 978-1-74066-458-5. (2005) P.388.
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974-2003. Record Research. p. 100. 
  16. ^ "GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  17. ^ [2][dead link]
  18. ^ " – Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  19. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  20. ^ " – Roberta Flack Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  21. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Roberta Flack search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  22. ^ " – Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song". VG-lista.
  23. ^ " – Roberta Flack – Killing Me Softly with His Song". Swiss Singles Chart.
  24. ^ "Purple Rain". Archived from the original on 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  25. ^ a b c "Purple Rain > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles" at AllMusic. Retrieved October 4, 2011.
  26. ^ Bronson, Fred (August 2, 2013). Hot 100 55th Anniversary: The All-Time Top 100 Songs. Retrieved November 7, 2013.
  27. ^ Ami Sedghi (4 November 2012). "UK's million-selling singles: the full list". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  28. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  29. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  30. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  31. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly" (in French). Ultratop 50.
  32. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2014-03-31. 
  33. ^ "Fugees: Killing Me Softly" (in Finnish). Musiikkituottajat – IFPI Finland.
  34. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly (With His Song)" (in French). Les classement single.
  35. ^ " – Fugees Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  36. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Fugees search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  37. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". Top 40 Singles.
  38. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". VG-lista.
  39. ^ Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. 
  40. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly (With His Song)". Singles Top 100.
  41. ^ " – Fugees – Killing Me Softly". Swiss Singles Chart.
  42. ^ "Fugees: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company.
  43. ^ "Fugees – Chart history" Billboard Adult Contemporary for Fugees.
  44. ^ "Fugees – Chart history" Billboard Adult Pop Songs for Fugees.
  45. ^ "Fugees – Chart history" Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs for Fugees.
  46. ^ "Fugees – Chart history" Billboard Pop Songs for Fugees.
  47. ^ "Fugees – Chart history" Billboard Radio Songs for Fugees.
  48. ^ "The Ozell Tapes: The Official Bootleg overview". 

External links[edit]