The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

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"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
Single by Roberta Flack
from the album First Take
Released March 7, 1972 (1972-03-07)
Recorded 1969
Length 5:22
4:15 (1972 radio edit)
Label Atlantic 2864
Writer(s) Ewan MacColl
Producer(s) Joel Dorn
Certification Gold
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
"Where Is the Love"
Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" from First Take

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"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is a 1957 folk song written by British political singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl for Peggy 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 and became a major international hit for Roberta Flack in 1972, winning the Grammy Awards for Record and Song of the Year. Billboard ranked it as the No. 1 song of the year for 1972.[1]


There are two differing accounts of the origin of the song. MacColl said that 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.[2] Seeger said that MacColl, with whom she had begun an affair in 1957, used to send her tapes to listen to whilst they were apart and that the song was on one of them.[3]

The song entered the pop mainstream when it was released by the Kingston Trio on their 1962 hit album New Frontier and in subsequent years by other pop folk groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary, The Brothers Four, the Chad Mitchell Trio and Gordon Lightfoot.[citation needed]

MacColl 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 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."[4]

Roberta Flack version[edit]

The song was popularised by Roberta Flack in 1972 in a version that became a breakout hit for the singer. The song first appeared on Flack's 1969 album First Take. Her rendition was much slower than the original, as an early solo recording by Seeger ran two and a half minutes long whereas Flack's is more than twice that length.[citation needed]

Flack's slower and more sensual version was used by Clint Eastwood in his 1971 directorial film debut, Play Misty for Me, during a lovemaking scene. With the new exposure, Atlantic Records cut the song down to four minutes and released it to radio. It became an very successful single in the United States where it reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and easy listening charts in April 1972 for six week runs on each list.[5] It reached #14 on the UK Singles Chart.[citation needed] In Canada, it was No.1 for three weeks in the RPM magazine charts.

In 2014, two films featured the song: Flack's version was heard twice in the superhero film X-Men: Days of Future Past, set largely in 1973, while a "cover" of it was performed by one of the protagonists in The Inbetweeners 2 for comic effect.

In 2015, Flack's version was used as the outro in episode 88 of the television series Mad Men.

Other recorded versions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1972
  2. ^ Quarrington, Paul; Doyle, Roddy (2010). Cigar Box Banjo. Greystone Books. p. 89. Retrieved 2011-08-21. 
  3. ^ Picardie, Justine (1995). "The first time ever I saw your face". In De Lisle, Tim. Lives of the great songs. London: Penguin. pp. 122–26. ISBN 978-0-14024957-6. 
  4. ^ Brocken, Michael (2003), The British Folk Revival, 1944–2002, Ashgate, p. 38, ISBN 978-0-7546-3282-5 : quoting MacColl's daughter-in-law, Justine Picardie.
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2002). Top Adult Contemporary: 1961-2001. Record Research. p. 93. 

External links[edit]

  • - with quotes from Roberta Flack and information on the song's background