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"Killing Me Softly with His Song" is a song composed by Charles Fox and written by Norman Gimbel. It was a number-one hit in 1973 for Roberta Flack. The song has been remade by numerous artists, most notably the Fugeeswhose rendition contributed to their Grammy Award-winning album, The Score.
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.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.
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.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.
Fox himself, however, has specifically repudiated Lieberman's having input into the song's creation, saying: "We [ie. 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 [Gimbel] or I to write the song but even Don McLean thinks he's the inspiration for the song according to his official website!" However in a Daily News article about the song, Gimbel said:
“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 / 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 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.”
Don McLean said he didn’t know the song described him, and when asked about it, he 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.”
Original recordings, then the Roberta Flack versionEdit
Lieberman was the first to record Fox and Gimbel's 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 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 JA 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 - "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 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. Charles Fox suggested that Flack's version was successful while Lieberman's was not 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."
Flack later won the 1973 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Female Performer and also took the Song of the Year Grammy.