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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 Award for Record of the Year.
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 claimed that MacColl, with whom she'd 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.
The song entered the pop mainstream when it was released by The Kingston Trio on its 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 others.
Ewan 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 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 song was popularized 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. Flack's 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.
This slower, more sensual version was used by Clint Eastwood in his 1971 directorial 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 extremely successful single in the United States where it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts in April 1972 for six week runs on each. It reached #14 on the UK Singles Chart. In Canada, it was #1 for 3 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.