THE ORIGINAL: Lori Lieberman (1972)

I’ll bet you’ve never heard of Lori Lieberman! Well, she wrote a poem that was later turned into a song, composed by Charles Fox and with lyrics written by Norman Gimbel.

The story behind it reads a bit like a soap opera — even Don McClean is involved — and when you hear this original version, you’d swear that it was opening credits for The Young and the Restless. It starts off with acoustic guitars, a sparse piano and then more acoustic guitars. Her vocal is loud and crisp, and sort of stiff.

It’s very 70s. When you hear it, you’ll understand. It also could have run under the ending credits for a bad 70s movie. Oh, the sad violins! This sounds like saccharine tasted.

COVER #1: Roberta Flack (1973)

Roberta Flack’s cover of this song was a Grammy-winning smash, that she sang with such conviction and feeling that to this day, people swear she wrote it. She made one small chord change while following the original arrangement, but it makes all the difference.

This version is very quiet and soft, and it lets her heart-wrenching vocals and the ethereal background vocals soar directly into the feels in your chest. It doesn’t get better than this very often.

COVER #2: The Fugees (1996)

Ahhhh, The Fugees. I remember this being one of the first major hip-hop covers that was a monster hit. It uses a killer sample from “Bonita Applebum” by A Tribe Called Quest, which sampled “Memory Band” by Rotary Connection.

They updated Roberta’s cover in a fresh and fun way. Lauren’s vocals echoed Roberta’s style, and Pras and Wyclef bounced around the beats with their toasting skills.

You could not escape this song when it came out. It was blasting from every car, it was played in every club, and was on MTV and VH1 every five minutes. And nobody got sick of it for a long time!


I can’t abide by the original, and eventually I did get sick of The Fugees cover, so Roberta easily wins this battle!


About Author

Crystal C Durant

Crystal is today's black Renaissance woman. She lives in Harlem, is always up for a new experience, is a magnet for all kinds of crazy, and smells like fresh flowers.

1 Comment

  1. Great piece, Crystal! I’m in total agreement that Roberta wins the Battle of the Killing-Me-Softlys… and I never knew the genesis of the song! Thanks for shedding some light on that, and for calling Lori Lieberman’s version to my attention; it was interesting to hear… once. 😉

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