Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Roberta Flack: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

I was considering another song today, but the more I thought about it, there are very few songs that I consider haunting. One in particular was Roberta Flack’s “The First Time I’ve Ever Saw Your Face” is one. This particular song was not so much because of its performance, but rather for the circumstance surrounding my hearing the tune and finally attending to its message.

When I was a sophomore in college, one Friday evening I wasn’t feeling well, so I opted on staying in while it appeared that everyone else in the dorm either was on a date, had left for the weekend, or had attended the home basketball game. I thought I was alone, but I was wrong. Some other poor, miserable, and wretched soul was also alone and confine to the dorm on a Friday's eve. As I lay in my bed, I could hear this song being played by another one of the dorm's residents – probably from the floor above me. Whoever he was, he repeated this track over and over.

Its haunting feel was accentuated by the tomb-like ambiance of the dorm - concrete and devoid of life. The song played ever so faintly in the background, but it was loud enough to discern every word. It was especially poignant with the reprise, “your face, your face, your face . . . your face.” Prior to that moment, I hadn’t given much thought to this song, although I had heard it many times before.

The song originated in 1957 as a folk ballad written by Ewan MacColl for his future wife Peggy Seeger. The song became a giant hit in 1972 for Roberta Flack after it was featured the previous year in Clint Eastwood's movie, “Play Misty for Me.” It was a number one song on Billboard’s Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts and the single was certified gold. One source admitted that Ewan MacColl hated this and every version of his handicraft, and he especially despised Elvis’ rendition. It is said that he referred to these covers as his own “chambers of horrors.” I'm sure he cashed the royalty checks just the same.

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