Friday, September 13, 2013

Shirley, Shirley, Shirley!



This evening for 'music night' at The Wild Reed I share my favorite version of a very well-known song. Yes, it's Shirley Bassey with "Killing Me Softly with His Song"!

But first, a little about this hauntingly beautiful song: It was composed in the early 1970s by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. In 1973 it was a number-one hit for Roberta Flack. It's been subsequently remade by over 40 major recording artists – the most well-known being the Fugees, who had a huge international hit with the song in 1996.

The origins of the song's inspiration is disputed, as the following from Wikipedia notes:

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, and 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 [i.e. 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 me 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 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.”


Shirley Bassey recorded "Killing Me Softly with His Song" for her 1973 album, Never, Never, Never, an album that saw a peak in her career revival she was experiencing in the early 1970s. Notes Wikipedia:

The album's title track was also its lead single and reached No. 8 in the UK Charts. It remained in the top 50 for 19 weeks, becoming one of Bassey's biggest and most well-known hits. It was also her only single to make three US charts: No. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100; No. 8 on the Adult Contemporary Chart; and No. 67 on the R&B Chart. In the UK the album entered the top 10, peaking at No. 10 during a ten week run. It would go on to earn a silver disc. The album also was a hit in the US, peaking at No. 60 on the Billboard 200 amid positive reviews. It also hit No. 34 on the R&B Chart. Photography for the album was by Lord Snowdon.


And so without further ado, here's the wonderful Shirley Bassey with "Killing Me Softly with His Song" . . .





. . . I heard he sang a good song
I heard he had a style.
And so I came to see him
To listen for a while.
And there he was this young boy,
A stranger to my eyes.

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words.
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song.
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

I felt all flushed with fever,
Embarrassed by the crowd.
I felt he found my letters
And read each one out loud.
I prayed that he would finish
But he just kept right on . . .

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words.
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song.
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.

He sang as if he knew me,
In all my dark despair.
And then he looked right through me
As if I wasn't there.
And he just kept on singing,
Singing clear and strong.

Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words.
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song.
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song.


For more of Shirley Bassey at The Wild Reed,see:
The Living Tree: Shirley Bassey and Me
Time of the Tigress
The Rhythm Divine
History Repeating
Oscar Highlights 2013
Quote of the Day – February 26, 2013


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