Killing Me Softly, Cover Song Analysis
The version of “Killing Me Softly” that many are familiar with was popularized by the Fugees in 1996; however, it was originally popularized by Roberta Flack in 1973 and it was initially titled “Killing Me Softly with His Song”. Interestingly enough, Roberta Flack’s version is commonly thought to be the original version of “Killing Me Softly with His Song” but it is actually a cover as well. The true original was recorded in 1971 by Lori Lieberman and it was released in 1972, an entire year before Flack’s version was released. Based on the arguments made in “Hijacked Hits and Antic Authenticity: Cover Songs, Race, and Postwar Marketing”, by Michael Coyle these covers are considered to be productive remakes.
Lori Lieberman’s version of the song was early 1970’s folk music, it was simple and the familiar melody that many know is very much present. Crediting the original artist of the songs sounds like a simple enough thing to do but there is plenty of controversy behind “Killing Me Softly with His Song”. Lieberman claims to have penned the song with Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel in 1971 after attending a Don McLean; however, both Fox and Gimbel have continued to refute such claims. Lieberman says the song was developed from a poem she had written of the same title. According to Fox and Gimbel the three had discussed the idea together but didn’t actually pen the song.
The version done by Roberta Flack was Classic Soul, and it rose to the number 1 spot on the Billboard charts in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is also noted as being the number three song of the year in 1973 by Billboard. Flack first heard the song while traveling on an airplane, as Lieberman’s version was a part of the in-flight audio program. Upon hearing it she contacted Fox and Gimbel and recorded her own version 1972. After its release it spent the most weeks out of 1973 at number one (non-consecutively). Fox claimed that Flack’s version was more successful that Lieberman’s version because it was of a faster space and had aspects that were not in the original.
The 1996 remake by the Fugees merged Pop, Hip Hop and reggae sounds to create the version many know and love today. Lauryn Hill’s smooth voices and her ability to convey the deep and meaningful feelings of hurt is what truly captivated audiences. By adding the elements of Hip Hop, a musical genre with rising popularity at the time, the Fugees were able to appeal to a whole new audience with the remake. This version became the United Kingdom’s number one hit of 1996 and peaked at number 2 on the U.S airplay charts. In 1997 it won the group a Grammy and a MTV Video Music Award. Many would say “Killing Me Softly” is one of the Fugees most known records.
Each time the song was recorded, the artists were able to bring something new and add more dimensions. Coyle explains that, “… the ‘cover song’ has established itself as a way for performers to signify difference…” In both instances where “Killing Me Softly” was covered Roberta and the Fugees where able to add layers that show how it is they differed from other artist. Roberta added color and flare that Lori’s version lacked. With her changes Roberta was able to claim two Grammy wins. Likewise, the Fugees were also able to solidify a Grammy win with their version of the song. And though Roberta Flack’s version of the song is beautifully delivered, the Fugees were able to take the song to new places with Lauryn Hill’s striking vocals.