Killing Me Softly by Fugees

Every New Zealand #1 single…

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Killing Me Softly by Fugees

Topped the NZ chart: from 2 June 1996 for three weeks

The Fugees topped the New Zealand singles charts with their cover of ‘Killing Me Softly With His Song’. I never realised that Roberta Flack’s 1973 version was also a cover. The song was first recorded by Lori Lieberman in 1972.

Lori Lieberman

The origins of ‘Killing Me Softly with His Song’ are contentious. The song’s original performer as a writer, Lori Lieberman, went uncredited. The song was inspired by Lieberman attending a Don McLean concert and being affected by the song ‘Empty Chairs’. She wrote some notes down on her napkin.

Lieberman was already working with songwriters Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. After the concert, Lieberman contacted Gimbel, and they pieced together Lieberman’s notes with a song idea Gimbel had already been working on. Lieberman released her version in 1972, but it made little impact.

Roberta Flack

Roberta Flack recorded a soulful version in 1973, changing some chords. It spent more time at the top of the US charts in 1973 than any other song.

The Fugees

The Fugees covered ‘Killing Me Softly’ in 1996. It was the second single from their second album, The Score. The group wanted to update the lyrics to make it anti-poverty and anti-drugs, but Gimbel and Fox refused permission.

Instead, it’s an elegant update of the original. It adds some new elements – the sitar-like break is a great touch, while they add some rapped ad-libs. Lauryn Hill has the chops to deliver a terrific vocal.

It’s difficult to decide whether I prefer Flack’s or the Fugees’ version – both are classic. They both placed on Rolling Stone’s 2021 list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

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7 Comments

  1. I still remember when I first heard the rendition by the Fugees I didn’t like it – I guess in large part because I first heard Roberta Flack’s version, which I immediately loved. I subsequently warmed to the Fugees, though I still prefer Flack’s version. I also didn’t realize Flack wasn’t the first artist to record the song. I have to say while vocally it’s hard to compete with Roberta Flack or Lauryn Hills, Lori Lieberman did a pretty good job on her original recording.

    • I think I didn’t like it initially either. The original is so elegant and sparse, and the Fugees pack a bunch of extra ideas in. But now I think they’re both great.

    • Yeah, looks like Flack didn’t write many of her songs. Which is fine – it doesn’t really matter if people write their own songs or not, it’s the final product that matters.

  2. I do like Lori Lieberman’s version of it. I like the Fugees version until those “drums” come in. I just have an adversion to that style. Great song though regardless…of course I know the Flack version like the back of my hand.

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