1001 Songs Challenge #270: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1969)
On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Roberta Flack – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1969)
Continuing in the US today, dear reader, and we have a new face on our prestigious list but first a bit of background gossip. Back in 1957, British folk singer, Ewan MacColl, was a married man but wrote a song for his American lover, Peggy Seeger, entitled The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which was for her to sing. In the 1960s various artists would have a go at the song before one by the name of Roberta Flack recorded it in 1969. It came to nothing initially but three years later the story was very different.
The premise to The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is unsurprising given the title. The narrator sings of someone special and in the three verses describes their feelings about the first time experiences they have had with this individual. We hear about the first time they saw this person, the first time they kissed and finally the first time that they lay together. For each moment the narrator compares it to something almost otherworldly with images of the cosmos, heavy beating hearts and the hope that the love they share will last forever. You’ll be pleased to hear that MacColl and Seeger later married in 1977 and were still together upon MacColl’s death in 1989.
Roberta Flack took The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and practically doubled it in length given that she made it into a slow song. Her careful, ponderous pacing enhances the emotive impact of MacColl’s sincere and tender words for his lover. My previous knowledge of Roberta Flack was Killing Me Softly with His Song, so it was good to sample more of her work. Although 1969 did not prove the most successful for Flack, the use of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face in Clint Eastwood’s 1971 film, Play Misty For Me, ensured Flack’s song would top the charts in 1972 and garner awards too.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Who – Substitute (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)
The Kinks – Days (1968)