portrait of this blog's author - by Stephen Blackman 2008

Monday, April 16, 2018

On this day in music history: April 15, 1972 - “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 6 weeks, also topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 6 weeks on April 1, 1972, and peaking at #4 on the R&B singles chart on May 20, 1972. Written by Ewan MacColl, it is the first chart topping single for the singer, songwriter and musician from Black Mountain, NC. Originally written by Scottish folk singer Ewan MacColl* (the father of singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl) in 1957 for his future wife Peggy Seeger (the sister of folk music legend Pete Seeger), while the pair are having an affair, and while MacColl is married to someone else. Roberta Flack at some point hears the song, and begins performing it on evening and weekend gigs at night clubs in Washington DC (during the week she works as a teacher). She also records “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” for her 1969 debut album “First Take”. When the album is first released, it and the song attracts little notice. Then in 1971, actor and first time director Clint Eastwood hears Flack’s rendition, feeling that it will perfectly underscore a scene in his film “Play Misty For Me”. He acquires the rights from Atlantic Records to use it in the film. Once the film is released, the audience reaction is immediate and overwhelmingly positive, with people literally going from movie theaters to record stores looking for the song. Atlantic quickly prepares an edited version of the nearly five and a half minute track, and rush releases it as a single in February of 1972. Entering the Hot 100 at #77 on March 4, 1972, “Face” rockets to the top of the chart six weeks later. The single wins two Grammy Awards including Record and Song Of The Year, and is ranked as the number one single of 1972 by Billboard Magazine. The huge success of the single also propels Flack’s album “First Take” to number one on the pop and R&B album charts. The album is also inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2016. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

*worth noting here but Macoll is NOT Scottish and was born Jimmy Miller in Greater Manchester, more specifically Salford, about which 'Dirty Old Town' was written originally  for an interlude to cover an awkward scene change in his 1949 play Landscape with Chimneys, set in a North of England industrial town with the theatre group featuring the legendary agitprop theatre figure, first wife, Joan Littlewood. Allegedly 'First time Ever I Saw Your Face' was written for American Peggy Seeger, Pete's half-sister, whilst he was still married to second wife Jean Newlove. Seeger meanwhile had married UB40's Ali Campbell's dad Alex to enable her to stay here in the UK.   Either way MacColl wrote one of the finest love songs ever written as a folk song and apparently detested all the cover versions including Elvis Presley's and referred to them as the 'Chamber of Horrors' . . . . .he hated them believing therm without exception "bludgeoning, histrionic, and lacking in grace" whether that included the Flack version isn't entirely clear . Funny lot these old Commi left wing folkies, curmudgeonly and cantankerous and seemingly with really complex love lives! Who knew!? 

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