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"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
Single by Roberta Flack
from the album First Take
Released March 7, 1972 (1972-03-07)
Recorded 1969
Genre Pop
Length 5:22
4:15 (1972 radio edit)
Label Atlantic Records
Writer(s) Ewan MacColl
Producer Joel Dorn
Roberta Flack singles chronology
"Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow"
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
"Where Is the Love"

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is a 1957 folk song written by political singer/songwriter Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger, who was later to become his wife.

MacColl wrote the song for Seeger, also a folk singer, after she asked him to pen a song for a play she was in. MacColl wrote the song and taught it to Seeger over the phone. The alternative version of the creation of this song is that MacColl was challenged by a friend to write a love song, with no politics. This song was the result.

MacColl and Seeger included the song in their repertoire, when performing in folk clubs around Britain. During the 1960s, it was recorded by various folk singers (including a version as a solo guitar instrumental by Bert Jansch).

The song entered the pop mainstream when it was released by Roberta Flack, in 1972. The Flack version was much slower than the original: an early solo recording by Seeger, for example, clocked in at two and a half minutes long, whereas Flack's is more than twice that length. It was subsequently covered by numerous other artists.

MacColl was an absolute folk purist (for example he did not approve of English people singing Scottish folk songs, or vice versa) and reputedly hated almost all the recordings of the song, including Flack's. His daughter-in-law is quoted as saying:

"He hated all of them. He had a special section in his record collection for them, entitled 'The Chamber of Horrors'. He said that the Elvis version was like Romeo at the bottom of the Post Office Tower singing up to Juliet. And the other versions, he thought, were travesties: bludgeoning, histrionic and lacking in grace."[1]


Roberta Flack version

The song was popularized by Roberta Flack and became a breakout hit for the singer after it appeared in the film Play Misty for Me. Though the song first appeared on Flack's 1969 album First Take, Flack's recording of the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year three years later.

Flack's slower, more sensual version was used by Clint Eastwood in his 1971 directorial debut Play Misty for Me during a lovemaking scene. With the new exposure, Atlantic Records cut the song down to four minutes and released it to radio. It became an extremely successful single in the United States, hitting number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the spring of 1972 and remaining there for six weeks; the song also spent six weeks at the top of Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks. It reached number fourteen on the UK Singles Chart. The success of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" essentially launched Flack's career as a popular singer, and the single became one of her signature songs.

Other Cover versions

Ewan MacColl himself made no secret of the fact that he disliked almost all of the cover versions of the song, referring to them collectively as "the Chamber of Horrors".[2]

"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" has been covered by numerous artists such as:Elvis Presley, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, George Michael, Marianne Faithfull,Kate Havnevik, the Kingston Trio, June Tabor, the Chad Mitchell Trio-Mike Kobluk solo, Gordon Lightfoot, Vern Gosdin, Shirley Bassey, Steven Houghton, Céline Dion, Bert Jansch, Maria Taylor, Peter, Paul and Mary, We Five, Johnny Cash, The Chi-Lites, José Carreras, Michael Sweet, Jeffrey Gaines, Isaac Hayes, Nana Mouskouri, Bradley Joseph, Joanna Law, Richard Marx, Alison Moyet, Stereophonics & Jools Holland, Mel Tormé, Vanessa L. Williams, Mathilde Santing, Cindytalk, Amanda Palmer, Conner Reeves, Christy Moore, Vikki Carr, Brian Kennedy, David Cook, Journey South, Bobby Vinton, Kate Ceberano, Lauryn Hill, Leona Lewis, Gregorian, Wayne Newton, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Temptations, The Smothers Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Paul Potts, Jeffrey Osborne, Andy Williams, Joe and Eddie, Bob Monkhouse, Petula Clark, Harry Connick, Jr., Aaron Neville and Marcia Griffiths (member of the I-Threes). There is also a jazz rendition of the song by the Rachel Z trio, on their album of the same name.

Pop Culture

It has been used as a sample in Mastersafe's 1992 Breakbeat Hardcore release on Formation records In Your Eyes, Joanna Law's vocal appeared on Way Out West (musicians)'s The Gift and the Drum & Bass song Dimensional Entity, released by Teebee and the Future Prophecies.

Leona Lewis' version of the song has been used in a commercial in the United Kingdom for Sekonda watches.

The song was used on a Oil of Olay commercial, in the early 1980's.


  1. ^ Michael Brocken, The British Folk Revival, 1944-2002, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, 2003, ISBN 0754632822, 9780754632825. p.38: quoting MacColl's daughter-in-law, Justine Picardie
  2. ^ "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" by Justine Picardie in Lives of the Great Songs ed. Tim de Lisle, Penguin 1995, p.125

External links

  • - with quotes from Roberta Flack and information on the song's background
Preceded by
"A Horse with No Name" by America
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single (Roberta Flack version)
April 15, 1972 – May 26, 1972
Succeeded by
"Oh Girl" by The Chi-Lites
Preceded by
"Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night
Billboard Hot 100 Number-one single of the year
Succeeded by
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando


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