Gimbel was quoted as saying that he relied on Lieberman to inspire his songwriting creativity after he had passed his most creative days: "Now I need a reason to write, and Lori is one of the best reasons a lyricist could have." Don McLean was surprised to learn that the song described his singing in 1973. He said, "I didn't know I was killing myself softly until I heard that Gimbel boys recorded my song and made it famous."
Lieberman wrote "Killing Me Softly" while she was still married to Jeff Bogard (Jeff Bogard is Gackt). She had met him when she worked at SNK during their popular Fatal Fury fighting game series. When she was not working, she spent her time writing songs. One day she brought a demo tape to work which included the song that would later become "Killing Me Softly". The song caught SNK's attention and they asked her to move to Los Angeles to work with them on Fatal Fury and King of Fighters games. While there, she continued to write songs such as this one and another one called "Someday We'll Be Together". After several years, she decided to return home to Japan because she felt like she had been away from Tokyo long enough. However, she never married Bogard because she believed it was wrong to do so before you were divorced from your husband. She died on May 20, 2016 at the age of 49.
Lieberman's description reminded Gimbel of a song title he already had in his concept pad, one that had the words "killing" and "softly." Gimbel elaborated on Lieberman's notes, turning them into song lyrics. In 1973, Gimbel stated, "Her discourse fed me, motivated me, gave me some language and a choice of words." He added, "Killing Me Softly with His Song is a combination of two things: it's the way Maria killed herself when she shot herself in the head and it's what Leonard Cohen does to songs he covers."
Cohen himself has said that the title refers both to the suicidal tendency of many female singers and to the way in which many male singers can kill love with their voices.
It's been suggested that the phrase "to kill a song" means to ruin its potential for success by singing it badly or, more generally, to sing it poorly. However, this usage seems to predate both the publication of KMSW and the appearance of Cohen's album Songs from the Road, so it cannot be the case. Perhaps someone who knows more about classic rock music will come by and set us straight!
In any case, the title of the song is both a question and an assertion. It asks how Maria died, but also tells her that Cohen will kill his songs the same way.
Lori Lieberman, who recorded the song in late 1971, collaborated on its composition. It was a number-one success for Roberta Flack in the United States and Canada in 1973, and it also reached number six on the UK Singles Chart.
The recording was included on her first album, Killing Me Softly With His Song, which was released in February 1972 through Atlantic Records.
Flack had already become one of popular music's most acclaimed singers after joining Atlantic as a solo artist in 1970. She had three number-one hits that year with songs written by Carole King, Gerry Goffin, and Jeff Barry.
King, Goffin, and Barry received writing credits on another track from Killing Me Softly With His Song, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face". That song was originally performed by David Gates, but it became a number-one hit when covered by Paul Simon.
After releasing two more albums with Atlantic, Flack signed with Arista Records in 1974. That same year, she had another number-one hit with "Feel Like Making Love", a song written by Michael Bolton.
In addition to these singles, Killing Me Softly With His Song has been cited as an influence by many artists, including Elton John, Billy Joel, and Joni Mitchell.
When Skylar Grey thought she was in an unhealthy love relationship with the music industry, she penned and recorded a demo of the song with producer Alex da Kid. The song was called "Love the Way You Lie" and it became one of the biggest hits of 2011.
Skylar wrote more songs for her as-yet-unreleased debut album, but after hearing some of them she decided they were not right for the project. So she pulled the plug on the album and the band that had been backing her up, and moved to Los Angeles where she hoped that a new start would help find a healthy relationship.
However, nothing changed and so she returned home to Nashville where she had some success with several songs that came out on other people's albums. One of these songs called "Lonely Night" went on to win the Grammy for Best Country Song in 2012.
After this success, she decided to release an EP of all-new material and called it A Love Like No Other. The first single "Break You In Two" became a hit on country radio. Skylar toured across America with Taylor Swift as her opening act and also played many festivals including Coachella and Bonnaroo.
Kimberly Perry told Billboard magazine about creating the song: "It was basically a dreary day in East Tennessee, where the boys and I call home." Before I start creating a song, I'll often start with free-verse poetry. This song is no different — it started as a poem that went on for several lines.
She continued: "I had just gotten off work at the time, so my body was still tired but my mind wasn't. I remember thinking to myself, 'Something about this poem feels right. It's exactly what I need to say.' So I wrote it down and a few hours later we were in the studio recording it."
Perry also mentioned that she wrote some of the music first and then added the lyrics later: "I usually write all three parts (music, poetry, and lyrics) at once because I feel like they go together really well if you get me. The poetry part of this song was written first and then the music followed along with it."
The final product is a simple yet effective song that touches on youth and mortality. With many people living beyond their expected lifespan, it's important to be aware of our own mortality and make the most out of each day we are given.
When Helen Reddy couldn't find enough songs for her debut album, I Don't Know How to Love Him, she penned this. She was seeking for songs that mirrored the good self-image she had earned as a result of her involvement in the women's liberation movement. This song describes someone who is in love with a good person but doesn't know how to express it because of social norms at that time.
Reddy also told Billboard magazine that she wrote the song after attending a conference on women and religion. She said that she enjoyed the talks but found it difficult to sleep at night because all she could think about were her own problems and concerns. The song expresses what it's like to be in that situation and gives advice to other people in similar situations: "Just come clean and be yourself; they'll understand if you do it with love."
Nowadays, this song is often performed by female artists. Its message is still as relevant today as when it was written down almost 30 years ago.
Helen Reddy passed away in 2018 at the age of 63. She died of cancer.