The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by
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Prompted By The First Time

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I love writing for Retrospect! It’s one of my favorite things to do these days. Almost all of my stories have titles that are song titles or lyrics. If I ever write a book, as I have occasionally threatened to do, it will surely have a song for its title. Recently I went back and renamed some of my earlier Retrospect stories that had more generic titles, replacing them with song titles, which was very satisfying. After I write a new story, I usually have to do some searching to find the right song. Only once have I had the song first and the story followed – We Shall Overcome. Even then, I had to give the prompt some thought before I got the song. However, this week the prompt called out this song to me and demanded that I write about it.

This song demanded that I write about it

The first time I heard “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” it was the Roberta Flack version, which appeared on an album she released in 1969. It didn’t become a radio hit until 1972, after being used in the movie Play Misty for Me. I’m not sure precisely when during that 1969-72 period I first heard it, but those years encompass most of the time I was in college. It was played a lot at college parties, especially as the night got late and everyone was feeling mellow (or wasted).

It turns out that the song was written much earlier, in 1957, by Ewan McColl, a British folksinger and political activist. He wrote it for Peggy Seeger (sister of Pete), who was his lover at the time, although he was married to someone else. He and Peggy eventually married in 1977. I find this story incredibly romantic. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Peggy, hearing it for the first time and knowing it had been written for her.

Thanks to Youtube, I have now listened to numerous versions of the song, by artists as diverse as Peggy Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary**, Leona Lewis, Celine Dion, George Michael, and (believe it or not) Johnny Cash. Each one has its own appeal, but my favorite is still Roberta’s. Probably because hers was my first time.

 


 

**Interestingly, when Peter, Paul & Mary recorded it for their album See What Tomorrow Brings, they changed the first line of the third verse. Instead of “the first time ever I lay with you,” they say “the first time ever I held you near.” Did they think it was too risqué for 1965?

 

 

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Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Patricia says:

    Suzy, I adored this song as well, but I imprinted on the PP&M version. I loved their harmonies, and would listen to every song over and over to learn each part (not just Mary’s). I credit them with teaching me to sing, and to appreciate the incredible emotional power of music. And you’re right, this may be the most romantic song ever written!

    • Suzy says:

      Patti, I am interested in your use of the word “imprinted” here, which I associate with baby animals thinking someone else is their mother. What does it mean in this context?

      • Patricia says:

        The baby animals think that the first “other” they see is their mother, whether it’s their actual mother or not. In this instance, I mean it as a general example of the “primacy effect”—it was the first version I heard and so that’s my default. I love the Flack version too!

  2. John Zussman says:

    I love how “The First Time” threads through this story in multiple ways. Like Patricia, I was a PP&M fan and I first imprinted on their version. When I heard Roberta’s, I had the same reaction to the lyric change. For decades, I was glad song lyrics no longer had to be “sanitized for our protection.” These days, I’m not so sure.

    • Suzy says:

      John, I see you “imprinted” too. Not surprising that you and Patti used the same word (and picked the same version of the song) since you have been together for a zillion years. 🙂 Would love to talk with you about “sanitized for our protection” lyrics.

      • John Zussman says:

        Suzy, I just realized that I misspoke (mistyped) in my first comment. I meant to say that I was glad song lyrics NO LONGER had to be sanitized. (I’ve now changed that in the comment.) But these days, curmudgeon that I am, I’m worried that some go too far, expressing misogyny and advocating violence. Let the discussion commence!

        • Suzy says:

          Ah, that makes more sense. I was surprised that you seemed to be saying that for decades you wanted them sanitized. I agree that nowadays some lyrics are problematic, especially rap, but I don’t think you could make them palatable without rewriting the whole song. Although there was Cee Lo Green’s 2010 song that had 3 versions: F**k You, Eff You, and Forget You. Remember that?

  3. It’s cool that you choose song titles to fit your stories. It might be fun to brainstorm on a Retro prompt by seeing what song titles come to mind, then writing to the musical and lyrical essence of the song. Anyway, this was a fun look at a bit of folkloric history.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, I had forgotten about the Peter, Paul and Mary version, since the Roberta Flack version was popular when I, too, was in college and was THE song for close friends of ours. But I loved P,P, and M too, listened to all their music, but didn’t own a lot of anything in those days. Love the image of your brain being a human jukebox. I usually seem to have some music running through my brain too, but can’t remember most lyrics these days, beyond the first measure or so.

  5. So interesting to think of PP&M as being prim and proper, which of course they were. Me too I love that song. Used to sing it to myself working night shift in the hospital.

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