Roberta Flack, Clint Eastwood and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

Anyone who visits these pages will know that I am often earworm-afflicted, but thankfully most of these earworms are of the pleasurable variety. Last week it was The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack which had popped up on on the car radio on my way home from work. I hadn’t heard it in years and was struck by just how beautiful it was. Such a slow pace to it which contrasted markedly to everything else I had heard during the same journey. It was actually written back in 1957 by Ewan MacColl, the multi-talented British folk singer, songwriter, activist and more importantly, dad to Kirsty, but was subsequently covered by many other artists.

The young Ewan MacColl – Is it me or is there a passing resemblance here to a certain Mr Shane MacGowan?

Ewan made no bones about the fact that he didn’t like these cover versions, but despite that, Roberta’s version from 1972 became a major international hit, winning a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Her rendition, at over five minutes long was much slower than the original which ran to only two and a half minutes but the success of this more sensual version was no doubt because it was used by Clint Eastwood for his 1971 film Play Misty for Me, where he made his directorial debut. Yes, although the song was originally written as a love song for Ewan’s long-distance American lover Peggy Seeger, whom he subsequently married, the Roberta Flack version, once in the hands of Mr Eastwood became a song all about “makin’ love” – All very smooth in the make-believe world of the movie and not at all like in the real world where I’m sure there would have probably been nettle stings, ants and mussed-up hair.  

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack:

Play Misty for Me is a really great psychological thriller and one which I do remember watching on television as a teenager, back in the ’70s. Of course in those days families generally only had one television set which resided in what we called The Living Room (although I am aware that depending on your class and geographical location it could have been called something else). We also had no central heating but a very fine looking 2 bar electric fire to keep us cosy during the long winter months. My point is that the whole family sat in the living room watching television together and whenever “scenes of a sexual nature” as they are called nowadays were transmitted, it was a cue for everyone to get very embarrassed. My dad would suddenly pick up his Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland’s oldest daily newspaper) to hide behind, and my mum would find something very important to do in the kitchen. I was left red-faced, willing the “scene of a sexual nature” to be over as soon as possible so that we could all get back to the business in hand, which was hoping that the dashing Carmel-by-the-Sea radio jockey Mr Eastwood, would manage to thwart the unwanted attentions of his stalker, Jessica Walter.

And here is where the law of freaky coincidences strikes again. After purchasing the song at the weekend I decided to write about it on Sunday night. I got side-tracked however by a spot of boxset binging – Mad Men, the final season. Anyone who has watched Mad Men will know that it is an American period drama set primarily in the 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Madison Avenue. We were now right at the end of the final season however and had reached the early 1970s. At the end of each episode they chose a song from the era to accompany the closing credits and what did Sunday night’s turn out to be? Yes, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack!

The Cast of Mad Men – We’ve reached the 1970s!

But of course I can’t leave it there as this would just be too schmaltzy a post. No, instead I will leave you with Will from the Inbetweeners movie, who thought that a spot of Roberta Flack would help him capture the heart of Katie, a girl he had met on holiday – Needless to say it didn’t, and she led him a merry dance on the way to finding that out, but all very funny nonetheless. Until next time, I give you Will…..

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
(Song by Ewan MacColl)

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies my love
To the dark and the endless skies

The first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command my love
That was there at my command my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last ’till the end of time my love
And it would last ’till the end of time

The first time ever I saw your face
Your face, your face

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

8 thoughts on “Roberta Flack, Clint Eastwood and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face””

  1. I’ve been a huge Clint Eastwood fan since the ’70s, and Play Misty For Me has long been near the top of my list of favorite Eastwood films. That love scene with this song always seemed a bit out-of-place to me, as if it was a commercial for some unnamed product, but somehow the movie wouldn’t be quite the same without it. Thanks for all the background info on the song, most of which was a revelation to me. I’m unfamiliar with the Inbetweeners movies but that was an enjoyable snippet. Every song should be accompanied by interpretive dance. Okay, maybe not…but it worked this time. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rich – Thanks for dropping by. Yes I’m a great fan of Clint Eastwood and this movie especially. They didn’t need big budgets and special effects to make quality entertainment in those days! I actually watched the movie not that long ago but didn’t remember that it had the Roberta Flack song until I started writing about it – Must have just got absorbed into the whole storyline for me.

      As for the Inbetweeners – No I doubt if you would have been familiar with them as “very British” with a humour to match. Out of context, that scene must have seemed strange, but their desperate attempts to find girlfriends always amused me!


    1. Hi Rick – No it is not a song I would have associated with Ewan at all but once you slow things down to that extent the whole vibe of it changes.

      As for The Inbetweeners, not a group of young men you will have come across probably them being from a British TV show and then spin-off movies, but very funny scenes that often involved music. Their attempts at finding girlfriends were both painful, and painfully funny!


  2. Well, I never knew that about ‘First Time…’ being written by Ewan (‘Shane MacGowan’) MacColl! Thanks for that info. I must go and search it out, I’m intrigued – Roberta’s is the only one I’ve ever heard. ‘Play Misty For Me’ is one of those brilliantly disturbing films that sort of sets me right on edge – stalkers/obsessive fans always make great stories but you certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of their attentions….argh!
    I know just what you mean about the family viewing and ‘scenes of a sexual nature’, oh no! I would sort of become frozen at those moments, (and frozen to the screen…) but my Mum would usually try to lighten things up a bit as she was pretty laid-back about that kind of thing (and sometimes horrifyingly open too) so she’d say something like, “Well, he does have a nice bum / she does have nice breasts” and of course that would just embarrass me even more…
    The Inbetweeners clip made me smile too – bless him!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am loving how my blog is making me dive into the back story behind a song and I too am finding out so much that I didn’t know first time around. Also I did find the recording of Play Misty… on the machine attached to the telly last night and started re-watching it – I had to go to bed however just as Evelyn was starting to display her very disturbing traits! Will finish it tonight and this time I won’t have to feel embarrassed in front of my parents – Your mum sounds like Mr WIAA,A’s mum (an artist by the way) but mine was from the other end of the spectrum (a book-keeper). As a kid you’re just embarrassed whatever they do.

      Yes like Will’s version of the song too and reminded me of some of the boys from my own youth – They of course have all turned into lovely men with excellent jobs so they get there in the end, and have the last laugh!


  3. Those memories of watching TV with the family (yes, in the Living Room) were very familiar, though thankfully by the time I was old enough to watch Play Misty, I had a cracked-screen portable TV in my bedroom, so the scenes you mentioned were enjoyed without embarrassment. It’s weird how often they used to rotate the same films on TV when we were younger – I must have watched Play Misty 3 or 4 times during my teenage years, along with many other old “classics”. There would now follow my usual comment about lack of time these days… But I know how you’d answer that!

    Any chance of a follow up post on Misty itself, by Ray Stevens? If you don’t, I will!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So you were Living Room people too then – It varies! Considering there were just so few channels back in the day you would have thought they would never have had to repeat films but the same ones kept appearing time and time again. Watched it last night actually and found it hard to believe it was from nearly 50 years ago as lots of the house decor was remarkably like ours – We are obviously long overdue a “Living Room” makeover!

      Yes it’s the Ray Stevens version I remember from the ’70s rather than the Erroll Garner version in Play Misty – Was considering putting out a request for songs to feature as I like a bit of a challenge but this one could be tricky as not an awful lot of personal memories attached. I will give it a try though as when I started my blog last year each post tended to follow on from the last like a chain (before our other Chain had been invented) but of late I’ve been jumping about wildly. Watch this space.


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