The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (4:06)

Cover of All the Way... A Decade of Song

From All the Way... A Decade of Song and 11 other releases

“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. At the time the couple were lovers, although MacColl was married to someone else.

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 1969. 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 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.”

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