Deft

I watched the movie version of About A Boy recently and one of the things that amused me was their choice of “Killing Me Softly” as the song that Marcus and his mother sing repeatedly throughout the movie. Separate from whatever emotional significance the song has, it’s an inspired choice because, as the movie makes clear, it’s almost impossible for an untrained singer to sing well.

It makes it remarkable that Roberta Flack made it sound so catchy. She makes it seem like it she isn’t doing anything fancy. There’s nothing particularly showy in the vocals, and she doesn’t over-emote, but she’s doing with every line, and almost every word in the song.

I mean, how do you sing a verse like the following while honoring the emotion of the song, without making it a syrupy mess.

He sang as if he knew me in all my dark despair
And then he looked right through me as if I wasn’t there
And he just kept on singing, singing clear and strong

She makes it sound easy. It isn’t my favorite song of hers but seeing it in the movie made me impressed with what she pulls off.

Which brings me to another song on the album, “No Tears (In The End)” which I am rather fond of and also draws on similar strength of Roberta Flack as a singer. This wasn’t a song that jumped out at me at first listening, but I got into when I was working on a 70s compilation a couple years ago, and it’s stuck with me.

It’s a funny song, because the verses are all about falling in love, and the chorus keeps wondering what will happen when it’s over. It has to balance the emotion of falling in love, with being just a little bit wary about how much this could hurt and Roberta Flack does it wonderfully with a light touch.

Look at the opening lines of the song:

(chorus)
I don’t want no tears in the end.
I don’t want no tears in the end.

You made an impression when I looked at you
I knew what you wanted I wanted it too.
If anyone had told me that things would turn out this way
I never would believe that you’d still be here today.

I don’t want no tears in the end.
I don’t want no tears in the end.

They’re almost pop cliches, but there’s something so reasonable and adult about the whole thing. She’s enjoying the romance and participating but not getting swept away by it. And what’s happening with the tenses in that verse? It’s all past tense until you get to “I never would believe” which brings the song up to the present. How long have they been together? It doesn’t feel like a life-long romance but it’s lasted long enough that she can be happy that things have gotten this far.

I’m still stuck where I started. The songwriting isn’t brilliant, it’s a competent pop song, and Roberta Flack’s singing doesn’t stand out for any one reason, but it’s perfect for the song.

As for About A Boy, it has it’s virtues, but I ultimately found the movie frustrating. It seemed like the main message of the film was, “being weird and quirky will make you unhappy and you should try to be more normal.” It may have superficially tried to honor the fact that the various characters had strengths that came out of their peculiarities but it felt like the movie couldn’t wait to force them all into essentially conventional forms of behavior.

Also, in case you haven’t heard it, here is “Killing Me Softly.”

  1. k-sky’s avatar

    We used to sing “Killing Me Softly” in camp. The substitution “strumming my face with his fingers” is mandatory.

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    1. Carley’s avatar

      A bit sureirspd it seems to simple and yet useful.

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    2. RS’s avatar

      She sings Killing Me Softly as if she is very happy. There is the one verse that seems to have a touch of a darker mood, but, in general, she seems to be smiling.

      Is it a love song to music? To the song he sings? Maybe.

      The melody is so strong. It seems easily like a song that could be a hit even if you didn’t understand the words — but she manages to keep the momentum of the melody and still phrase the verses so it is possible to follow the meaning of the words.

      What’s with the big chorus of voices? On the computer, the drop way into the back and it is easier to just track the lead vocal. On a bigger system, it feels like this huge other group (overdubbes of her?) that is singing along — ahead and behind the lead. They know the song before she sings it. Who are they?

      K-sky, you used to sing it at camp? That makes it seem like it is a song that is easy for non-professionals to sing.

      RS

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    3. NickS’s avatar

      The melody is so strong. It seems easily like a song that could be a hit even if you didn’t understand the words — but she manages to keep the momentum of the melody and still phrase the verses so it is possible to follow the meaning of the words.

      I almost said something about this. She is unusually good at being able to be attentive to the song on the level of words, and on the level of pure sound at the same time. If you try to follow the words they’re easy to catch, but if you don’t it’s easy to just follow the sound.

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    4. k-sky’s avatar

      I don’t remember it being particularly hard for a singalong, but I don’t remember us singing it particularly well.

      “Imagine” was the song in the book that leaps out in my memory as being a campfire-killer. No one could handle the pauses in the melody.

      “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is another one that seems a bizarre standby in retrospect. I have very happy memory of singing it with a chorus of uncomprehending 9-13-yr-olds.

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