If you’re old enough to remember tuning the radio dial back in the early 1970s, chances are that you recall hearing Roberta Flack’s heavenly voice float across the airwaves on the regular. Propelled by a steady cadence of soul-pop crossover singles including “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Killing Me Softly with His Song” and two of her early collaborations with the legendary Donny Hathaway (“You’ve Got a Friend” and “Where is the Love”), Flack was indeed an inescapable presence on pop radio during the first half of the decade. All four singles were nominated for Grammy Awards, and Flack brought home trophies for all but “You’ve Got a Friend.”
Flack continued her impressive string of hits in June of 1974 when she released the gently swinging groove of “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” The universal ode to irresistible carnal impulses was originally penned by the late singer-songwriter Eugene McDaniels, whose 1971 LP Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse has been a hidden gem for crate digging hip-hop producers, sampled by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, and the Beastie Boys, among others. Produced by Flack under the adopted pseudonym Rubina Flake, “Feel Like Makin’ Love” was the lead single from the singer’s 1975 album of the same name, became her third single to ascend to number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and earned three Grammy Award nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
Twenty-five years later, the neo-soul wunderkind D’Angelo recorded a funky, percussion-heavy cover version of the song for his much-lauded sophomore album Voodoo. As the story goes, the track was initially conceived—but ultimately failed to come to fruition—as a duet with fellow Flack admirer Lauryn Hill, whose 1996 interpolation of “Killing Me Softly” with the Fugees was the group’s biggest hit of their ephemeral career. According to D’Angelo’s Soulquarian comrade and Voodoo collaborator Questlove, the single was co-produced by the late J Dilla, though his name does not appear in the official song credits.
Other artists who have covered the tune over the years include Roy Ayers, Shirley Bassey, George Benson, Isaac Hayes, and Marlena Shaw, among a host of others. Thankfully, despite the relevance of the message and the big payday that licensing the song would surely represent, neither Flack’s original nor D’Angelo’s version has made its way into those campy Viagra TV ads we’re all-too-familiar with. Let’s pray to the music gods that it stays this way.
Revisit the studio versions of each rendition below, plus bonus live performances, and let us know whether you prefer Flack’s original or D’Angelo’s cover in the comments!