A uniquely gifted vocalist, Roberta Flack is familiar to multi-generation audiences for several reasons. Those who have followed her career since the early 1970s enjoy classics such as "Killing Me Softly with His Song" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"; others know her for her legendary duets with the late, great singer Donny Hathaway ("The Closer I Get to You" and "Where Is the Love"). Her hit making days continued well into the 1980s with singles such as "Tonight I Celebrate My Love" with Peabo Bryson, and even the 1990s with her successful duet with Maxi Priest, "Set the Night to Music." Illustrating her longevity, she attracted a new generation of fans when hip hop group the Fugees covered "Killing Me Softly" in 1996 (Flack even made a cameo appearance in the accompanying video). Now well into a 40-year career, Flack continues to bridge soul, jazz, rock, and folk together with her powerful voice. While not as well known as the aforementioned songs, her 1982 ballad "Making Love" serves as an outstanding example of her range and interpretive abilities.
In addition to Flack's beautiful performance, "Making Love" boasts an impressive songwriting pedigree and a noteworthy debut. Legendary songwriter penned the track with then-wife and new collaborator Carole Bayer Sager. The duo met when writing the theme song for the film Arthur, the Oscar-winning "Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)" in 1981. Bacharach and Sager proved a hit-making force throughout the 1980s, racking up a considerable number of popular adult contemporary tracks such as "On My Own" by Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald; "Love Power" by Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osbourne; and the hugely successful "That's What Friends Are For," recorded first by Rod Stewart and remade by Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. Still in the early days of their marriage and songwriting partnership, the couple composed the track "Making Love" for the 1982 film of the same title. Thus part two of the song's story begins.
The film Making Love is notable for being the first mainstream Hollywood films to address homosexuality. Starring Harry Hamlin, Michael Ontkean, and Kate Jackson, the movie centers on a married man struggling with his sexual orientation (Ontkean) and his eventual affair with an openly gay novelist. Upon its release in 1982, the film encountered much controversy due to its then-frank subject matter; though hard to believe today, a disclaimer was placed at the beginning of Making Love, warning audiences that the subject matter "may be too strong for some people," according to the Internet Movie Database. While not a critical or commercial success, the film was praised by many in the gay community for tackling an underrepresented topic. In the midst of the controversy came the single release of the movie's theme, "Making Love," the Bacharach-Sager composition that earned Flack a Top-40 R&B, Adult Contemporary, and Hot 100 hit.
While not as famous as her fine 1970s work, "Making Love" stands out for Flack's understated yet emotional vocal performance. Over a simple, keyboard-dominated arrangement, she tells a love story filled with universal resonance. From the first verse, however, it is clear that this plot involves a more mature, complex sort of love. "Remember when we thought / Our hearts would never mend / And we're all the better for each other," she softly croons. Her almost whispered delivery of the chorus suggests wisdom deriving from experience: "There's more to love, I know / Than making love," she sings.
As the track continues, Flack teaches a master class in phrasing and interpretive singing. Listen to how she lingers over certain words in the lines "Here no more confusion, we see our lives / We live our lives." She brings the audience into the conversation, forcing us to listen closely and relate to her experience. While she acknowledges that the journey is rough ("Remember when we thought / We never would survive / But now neither one of is breaking"), Flack's voice rises in strength at the bridge, suggesting love will always conquer. "Some things never change / Some things always do / And now I'm feeling strong enough to let you in," she croons, implying that change can strengthen a relationship rather than destroy it.
The coda, however, relates directly to the film. As the song fades, Flack softly repeats the line "And I'll remember you," suggesting the end of a romantic relationship. In that light, the lyrics can also be read as a couple who have voluntarily separated but still love each other as friends. Clearly this interpretation relates directly to the movie Making Love, although it could apply to any relationship.
No matter how one chooses to interpret the song, "Making Love" shines due to its sensitive lyrics and Flack's soulful and artfully subtle voice. While listening to her well-known 1970s work, do not overlook this unjustly buried gem.