I also remembered that the Fugees covered the song but I had never actually heard the original version. So with the help of the internet, which barely existed in 1996, I set out on a search for the original. An article in Blender gives the following synopisis:
“KILLING ME SOFTLY With His Song” might be pop’s most misunderstood tune of all time. It’s surrounded by so many myths, it makes Aesop’s fables look like reality TV. Millions of pop fans know that Roberta Flack wrote the song about Don McLean – killing her softly with his song “American Pie” – and that the Fugees made it a smash more than 20 years later.I was able to find YouTube videos of all three artists' versions as well as the Don McLean song that inspired Lori Lieberman in the first place. Here the are, starting with the Fugees:
Interesting, but not true. Yes, Flack took this classic lovelorn weepie to number 1 in February 1973. But she didn’t write it.
“When Roberta’s version came out,” McLean recalls, “somebody called me and said, ’Do you know there’s a song about you that’s number 1?’ I said, ’What – are you kidding?’ And they said, “The girl who originally recorded it had it written for her after she saw you at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. She went on TV and talked about it.”
The girl was an L.A. folkie named Lori Lieberman. “I thought [McLean] was just incredible,” she says. “He was singing songs that I felt pertained to my life.” But it wasn’t “American Pie” that got her scribbling – it was a lesser-known album track called “Empty Chairs.”
and Lori Lieberman:
Finally here is the Don McLean song "Empty Chairs":
As a post script, I have actually been made fun of for singing the Fugees version at a karaoke bar. It was a bit hard to hit the notes, but thankfully the Plain White T's have a version that might be a bit easier:
I am glad they include the counting...