30 Sad Songs no. 23. Sweet Bitter Love – Roberta Flack

roberta quiet fire coverRoberta Flack is one of the artists who could have taken up the whole of this list: very few singers can get to the emotions in the way she can. This track from her 1971 album Quiet Fire is my favourite. Maybe the Aretha Franklin version is better known, but I think this wipes the floor with it. It’s really stripped down and simple, just Roberta and her piano until a moment towards the end when there’s one big glissando of strings which gives me shivers up the spine every single time I listen to it. If you’ve been paying attention so far you’ll know that a lot of songs on this list relate to doomed or ruined love affairs in my own early life, but actually by the time I really got to know this I was safely harboured, thank God, because I can imagine this being a real late-night scotch-swiller. There’s a great story in one of Derek Jarman’s books about how he blasted Sweet Bitter Love from the rooftop of his Bankside studio before it was demolished, one summer night. It’s a perfect image, and a perfect use for the song.



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