Found Performance: “Is That All There Is?” by Peggy Lee

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I consider this Capitol Record’s release to be in the category of very weird, but “likable”! In 1969 it was a #11 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 and, over at the Adult Contemporary Chart, it rose to #1.  In Canada, the single peaked at #6. “Is That All There Is?,” performed by jazz and pop legend Peggy Lee, was penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. These guys were incredible songwriters and a few of their other hits included “Hound Dog,” “Love Potion Number 9, “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” and “Jackson.” The orchestral arrangement was composed by Randy Newman, who was credited with plunking away at the piano on the song’s intro.

This was Peggy Lee’s last single to make it into the Top 20 of Billboard’s Hot 100. And, after “Fever” had been a smash eleven years before, it was her first Hot 100 repeat appearance. On the strength of  “Is That All There Is?,” she won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1970, and in 1999 she was awarded a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame.

For anyone wondering about the state of mind of the singer, or the outlook on life expressed in the song, Wikipedia has an explanation: “The lyrics are told from the point of view of a person who is disillusioned with events in life that are unusual experiences. The singer tells of witnessing her family’s house on fire when she was a little girl, seeing the circus, and falling in love for the first time. After each recital, she expresses her disappointment in the experience. She suggests that we “break out the booze and have a ball—if that’s all there is,” instead of worrying about life. She explains that she’ll never kill herself either because she knows that death will be a disappointment as well. The verses of the song are spoken, rather than sung. Only the refrain of the song is sung.”

This TV appearance by Peggy Lee was on NBC’s “Kraft Music Hall,” with host Johnny Cash. It was broadcast at 9:00 p.m. on Wed. December 10, 1969. The performance was contemporary with when the song was a hit. The audio and video tracks have been  enhanced to improve the overall quality. Personally, I think it is historically an interesting performance and video. Take look at the way it was shot by the camera operators.

 

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Author: Steven Smith

Presently editor and historical writer with Puget Sound Media in Seattle. Former radio broadcaster and radio station owner, 1970-1999. Journalism and speech communications degrees. I enjoy researching articles and online reporting that allows me to meld together words, audio and video. P.S. I appreciate and encourage reader comments and opinions. View other articles by Steven Smith

11 thoughts on “Found Performance: “Is That All There Is?” by Peggy Lee

  1. Steve ~ What a great video find this was. In a television era when most tries at trying to be clever visually usually come across rather corny and do not stand the test of time … this is really quite beautiful. I’ve always been a fan of Peggy’s sultry voice. One of the better female voices of her era. Right there with Rosemary Clooney.
    Over the years when singers do a cover of her hit “Fever”, (including Michael Buble) they always do Peggy’s arrangement rather than that of its writer and original hit singer Little Willie John. I have Peggy’s Greatest Hits CD and it gets plenty of play around my house!

  2. Jay…I have her greatest hits. I first heard her as a kid around 1966. My dad always had KGMI on in the morning with Don McMaster automated tapes. And he kept playing “Pass Me By” at almost the same time every morning. And each time he had the same intro…because it was recorded right on the tape…something like “here is a little lady with ten fine toes to wiggle in the sand.” It drove me crazy. But I later learned to appreciate her music, once I did not have to hear the repetitive intro.

  3. “Is That All There Is” has such an unusual theme for a hit record.
    I understand Jerry Leiber got the idea for the song from a 1896 short story (“Disillusionment”) his wife suggested he read by the German author & 1929 Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann. Lieber once described the story as “the existential hole that sits in the center of our souls”! Whoa!! … Heavy stuff!!

  4. Not the most joyous song. She would consider killing herself. Except doing so would be such a let down.

  5. This reminds me of listening to the Jerry Marshall show on KUJ. Marshall had a syndicated show where he would play adult comtemporary music and then talk about it. That’s how I learned about Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Of course, Bacharach was the show.
    If you were listening, you may think that Marshall did his show in the radio station studio where you were listening. But actually, he did the show in New York.
    It was hard to get rock music on the radio in Walla Walla. KTEL would play it at night and never on Sundays.
    That would change when Jim Nelly purchased KUJ in the mid to late ’70s.

    1. Mike….in the sixties KBRC in Mt Vernon was pretty mellow daytime. But from about 7pm on the jocks could rock more. I think that was fairly typical, especially in smaller markets.

  6. Steve ~ Peggy’s song didn’t include the sad ending with the singer choosing to kill herself, but if you’d like a little death and mayhem we need to go to Peggy’s hit “Fever” (which my son, while still a pre-schooler, always referred to as “The Headache Song”) and the original singer/songwriter Little Willie John. And for added connection it all took place right here in Washington state! It seems Willie was convicted of manslaughter in 1965 for the ’64 stabbing death of Kendall Roundtree in Seattle! He was sent to Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla and on May 26, 1968 died in prison at the age of 30 of a heart attack.
    There you go! It took a little maneuvering but we finally got our death and mayhem!

  7. Jay…you are correct….she explains that she thought about ending it all, but decided it would be such a disappointment that she would pass on the opportunity. It is really captivating but weird lyrics. Hard to believe it was written by the guys who wrote Yakety Yak.

    1. Peggy certainly is “eye candy”, but her “Halo” jingle certainly can be an “ear worm” if you dare to listen to it 3 or more times in a row. Try it and see if it doesn’t stay with you for the rest of the day.
      From the same era, there is the famous “Ajax The Foaming Cleanser” jingle. It can become even more of an “ear worm” after just a couple of back to back listens. Care to try?
      https://youtu.be/pNvswtRdmX4

      “🎶… floats the dirt right down the drain …🎶”

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