Is That All There Is?

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"Is That All There Is?"
Single by Peggy Lee
Released 1969 (1969)
Writer(s)

"Is That All There Is?" is a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s. It became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album in November 1969. The song was originally performed by Georgia Brown in May 1967, then recorded by Dan Daniels in March 1968, then by Leslie Uggams in August 1968, and Peggy Lee in August 1969, followed by Guy Lombardo in 1969, and Tony Bennett on 22 December 1969.[1]

Peggy Lee's version reached number 11 on the U.S. pop singles chart - becoming her first Top 40 pop hit since "Fever," 11 years earlier - and doing even better on the adult contemporary scene, topping that Billboard chart. It won Lee the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and then later was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The orchestral arrangement on the song was composed by Randy Newman[2] who also conducted the orchestra.[3]

Lyrics[edit]

The lyrics of this song are written from the point of view of a person who is disillusioned with events in life that are supposedly unique 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.

Inspiration[edit]

The song was inspired by the 1896 story Disillusionment (Enttäuschung) by Thomas Mann. Jerry Leiber's wife Gaby Rodgers (née Gabrielle Rosenberg) was born in Germany, lived in the Netherlands. She escaped ahead of the Nazis, and settled in Hollywood where she had a brief film career in films noir. Gaby introduced Leiber to the works of Thomas Mann.[4] The narrator in Mann's story tells the same stories of when he was a child. A dramatic adaptation of Mann's story was recorded by Erik Bauserfeld and Bernard Mayes; it was broadcast on San Francisco radio station KPFA in 1964.[5]

One difference between the story and the song is that the narrator in Mann's story finally feels free when he sees the sea for the first time and laments for a sea without a horizon. Most of the words used in the song's chorus are taken verbatim from the narrator's words in Mann's story.

Cover versions[edit]

This song has been covered by Chaka Khan, Giant Sand, Sandra Bernhard, John Parish and P.J. Harvey, Alan Price, The Bobs, Firewater, The New Standards, and Amanda Lear, amongst others. In 1972 Hildegard Knef released a German version called "Wenn das alles ist".[6]

Dorothy Squires recorded the song for her 1977 release Rain Rain Go Away.[7] Bolcom and Morris included a version on their 1978 album Other Songs by Leiber & Stoller.[8] Kate and Mike Westbrook covered it for their 2009 CD allsorts.[9]

An altered version by No Wave singer Cristina was available briefly in 1980. However, it offended songwriters Leiber and Stoller, who sued and were able to get it suppressed for some time. Produced by August Darnell, a.k.a. Kid Creole, this version was eventually re-issued in 2004 as a bonus track on a Cristina compilation.

Bette Midler included both audio and video versions on her 2005 DualDisc Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook.

Elizabeth Gillies, best known for playing the role of Jade West on Victorious, released a cover video on March 30, 2014.[10]

Uses in media[edit]

Peggy Lee did a skit with Carol Burnett on The Carol Burnett Show in the early 1970s, featuring a duet performance of the song that ends with Carol taking a fall.

The Peggy Lee record appears in Martin Scorsese's film After Hours: When Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) returns to Club Berlin, he uses his last remaining quarter to play the song and asks Verna (Verna Bloom) to dance. It was used as the closing theme of the WJW-TV show Big Chuck and Lil' John during the 1980s. It appears in Chris Petit's 1984 Berlin-based film, Chinese Boxes. Lee's recording is also featured in the opening sequence and the last scene continuing over the closing titles of the TV series Mad Men, season 7, episode 8, "Severance".[11]

The John Parish and P.J. Harvey version appears on the soundtrack of the 1996 film Basquiat.

This song was performed by Nathan Lane and Dianne Reeves in season 5, episode 74 (2002) of the American television series Sex and the City.

Actress Hope Davis performs the song in the 2007 movie The Nines.

Immersive theater production Sleep No More features both the Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett versions of the song, lip-synced simultaneously by characters in different rooms.[12]

The song is frequently referenced in philosopher Charles Taylor's 2007 work A Secular Age.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ secondhandsongs.com
  2. ^ Kevin Courrier, Randy Newman: American Dreams, ECW Press, 2005, p. 97.
  3. ^ Gavin, James (2014). Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee (1st ed.). Atria Books. pp. 284–286. ISBN 978-1451641684. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  4. ^ * Gaby Rodgers IMDB Profile, retrieved February 1, 2014.
  5. ^ dramatic adaptation
  6. ^ Hildegard Knef fan site
  7. ^ "Is That All There Is? by Dorothy Squires". http://secondhandsongs.com. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  8. ^ "Other Songs by Leiber & Stoller". Bolcom and Morris. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "allsorts". Kate and Mike Westbrook. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Gillies, Liz (30 March 2014). "Is That All There Is?". youtube.com. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  11. ^ Sleasman, MaryAnn (5 April 2015). "'Mad Men' Season Premiere Recap: Is That All There Is?". rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  12. ^ Dave Itzkoff, "A Guinea Pig's Night At The Theater". nytimes.com. May 22, 2012.