Is That All There Is?

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"Is That All There Is?"
Single by Peggy Lee
from the album Is That All There Is?
B-side"Me and My Shadow"
ReleasedAugust 1969 (1969-08)
Recorded1969
StudioCapitol Studios, Hollywood, California
GenreVocal jazz, traditional pop
Length4:19
LabelCapitol
Songwriter(s)Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Producer(s)Randy Newman[1]
Peggy Lee singles chronology
"Spinning Wheel"
(1969)
"Is That All There Is?"
(1969)
"Whistle for Happiness"
(1969)

"Is That All There Is?", a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s, became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album of the same title in November 1969. The song was originally performed by Georgia Brown in May 1967 for a television special. It was first recorded by disc jockey Dan Daniel in March 1968, but this was an unauthorized recording that, while played on Daniels' own radio show, went unissued at the songwriters' request. The first authorized recording was by Leslie Uggams in August 1968. Then came the hit Peggy Lee version in August 1969, followed by Guy Lombardo in 1969 and Tony Bennett on 22 December 1969.[2]

Peggy Lee's version reached number 11 on the U.S. pop singles chart — becoming her first Top 40 pop hit since "Fever" eleven years earlier—and doing even better on the adult contemporary scene, topping that Billboard chart. It also reached number six in Canada. 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, who also played the piano in the slower introduction section, [3] and who also conducted the orchestra.[4]

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" by Thomas Mann. Jerry Leiber's wife Gaby Rodgers (née Gabrielle Rosenberg) was born in Germany and lived in the Netherlands. She escaped ahead of the Nazis, settling in Hollywood where she had a brief film career. Rodgers introduced Leiber to the works of Thomas Mann.[5] Most of the words used in the song's verses are taken verbatim from the narrator's words in Mann's story.

In most arrangements of the song, most notably in Peggy Lee's version, the music recalls the style of Kurt Weill, typified by songs such as Alabama Song and Surabaya Johnny.[6]

Chart history[edit]

Cover versions[edit]

This song has been covered by Chaka Khan, Giant Sand, Sandra Bernhard, John Parish and PJ Harvey, Alan Price, The Bobs, Firewater, The New Standards, The Tiger Lillies, Amanda Lear, Joan Morris, James Last and Camille O'Sullivan amongst others. In 1971 Ornella Vanoni recorded an Italian version (text written by Bruno Lauzi) with the title literally translated as "E poi tutto qui ?"; in 1972 Hildegard Knef released a German version called "Wenn das alles ist".[12]

Dorothy Squires recorded the song for her 1977 release Rain Rain Go Away.[13] Bolcom and Morris included a version on their 1978 album Other Songs by Leiber & Stoller.[14] Kate and Mike Westbrook covered it for their 2009 CD allsorts.[15]

In 1970, Diana Ross performed a version of the song at a performance at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles with altered lyrics. That recording is unreleased, so writers Leiber and Stoller must have blocked it as they did with the following singer, Cristina. The Ross version, however, can now be played and heard, on YouTube. [16] Another version with altered lyrics, 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 (Kid Creole), this version was eventually re-issued in 2004, with the songwriters' blessing, as a bonus track on a Cristina compilation album, and as a single on the ZE and Island labels, in 1980.[17]

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 30 March 2014.[18]

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 June (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.

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 "I Love A Charade," 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.

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

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.[19]

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".[20]

The Peggy Lee rendition is featured in Harmony Korine's 2019 film The Beach Bum.

The song is used in the final scene of the season finale of Heathers.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  2. ^ "Cover versions of Is That All There Is by Dan Daniels". SecondHandSongs.com. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  3. ^ Kevin Courrier, Randy Newman: American Dreams, ECW Press, 2005, p. 97.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Gaby Rodgers". IMDb.com. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  6. ^ http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=7201
  7. ^ "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Collectionscanada.gc.ca. 25 October 1969. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  8. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - November 8, 1969" (PDF).
  9. ^ Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles 1955–1990 - ISBN 0-89820-089-X
  10. ^ Cash Box Top 100 Singles, November 8, 1969
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1999). Pop Annual. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. ISBN 0-89820-142-X.
  12. ^ "Hildegard Knef, Liedtexte: Wenn das alles ist". Hildegardknef.de. 28 December 1925. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  13. ^ "Is That All There Is? by Dorothy Squires". Secondhandsongs.com. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  14. ^ "Other Songs by Leiber & Stoller". Bolcom and Morris. Archived from the original on 16 April 2015. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  15. ^ "allsorts". Kate and Mike Westbrook. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  16. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGSkdUoKfSk
  17. ^ http://www.45cat.com/record/wip6560
  18. ^ Gillies, Liz (30 March 2014). "Is That All There Is?". youtube.com. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  19. ^ Dave Itzkoff, "A Guinea Pig's Night At The Theater". Nytimes.com. 22 May 2012.
  20. ^ Sleasman, MaryAnn (5 April 2015). "'Mad Men' Season Premiere Recap: Is That All There Is?". rollingstone.com. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 8 April 2015.