On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Peggy Lee – Is That All There Is? (1969)
We’re heading back to the US today, dear reader, and we welcome back Peggy Lee. She previously appeared on our list back in the 1950s with her version of the song, Fever. Today we pick up Lee’s career more than a decade later. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had penned the song, Is That All There Is? back in 1967 but Peggy Lee first came to record it in 1969 and it turned out to be a big hit for her and is considered the definitive version for our most exclusive 1001 Songs list.
Is That All There Is? sees Peggy Lee singing only the chorus. The verses are spoken and in each one Lee’s narrator takes us through an incident in their life and how something seemingly important was anything but. She begins with mention of a fire destroying her home but she shrugs this off, having expected something more. Her father takes her to the circus and although some elements are good she is left with the refrain of “Is that all there is?” The narrator then tells us of being in love for the first time with a young man but when he moves away she is left unmoved and wondering what all the fuss is about. In the end, the narrator responds to observations from others that if life is so unfulfilling why bother being alive. A bit cold you might say and our narrator responds that she isn’t ready for the end yet because when she gets to that point she’ll be left thinking once again, “Is that all there is?”
I enjoyed listening to Fever once again when Peggy Lee made her appearance on this blog back in the 1950s, and it was great to sample this track for the first time. Fever I had known for many years. Normally, I would be wary of spoken sections in songs as they do not always work. My reservations were soon dismissed though. Peggy Lee has such a good voice and her story of the many unsatisfactory incidents in the narrator’s life makes for enthralling listening. She still has time to demonstrate her excellent vocals with the chorus. It’s a nice combination, though you can’t help but feel some sadness for the protagonist in the song.
Favourite songs so far:
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel – The Sounds of Silence (1965)
The Who – Substitute (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Paint It Black (1966)
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows (1966)
The Doors – The End (1967)
The Beatles – A Day in the Life (1967)
Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade of Pale (1967)
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (1968)
The Kinks – Days (1968)