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Mink Jazz: Peggy Lee In The 1960s

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MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”

Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

This year marks the centennial year for one of the most unique, talented and complicated artists in American music, Peggy Lee. And on this episode, I want to focus on her work throughout the 1960s. This decade was a decade of transition for Lee. She was transitioning from being at the forefront of pop music to taking a backseat to rock music. And her music and persona were also transitioning into something more elegant, romantic, and glamorous. Coming up, we’ll hear some of Lee’s most significant work in this decade, including her signature late-career comeback record “Is That All There Is?”

It’s Mink Jazz: Peggy Lee in the 1960s, coming up next on Afterglow

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “HEART”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “TILL THERE WAS YOU”

Peggy Lee, with two songs released at the beginning of 1960 from her album Latin A La Lee, an album of all Broadway hits with a genuine Afro-Cuban orchestra. First, we heard “Heart” from Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’s musical Damn Yankees, and just now, “Till There Was You,” from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man. Peggy Lee’s version of that latter song was actually the inspiration for Paul McCartney’s version a few years later on the album With The Beatles.

MUSIC CLIP - BENNY GOODMAN SEXTET, “UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE”

Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m exploring the work of Miss Peggy Lee in the 1960s.

Peggy Lee started the decade at a crossroads. For nearly 20 years, she had dominated the pop world, starting as a singer with Benny Goodman’s orchestra in the early 1940s, and emerging as a sex symbol into the 1950s, culminating with her sultry hit song “Fever” in 1958.

However by 1960, Lee was pushing 40, and suddenly found herself on the wrong side of the generation gap as rock and roll continued to dominate the youth market. But instead of continually chasing after the bloom of youth, Lee decided to cultivate a more refined, elegant and glamorous sound that appealed to her maturing audience.

Just as the decade began, Peggy Lee found a home in a brand new New York City nightclub called Basin Street East. The club was designed to appeal to an older crowd with deeper pockets, and Lee even had a hand in designing the stage. Despite the fact that the club hosted such luminaries as Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald, Basin Street East belonged to Peggy Lee. She put on the most extravagant shows, selling out the 300-seat club, attracting stars like Cary Grant and Bette Davis to the audience, and garnering critical praise.

Early in 1961, Peggy Lee recorded an album from her new musical home called Basin Street East Proudly Presents Miss Peggy Lee. The singer unfortunately had a cold the night of the live recording, and overdubbed her voice later in the studio. But you’d never be able to tell.

Here’s Peggy Lee early in 1961, live at Basin Street East, performing a sped up version of her biggest 1950s hit, “Fever,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “FEVER (LIVE)”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I LOVE BEING HERE WITH YOU (LIVE)”

Two songs from Peggy Lee’s 1961 live set at the Basin Street East, a New York Club that became her second home in the early 1960s. Just now, we heard her original showstopping number “I Love Being Here With You.” And before that, a sped-up version of one of her big hit singles, “Fever.”

There was an aura around Peggy Lee in the 1960s. Her lifestyle became increasingly glamorous, living beyond her means, frequently decked out in sequins and jewels. She had a certain magnetism on stage and on television, and she could be a starmaker, too. In 1960, she added a little known song to her repertoire called “In Other Words” by a struggling songwriter named Bart Howard. Lee had a knack for lyrics herself—she co-wrote that last song we heard, “I Love Being Here With You”—and she told Howard that the title “In Other Words” wasn’t going to sell. She suggested using the opening line of the chorus as the title, instead: “Fly Me To The Moon.” After her performance of the song on Ed Sullivan, it became a classic, performed by other hitmakers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Here’s Lee’s interpretation of that song now from the 1960 album Pretty Eyes. This is Peggy Lee with “Fly Me To The Moon,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “FLY ME TO THE MOON”

Peggy Lee with “Fly Me To The Moon,” by songwriter Bart Howard. Howard originally called the song “In Other Words” when he wrote it in 1954. But it was Lee’s idea to give it the more lunar title known today.

Peggy Lee’s famous sets at the Basin Street East turned into extravagant, star-studded parties at her New York apartment after hours. One of the people who often appeared at these after parties was a young, ambitious trumpet player and arranger named Quincy Jones. The two struck up a friendship—and eventually a relationship. This turned into a musical partnership when Quincy Jones acted as arranger on two of Lee’s albums in the early 1960s: the albums If You Go and Blues Cross Country. Both were concept albums—If You Go comprised entirely of sad laments, and Blue Cross Country of upbeat blues songs about travelling across America, many of which were co-written by Lee and Jones.

I’ll play some of her work with Quincy Jones now, beginning with a hip early 60s version of an old jazz standard, complete with flutes, guitars, and bongos. From the album If You Go, this is Peggy Lee with “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “NEW YORK BLUES”

“New York City Blues” (or “Train Blues”??) co-written by Peggy Lee and Quincy Jones. That comes from the 1962 album Blues Cross Country, arranged by Quincy Jones, likely with some help from Benny Carter. Before that, we heard Peggy Lee with the standard “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” from the 1961 sad-song concept album If You Go, also arranged by Quincy Jones.

Peggy Lee had an intimidating personality. Ask anyone who worked with her during this time, and they would say that she was a force to be reckoned with—sexually aggressive, demanding, and intense, both on stage and off. It’s a big part of what makes Peggy Lee such a fascinating figure at this time. Before the women’s liberation movement really hit full stride in the late 1960s, Lee proved that she was the boss among any group of powerful men. And her music in the early 60s increasingly began to reflect her persona. 

Here she is in 1962 with a hit song she recorded by the rock and roll songwriting pair Leiber and Stoller. This is Peggy Lee with “I’m A Woman,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I’M A WOMAN”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “SNEAKING UP ON YOU”

Peggy Lee, channeling a bit of rock and roll there, with her empowered song “Sneaking Up On You” from 1965. Before that, we heard her with the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song “I’m A Woman,” a single from 1962.

Throughout the 1960s, Peggy Lee had flirtations with rock and roll. Although she often found her on the opposite side of the generation gap, she frequently dipped her toes into more adventurous waters. She sang rock songs like Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” or Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” in a manner that was kitschy and cool, light years more hip than her contemporaries like Frank Sinatra. 

But Peggy Lee’s R&B chops were clear from the beginning, and so she could swing some rock ‘n’ roll. Jerry Leiber, who wrote “I’m A Woman” once called Peggy Lee “The funkiest white woman alive.” In fact, as early as the late 1950s, Lee became a champion of singer Ray Charles, praising his talents and singing his songs, both live on stage and in the recording studio.

I’ll play now her performance of two songs that Ray Charles made famous. First, here is Peggy Lee in 1962 from her album Sugar ‘N’ Spice with the Ray Charles song “Ain’t That Love,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “AIN’T THAT LOVE”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU”

Peggy Lee with “I Can’t Stop Loving You” a Don Gibson country song turned into a number one hit on Ray Charles’s 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. That comes from Lee’s 1964 album In Love Again. Before that, we heard Lee in 1962 with a Ray Charles original, the song “Ain’t That Love.”

MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE, “FLY ME TO THE MOON”

Coming up after a short break, we’ll hear more from Miss Peggy Lee and her work in the 1960s. Stay with us.

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - COUNT BASIE, “I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU”

MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “CLOSE YOUR EYES”

Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the 1960s work of Miss Peggy Lee. a time when the singer transformed from a mere pop and jazz star to a larger than life symbol of glamour and excess.

You can seed the seeds of this in her 1963 Capitol album titled Mink Jazz, featuring Lee on the cover in soft focus, donning a luxurious mink coat and a crystal chandelier sparkling in the background. The music also sparkles with that same cool sophistication, as if it were pulled from the sleekest, most upscale, smoke-filled nightclub you could imagine. 

Here is a track from that album. Peggy Lee in 1963 with the Bernice Petkere standard “Close Your Eyes,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “CLOSE YOUR EYES”

Peggy Lee in 1963 with the jazz standard “Close Your Eyes.” That comes from her 1963 album Mink Jazz, featuring Jack Sheldon on trumpet.

As the decade went on, Lee largely shed her past R&B style for a new style: the sad, slow ballad, lushly arranged and dripping with pathos. Her musical style matched her lifestyle. Lee was now divorced four times, always looking for love, pushing 50 years old, and living beyond her means. She also began to dabble in more paranormal and spiritual pursuits, creating even more of an aura of mystique around her.

After all, the namesake for the muppet “Miss Piggy,” the most glamorous and fabulous of all the muppets, was Miss Peggy Lee.

Here is Lee performing a handful of sublime, sad ballads, beginning with the Michel Legrand song from 1965, “Watch What Happens,” on Afterglow

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “WATCH WHAT HAPPENS”

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “(I’M AFRAID) THE MASQUERADE IS OVER”

Peggy Lee with two of her signature 1960s ballad performances. Just now, we heard her in 1965 from the album That Was Then, This Is Now, with the Allie Wrubel and Herb Magidson standard “I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over.” 

By the end of the 1960s, Peggy Lee had transformed from a jazz sex symbol in the late 1950s to a sultry but faded pop star. She might have faded completely into a mere pop music memory, had it not been for another new song in 1969 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the same duo who penned her 1962 hit “I’m A Woman.” Lee had ignored Leiber and Stoller’s calls year after year, but their new song found all three at the same point in their career.

The rock ‘n’ roll songwriting duo was now in search of writing something deeper than fluffy pop. They had become disillusioned with the limelight, wondering what all of it was for, or if any of it mattered. That idea led Leiber to the works of 19th century German author Thomas Mann, whose short story called “Disillusionment” inspired a new, mostly spoken word song eventually titled “Is That All There Is?” 

Leiber and Stoller hoped for Marlene Dietrich, Georgia Brown, or Leslie Uggams to perform it, but they all passed. They reached out, reluctantly, to their old friend Peggy Lee. When Lee heard the song’s dreamy vignettes, she felt the truth behind the words. That same sense of disillusionment had swept over here in the intervening decade, and she demanded the song become hers. 

Lee took control of the recording session, insisting that they take a chance on a 24-year-old up-and-coming songwriter to produce the record. She liked the kid’s dark sense of humor and his fondness for American theatre music, although most people were reluctant to give him a chance. But Lee ensured that Randy Newman would be the mastermind behind the song’s arrangement. The record was unlike anything on the radio, and it seemed doomed for failure. But Lee was certain of the alchemy behind it.

Lee started performing the song live, garnering a significant amount of buzz. After sitting on the Capitol Records shelf for months, it was finally released as a single late in 1969. This song that questioned the meaning of life seemed to capture the history-defining ups and downs of 1969, from the moon landing and Woodstock, to the Manson Murders and Stonewall riots. And for Lee, the romance and glamour that had defined her recent years were now seen in retrospect as a kind of facade, hiding the ennui beneath the surface. She became an American Marlene Dietrich for the age of hippies. 

I’ll play that song, in all its weird wonderfulness for you now. This is Peggy Lee with “Is That All There Is,” on Afterglow.

MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “IS THAT ALL THERE IS”

Peggy Lee, and her late career masterpiece “Is That All There Is,” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and arranged by Randy Newman.

And thanks for exploring this look at Peggy Lee in the 1960s, on Afterglow.

MUSIC CLIP - RANDY NEWMAN, “RAGTIME THEME”

Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow

Mink Jazz

The cover for Peggy Lee's 1962 Capitol album "Mink Jazz," and the beginning of her transformation into the glamorous pop star (Album Cover - Capitol Records)

This year marks the centennial year for one of the most unique, talented and complicated artists in American music, Peggy Lee. And on this episode, I want to focus on her work throughout the 1960s. This decade was a decade of transition for Lee. She was transitioning from being at the forefront of pop music to taking a backseat to rock music. And her music and persona were also transitioning into something more elegant, romantic, and glamorous. Coming up, we’ll hear some of Lee’s most significant work in this decade, including her signature late-career comeback record “Is That All There Is?”


Basin Street East

Peggy Lee started the decade at a crossroads. For nearly 20 years, she had dominated the pop world, starting as a singer with Benny Goodman’s orchestra in the early 1940s, and emerging as a sex symbol into the 1950s, culminating with her sultry hit song “Fever” in 1958.

However by 1960, Lee was pushing 40, and suddenly found herself on the wrong side of the generation gap as rock and roll continued to dominate the youth market. But instead of continually chasing after the bloom of youth, Lee decided to cultivate a more refined, elegant and glamorous sound that appealed to her maturing audience.

Just as the decade began, Peggy Lee found a home in a brand new New York City nightclub called Basin Street East. The club was designed to appeal to an older crowd with deeper pockets, and Lee even had a hand in designing the stage. Despite the fact that the club hosted such luminaries as Benny Goodman and Ella Fitzgerald, Basin Street East belonged to Peggy Lee. She put on the most extravagant shows, selling out the 300-seat club, attracting stars like Cary Grant and Bette Davis to the audience, and garnering critical praise.

Early in 1961, Peggy Lee recorded an album from her new musical home called Basin Street East Proudly Presents Miss Peggy Lee, featuring performances of some of her signature songs, including her original hit I Love Being Here With You and a sped-up version of her successful single Fever.” The singer unfortunately had a cold the night of the live recording, and overdubbed her voice later in the studio. But you’d never be able to tell.

Quincy Jones

Peggy Lee’s famous sets at the Basin Street East turned into extravagant, star-studded parties at her New York apartment after hours. One of the people who often appeared at these after parties was a young, ambitious trumpet player and arranger named Quincy Jones.

The two struck up a friendship—and eventually a relationship. This turned into a musical partnership when Quincy Jones acted as arranger on two of Lee’s albums in the early 1960s: the albums If You Go and Blues Cross Country. Both were concept albums. If You Go was comprised entirely of sad laments, including songs like "I Get Along Without You Very Well," performed in a hip 1960s sound with flutes and bongos. Blue Cross Country consisted of upbeat blues songs about travelling across America, many of which were co-written by Lee and Jones, incluing "New York City Blues," "Los Angeles Blues" and "Train Blues."

The Vanguard Feminist

Peggy Lee had an intimidating personality. Ask anyone who worked with her during this time, and they would say that she was a force to be reckoned with—sexually aggressive, demanding, and intense, both on stage and off. It’s a big part of what makes Peggy Lee such a fascinating figure at this time. Before the women’s liberation movement really hit full stride in the late 1960s, Lee proved that she was the boss among any group of powerful men.

And her music in the early 60s increasingly began to reflect her persona. Songs like “I’m A Woman” by the rock 'n' roll songwriting duo of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, or the slyly sexy “Sneaking Up On You” showed that Lee was showcasing her feminist powers both on stage and off.

"The Funkiest White Woman Alive"

Throughout the 1960s, Peggy Lee had flirtations with rock 'n' roll. Although she often found her on the opposite side of the generation gap, she frequently dipped her toes into more adventurous waters. She sang rock songs like Blood, Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” or Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman” in a manner that was kitschy and cool, light years more hip than her contemporaries like Frank Sinatra. 

But Peggy Lee’s R&B chops were clear from the beginning, and so she could swing some rock ‘n’ roll convincingly. Jerry Leiber, who wrote “I’m A Woman” once called Peggy Lee “The funkiest white woman alive.” In fact, as early as the late 1950s, Lee became a champion of singer Ray Charles, praising his talents and singing his songs, both live on stage and in the recording studio.

For instance, on her Basin Street East live album, she recorded a Ray Charles medley. On her 1962 album Sugar 'N' Spice she sang the Don Gibson country song “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” a song Ray Charles turned into a number one hit his 1962 album Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music. And on her 1964 album In Love Again, she recorded the Ray Charles original song "Ain't That Love." 

Mink Jazz

There was an aura around Peggy Lee in the 1960s. Her lifestyle became increasingly glamorous, living beyond her means, frequently decked out in sequins and jewels. She had a certain magnetism on stage and on television.

She could be a starmaker, too. In 1960, she added a little known song to her repertoire called “In Other Words” by a struggling songwriter named Bart Howard. Lee had a knack for lyrics herself—she co-wrote that last song we heard, “I Love Being Here With You”—and she told Howard that the title “In Other Words” wasn’t going to sell. She suggested using the opening line of the chorus as the title, instead: “Fly Me To The Moon.” After her performance of the song on Ed Sullivan, it became a classic, performed by other hitmakers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

As the decade continued, the glamorous persona began to shine through. You can seed the seeds of this in her 1963 Capitol album titled Mink Jazz, featuring Lee on the cover in soft focus, donning a luxurious mink coat and a crystal chandelier sparkling in the background. The music also sparkles with that same cool sophistication, as if it were pulled from the sleekest, most upscale, smoke-filled nightclub you could imagine. 

As the decade went on, Lee largely shed her past R&B style for a new style: the sad, slow ballad, lushly arranged and dripping with pathos, like "Watch What Happens" or "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over" both from 1965. Her musical style matched her lifestyle. Lee was now divorced four times, always looking for love, pushing 50 years old, and living beyond her means. She also began to dabble in more paranormal and spiritual pursuits, creating even more of an aura of mystique around her.

Miss Peggy Lee, this mink-adorned, stylish, and independent woman, even became the inspiration for another fabulous character: Miss Piggy from the Muppets.

"Is That All There Is?"

By the end of the 1960s, Peggy Lee had transformed from a jazz sex symbol in the late 1950s to a sultry but faded pop star. She might have faded completely into a mere pop music memory, had it not been for another new song in 1969 by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the same duo who penned her 1962 hit “I’m A Woman.” Lee had ignored Leiber and Stoller’s calls year after year, but their new song found all three at the same point in their career.

The rock ‘n’ roll songwriting duo was now in search of writing something deeper than fluffy pop. They had become disillusioned with the limelight, wondering what all of it was for, or if any of it mattered. That idea led Leiber to the works of 19th century German author Thomas Mann, whose short story called “Disillusionment” inspired a new, mostly spoken word song eventually titled “Is That All There Is?” 

Leiber and Stoller hoped for Marlene Dietrich, Georgia Brown, or Leslie Uggams to perform it, but they all passed. They reached out, reluctantly, to their old friend Peggy Lee. When Lee heard the song’s dreamy vignettes, she felt the truth behind the words. That same sense of disillusionment had swept over here in the intervening decade, and she demanded the song become hers. 

Lee took control of the recording session, insisting that they take a chance on a 24-year-old up-and-coming songwriter to produce the record. She liked the kid’s dark sense of humor and his fondness for American theatre music, although most people were reluctant to give him a chance. But Lee ensured that Randy Newman would be the mastermind behind the song’s arrangement. The record was unlike anything on the radio, and it seemed doomed for failure. But Lee was certain of the alchemy behind it.

Lee started performing the song live, garnering a significant amount of buzz. After sitting on the Capitol Records shelf for months, it was finally released as a single late in 1969. This song that questioned the meaning of life seemed to capture the history-defining ups and downs of 1969, from the moon landing and Woodstock, to the Manson Murders and Stonewall riots. And for Lee, the romance and glamour that had defined her recent years were now seen in retrospect as a kind of facade, hiding the ennui beneath the surface. She became an American Marlene Dietrich for the age of hippies. 


Further Reading:

James Gavin, Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee (Atria, 2015)

Peter Richmond, Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee (Henry Holt and Company, 2006)

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