When Peggy Lee became well-known in the 1940s, swing and jazz-influenced pop dominated the musical landscape. In the 1960s, however, it was a whole new world in popular music. The British Invasion and Motown — not big bands — were mainstream, and to the Baby Boomer youths of the 1960s, Lee was part of “our parents’ music.” But the singer had a major hit with 1969’s Is That All There Is?, one of the best-selling albums of her career. While this isn’t a rock album per se — Lee’s foundation was still jazz-influenced pop — it acknowledges pop-rock tastes of the 1960s without being unfaithful to her history. Everything on this LP is a gem, and that includes a moody remake of Lee’s 1940s hit “Don’t Smoke in Bed” as well as classic arrangements of George Harrison’s “Something,” Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show,” Leiber & Stoller’s “I’m a Woman,” and Randy Newman’s “Love Story.”
The LP’s centerpiece, however, is Newman’s hit arrangement of Leiber & Stoller’s title song, which was covered by P.J. Harvey in the 1990s. Influenced by German cabaret, this half-spoken, half-sung treasure is as hauntingly soulful as it is maudlin. The song’s outlook is far from optimistic; essentially, it’s saying that we might as well grab our moments of pleasure and enjoyment where we can find them because ultimately, life is nothing more than a meaningless series of disappointments. But there’s nothing disappointing about Is That All There Is?, an LP that is most certainly among Lee’s finest accomplishments.