Is That All There Is?

Greatly Appreciated

“Is That All There Is?”  is a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960’s.  It became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album in November 1969.  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, who also played the piano and conducted the orchestra.  (More from Wikipedia)



Even in the context of 1969 – one of the most eclectic years in the history of music (if I remember right, there was once a television program on the music in that year) – Is That All There Is? hit the record charts utterly out of left field.  Particularly as performed in the version by Peggy Lee – who was previously best known for her hit “Fever” in the late 1950’s (with “Fever” later becoming probably the best known cover song by Madonna) – Is That All There Is? seems to come off like a 1940’s-style pop song.  The verses tell of the singer’s growing disillusionment with life – first at a house fire, then at a circus, and finally at love – followed by the chorus (the only part that is sung):  You can almost see her world-weary shrugs in the way that Peggy Lee sings those lines:  “If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing / Let’s break out the booze and have a ball”.  In a final twist, the chorus is cut short before the last verse where the singer has decided that suicide is no answer either:  “I’m not ready for the final disappointment”. 


In a sense, Is That All There Is? is a grimmer retelling of the Joni Mitchell song Both Sides Now that Judy Collins released as a Top 10 hit the previous year; it had appeared on Collins1967 album, Wildflowers.  For all I know, that could have been the genesis of the song.  The first recorded version, by New York disc jockey Dan Daniel was released in March 1968.  


The song was written by the prolific songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike StollerIs That All There Is? has little in common with their better known songs like Jailhouse Rock, “Hound Dog”, “Kansas City”, or the numerous hits by the Coasters; although songs that the two co-wrote with others, such as “Stand by Me” and On Broadway have some of the flavor of this song.   


The piano work along with the arrangements on the Peggy Lee hit version of Is That All There Is? were by Randy Newman at the beginning of his career (he was also the orchestra conductor) – his debut album, Randy Newman came out in 1968 – and there is no doubt that this song was right up his alley. 


Peggy Lee won the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Is That All There Is?, and the song was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.  


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Last edited: March 22, 2021