Peggy Lee, Vocals
Original Release: Decca 78 (No. 5482 - April, 1953)
Decca LP Release: (No. 8358) adds 4 more songs (April, 1956)
Verve Remastered CD: (No. B000309302 - April,
Pop sensation Peggy Lee had cut quite a few hit singles and albums for
Capitol when she finally called it quits. A&R man Milt Gabler lured her over
to the Decca label in 1952 where she immediately started producing even better hit material. 1952's
single "Lover" a Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart standard (the b-side was "You Go To My Head") rose to the top of the
charts and stayed awhile. Lee's delivery was sultry, her
voice distinctive, she oozed sexuality from every pore. She established herself
as a distinctive, attractive standout in the crowd of female jazz and pop
singers who were popping up all over the place at the time.
When Lee came up with the idea for a concept album, a jazz album,
Decca bet some big bucks on it - and won. So successful was the original 78 rpm
release, Lee and friends went back into the studio to record four more songs for
a 1956 re-release on the new LP format.
The album art, which displays a copper coffee pot for one, a demitasse cup
full of the title liquid, complete with cream and sugar set, looks more like it
belongs on a box of fancy cookies than on a record album. The photography's
innocence belies the sexy sizzle and adult longing that goes on on the records
contained inside the jacket.
Lee's delivery on the title song, with sparse background assistance, conjures
more the lonely, jilted lover. She could be sitting in her kitchen brewing pot
after pot and chain-smoking. It's up to the listener's imagination whether or
not this poor dame hits the gin after the clock strikes twelve noon. The
combination of Lee's voice and the moaning of Pete Candoli's trumpet make for a
head-turning blues that's just the beginning of this emotional roller-coaster.
One hard-boiled reviewer pooh-poohed the idea that this was a concept album,
if only for the fact that she goes upbeat on two or three of the dozen tunes on
the album. Cole Porter's "I've Got You Under My Skin" is perky and
up-tempo. So is Rogers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and Walt
Donaldson and Gus Kahn's "Love Me or Leave Me." The rest, however, can be
construed as a woman on the skids, crying to anyone who'll listen about the bad
hand love's dealt her. But no whining here. She just purrs and overflows with
There's a little argument over why she included the then-risque "My Heart
Belongs To Daddy," another great Porter tune, in this collection. But for
whatever the reason it's executed in good taste, without the pyrotechnics of Eartha
Kitt, who'd do it in her "sex kitten" mode years later and make a big hit with
The slow tunes are bluesy and smoky. Jay Gorney and Sidney Clare's "You're My
Thrill" is performed in such a slow tempo it immediately evokes the style of
Shirley Horn; but Lee's perfect timing keeps the listener's interest.
The uptempo songs are the stuff Lee was famous for. She swings hard on all of
them, and despite the content of the lyric seems to be somehow audibly "winking"
at the listener, re-assuring them she's having a ball with this fine material.
What's incredible about Verve Records' digital re-master of this record is
the sound quality. Even though the original masters pre-date the high-fidelity
which came on the scene in 1957 with the advent of the Ampex 1" tape recorder,
the sound is absolutely impeccable. Every nuance of Lee's voice, then arguably
at its best (she was a smoker) is captured, as well as the dynamics of the
piano, the sharp clarity of the trumpet, and the distinctive tones of the
vibraphone, used on some cuts.
Which brings us to the instrumentation. Lee, originally a big band singer,
adapted a minimalist attitude for this album, orchestrating only with a small
combo consisting mostly of her favorite players from records past. The album's
arranged beautifully, and to add anything would just be gilding the lily. Some
fans of female jazz vocalists say that in a perfect worls, it would've been
Billie Holiday singing the songs on this album. But it was not to be.
Holiday's 1958 Lady In Satin with Ray Ellis and his Orchestra was a
concept album as well, but was too far ahead of its time (and Holiday too
distracted by her demons) for it to be appreciated until its own re-release,
before the re-release of this album.
"Black Coffee" (Paul Francis Webster / Sonny Burke) /" I've Got You Under My
Skin" (Cole Porter) / "Easy Living" (Leo Robin / Ralph Rainger) / "My Heart
Belongs to Daddy" (Cole Porter) / "It Ain't Necessarily So" (George Gershwin /
Ira Gershwin / DuBose Heyward) / "Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You?" (Don Redman /
Andy Razaf) / "A Woman Alone with the Blues" (uncredited) / "I Didn't
Know What Time It Was" (Richard Rodgers / Lorenz Hart) / "When the World Was
Young" (Johnny Mercer / M.Philippe) / "Love Me or Leave Me" (Walter Donaldson /
Gus Kahn) / "You're My Thrill" (Jay Gorney / Sidney Clare) / "There's a Small
Hotel" (Richard Rodgers / Lorenz Hart)
A Note About Some of the Songs
This album contains "I've Got You Under My Skin," which Frank Sinatra made
"his own" after hitting the top of the charts with it, before this album was
"Black Coffee" was recorded by no fewer than thirty singers, including Ella
Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Maria Muldaur, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, and
even k.d. Lang.
Amazingly, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" tops treatments by others with 53
artists including Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Vaughan, Carmen McRae and others.
- All Music Guide
- Website of ASCAP, ACE Search utility
- Peggy Lee Official Fan Site
http://www.peggylee.com (accessed 7/14/07)
- Verve Records