June 13th – Peggy Lee – Say It

Mirrors easily ties with Sea Shells (a collection of arts songs and Chinese poetry) as Peggy Lee’s most surprising album.  Written and produced by Leiber and Stoller, the album features material which no one familiar with either their or Lee’s catalogues could have anticipated.  Peggy had previously scored with the writers’ I’m A Woman – and recorded their Is That All There Is? (against the wishes of her record company) in 1969.  She won a Grammy award for her trouble on the latter so their union was widely anticipated – not least by A&M who pushed the boat out on everything from the arrangements (mostly by Johnny Mandel) to the cover art by Hans Albers and David McMacken which was judged to be everything from impossibly glamourous to akin to a death mask.

The songs encompass murder, drug addiction, mental illness, aging and, less unusually for a singer of Lee’s era, love and a certain amount of sex. But even the love songs are unconventional (as this one illustrates).

Lee was, by all accounts, difficult to work with at this point in her career (see James Gavin’s excellent biography Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee for an account of the recording sessions) and more or less disowned the album after it proved to be less than successful – much to the disappointment of its composers.  As with all such things it has been revaluated over time but critical opinion still places it somewhere between a masterpiece and a curate’s egg.  See what you think.