Miss Peggy Lyricist

Of course I knew Peggy Lee as a singer since childhood. And I also knew some of the songs she wrote lyrics for, as recorded by her and others. But until recently I didn’t know that she had written those words.

We had Peggy Lee albums in the house when I was a kid. I remember especially “Live at Basin Street East.” She was on TV a lot in the sixties, and when I was an adolescent she had a surprise hit with “Is That All There Is?,” an uncharacteristic product of the pens of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. I remember an older Peggy, with bleached blonde hair, and lots of makeup, standing stock still, singing that maudlin song. I don’t know, is maudlin the word? I found her look rather ghoulish as she sang it, kind of like a lobotomized Baby Jane Hudson. At any rate, I won’t be posting that song here anytime soon. Maybe when I post Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days”—that is, when hell freezes over. (Though, in defense of the melody of “Those Were the Days,” it started out as a maudlin Russian song, with English lyrics added by Gene Raskin, who I hope was a better architecture critic than lyricist.)

But back to Peggy Lee. She got her start as a big band singer with Benny Goodman. She met her husband, Dave Barbour, a guitarist, in the Goodman band, and the went on to collaborate on a number of songs, some of them really good. The Lee-Barbour collaborations have found favor among jazz singers. “I Love Being Here with You,” has been recorded by a number of singers, and in live performance it’s often done at the top or end of a set as a tribute to the audience. “It’s a Good Day” is not to my liking. It’s a kind of exuberant revival meeting song, and to my ears it’s as corny as “Jubilation T. Cornpone.”

My favorite of the Lee lyrics is “I Don’t Know Enough About You.”

I know a little bit about a lot of things,
But I don’t know enough about you.
Just when I think you’re mine,
You try a different line,
And baby, what can I do?

I read the latest news,
No buttons on my shoes,
But baby, I’m confused about you.
You get me in a spin,
Oh what a stew I’m in,
‘Cause I don’t know enough about you.

Jack of all trades, master of none,
And isn’t it a shame,
I’m so sure that you’d be good for me,
If you’d only play my game!

You know I went to school,
And I’m nobody’s fool,
That is to say until I met you!
I know a little bit about a lot o’ things,
But I don’t know enough about you.

It establishes its conceit right at the start and plays it out nicely. She uses the cliche “jack of all trades, master of none,” but we all know that the pop song is where cliches go to make a new start. Maybe not an earth-shattering lyric, but a good one that’s like smooth vodka to a singer, and one that works just right with Barbour’s melody. The only line that gives me pause is “no buttons on my shoes.” I’m guessing that when the song was written that was a way of saying “I’m up to date,” but I can’t imagine it can still convey that.

Below is a clip of Peggy and Judy Garland dishing and singing a duet on “I Love Being Here with You,” which I mentioned above.

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2 thoughts on “Miss Peggy Lyricist

  1. You get me in a spin,
    Oh what a stew I’m in,

    That’s the part that gives me pause, because I immediately think of

    In a spin,
    Loving the spin I’m in
    Under that old black magic called love!
    —Johnny Mercer, 1942

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