Peggy Lee Box Set: London 1977

Even though she was clearly beyond her peak at nearly 57, when Peggy Lee recorded her album “Peggy” in 1977, there are some moments that were intensely accurate and convincing, as author James Gavin also states in his biography “Is That All There Is? The Strange Life Of Peggy Lee” when he says: “Lee sounded appropriately heavy of heart as she sang: “How could I be so blind not to see the door/Closing on the world I now hunger for?””.

Peggy Lee "Live In London"The song “The Hungry Years” by Neil Sedaka is the opener of that particular 1977 LP which is part of a four-disc compilation of her time in London that also includes her live concert at the Palladium from March 13th of that year, released here for the first time on CD in its complete form plus rehearsal material for the March 20th show and the full second concert. Also included, a bonus music video DVD taken from the BBC TV show “Peggy Lee Entertains”.

As for the studio album, with arrangements by Pete Moore, Peggy herself chose contemporary material like the Peter Allen disco hit “I Go To Rio” or “I’m Not In Love”, the 10cc hit song where she strangely sounds groggy and cumbersome. She also sounds as if she’s almost passing out on “Star Sounds”, yet again tragically authentic on “What I Did For Love”, the Marvin Hamlisch song from his landmark musical “A Chorus Line”. There are also remakes of “Misty” with a nice string backing and Otto Harbach’s “Every Little Moment” from the 1910 musical “Madame Sherry”, a song that had been recorded by Doris Day and Judy Garland and doesn’t really come to life here.

And then there is her own “Courage, Madame”, a fitting description of her own situation and standing when she’s back at her best. “Switchin’ Channels” is a grotesquely sounding song about trying to forget a lover: “Watching TV round the clock/I think I’m in a state of shock” and “and even seeing Humphrey Bogart/can’t chase the blues away from my heart”, set to an odd backing. It is really a roller coaster ride on this album because whenever she sings of love lost, like on “Just For Tonight”, she is simply great. And a disco version of her hit “Lover” is probably a concession to the era back then. But it’s a forgettable version.

“Ladies and Gentlemen: Miss Peggy Lee”: her live performance begins with a spiced-up “Love For Sale”, backed by a full brass section, and she sounds much better and more powerful as on the studio record. And again, she is much more convincing on the blue side: “Everything Must Change” is done pretty heart-warming. The sequence here is well-balanced between uptempo stuff and ballads. Her signature song “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” is charming and entrancing, backed by a sweet caressing string section. She switches from Paul Simon‘s “Have A Good Time” to the Diana Ross hit “Touch Me In The Morning”, a clear highlight in her live show, once again Peggy sings a story of her own life on this one and completely makes it her own. Of course, her hits such as “Fever”, “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and “Is That All There Is?” are included as well as her own “Dreams Of Summer”, which she dedicates to the people of Japan where she was treated like a queen the year before. Drama queen.

Disc three includes Peggy’s impersonation of Billie Holiday in a rehearsal, doing “Easy Living” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and having fun with it. The second full concert is more or less the same as the first one, but with a few changes, like a Rodgers & Hart Medley and a much better interpretation of “I’m Not In Love” than the one on the studio album. And Gavin writes about the London performances: “According to Ray Coleman of Melody Maker, “the impersonal Palladium was transformed into a hall of nightclub intimacy as the singer caressed her songs of lost love and forlorn hopes, unique and brilliantly sung.””

Both the studio album and the live LP were produced by Ken Barnes and they turned out to be the only commercial recordings Peggy Lee did outside the USA. The fourth disc here includes the TV show which first aired in 1981, but was recorded in 1977. It included more or less her repertoire from those London days, her still brilliant stage persona and we get to see a few costume changes as well. And the way she throws her arm in the air on “Witchcraft” is worth the price alone.


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