by Don Bailer
Draw up your chairs, chillun, and we will now discuss Peggy Lee’s fever. Actually, she has two of them. One is going up, one is going down. One is on a record, the other is on a chart..
I can tell by the look on your faces you aren’t following me, so we’ll start over.
Peggy has two fevers. One is her latest record zoom, “Fever,” which is threatening the thermometer of top sellers in a national epidemic.
The other one is “glandular fever,” a bug which belts determinedly ambitious people who work too hard like Peggy does – sort of a purposeful people eater.
That’s the one that’s going down. The doctor says she can get out of bed and go back to work in about two weeks.
And that’s the current status of Peggy’s two fevers. One, you see, is pretty far-in-height. The other is just center-grade. In another couple of weeks it won’t even be around to any degree.
Meanwhile, “Fever,” the record, continues to confound and flabbergast lesser musical medicos than Miss Lee.
“What’s a song like that doing on the bestseller list?” they query each other. “Sure it’s great, but this is rock ‘n’ roll market..
“It’s a blues type of song,” she points out. “it has a moderate tempo, but a very intense tempo, a good, simple, basic rhythm.
“Take a look at the rock ‘n’ roll stuff and see why it has appeal for young people. It appeals because it stresses simple, basic rhythm. They can get up and dance to it. They may not pay attention to, or even know, the words. It’s the rhythm.
“The young people, and anyone else for that matter, will respond to good songs if they have a basic good rhythm.”
“Fever” illustrates her point in more ways that one, because it was taken away from the rock ‘n’ rollers.
About November of last year, bass player Max Bennett came to Peggy and said he wanted her to hear a song, a real bang-away rock ‘n’ roll version of “Fever” – but which he said had a great bass line, that basic roadbed upon which a song is built.
They then sat down and stripped the song to the bass line – and rebuilt it a la Lee.
If you can stand to dissect the lovely thing when you listen to it, you’ll find that Peggy’s accompaniment amounts to a total of a drum, a bass and fingers, those provocatively snappy fingers.
There is a progression through three keys during the number, which builds a more intense feeling each time the key changes.
Just those ingredients – and that “very definite, very simple sense of rhythm” – sent Peggy’s “Fever” into orbit around the nation’s record spindles – flying right in the face of rock ‘n’ roll faddism. Another Peggy Lee smash.
Forgive the spirit of ho-hum, but successes have become so commonplace with her.
Probably her best seller of all time, “Why Don’t You Do Right?,” which actually is considered a “Benny Goodman record” rather than a Peggy Lee record, was made back in 1943. That was a top seller for three years and still sells.
Then there was “Mañana,” which sold nearly two million; “It’s a Good Day,” which passed a million; “Lover” and “Golden Earrings,” and on into some 300 songs she has recorded.
In her spare time she composes things like the lyrics for Lady and the Tramp, the theme songs for Johnny Guitar and About Mrs. Leslie, book and music for George Pal’s tom thumb and the theme for Pal’s version of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
And in spare, spare time she does things like write verses for commercial greeting cards and – well, on doctor’s orders, she had to stay in bed the past couple weeks, and here what she’s done – in bed yet:
She’s written one short story and started on two others; she’s written a new lyric and a series of hand-clapping-type spirituals for inclusion in at least two, possibly three, new albums she has been working on – from bed – with Capitol Records.
Outside of that she hasn’t done a thing except two oil paintings and a piece of clay sculpture, but then, of course, she’s supposed to be resting. Fever, you know.