“Fever” by Peggy Lee

This is one of those songs you’ve inevitably heard before even if you don’t know the artist, Peggy Lee, who originally made it famous. And the reason you may not have heard of her despite knowing “Fever” itself is because the tune is so catchy that a number of A listers and other artists have covered it throughout the decades. 

Indeed few singers, even with the entire English lexicon pertaining to sex at their disposable, can intrinsically imbue a song with the type of auditory eroticism, if you will, that Peggy Lee did with “Fever”. Her sexy rendition of the song is what gave it its multi-generational viability. And it was Lee herself who “insisted on (the) stripped-down arrangement” which we’ve come to know and love this tune for.

Lyrics of “Fever”

And again, the above is interesting to note, how this song relays a feeling of sexiness, as there isn’t anything overtly sexual about the lyrics themselves. Yes, very generally speaking the singer is asserting that her lover ‘gives her fever’, which is fundamentally the same as saying that he makes her hot. 

Moreover to an adult mind she implies that they are sexually active by insinuating that they are with each other “all through the night”.  Perhaps back in the old days those types of lyrics would have been enough to ruffle some J. Edgar feathers. But the fact that contemporary female artists are still covering this song in an era when they can say damn near anything they want shows just how effective “Fever” is in relaying that type of feeling without relying on graphic wording to do so. 

And this would of course partially be attributable to the original writers of the song, who were a couple of R&B cats. But Peggy Lee’s delivery is most unforgettable.

In fact concerning the theory that this song is about sex, that’s like a mature way of understanding it. It’s like you can have fever all through the night for your loved one without actually going there. 

Fever

And in fact all lyrics considered, what the titular term would equate to is being in love in general. The singer is smitten by the addressee. She would therefore logically be in the euphoric stage of romance, i.e. the early goings of a relationship when you’re like really, really turned on by your partner. So she feels it when they kiss or when he holds her. 

She further likens him to the “light” of her life. She then goes on to compare what they share to some of the most mythical romances in history, that of Romeo and Juliet as well as Pocahontas and Captain Smith.

Later in the song, via the utilization of the term “chicks”, it also seems that this tune may serve as an ode to the ability of females in particular to turn on their romantic interests, as they were “born to give you fever”. But overall, as stated earlier, it would appear that the narrator is giving a shoutout to falling in love in general. That is why for instance she claims “everybody’s got the fever” and that it is “something (we) all know”, because being smitten by a lover in such a manner is a universal experience.

Lyrics to "Fever" by Peggy Lee

Who wrote “Fever”?

This song was written circa 1955 by a R&B singer named Eddie Cooley (1933-2020) alongside another songwriter, Otis Blackwell (2020).  To note both were African-Americans, with the former being from Atlanta and the latter Brooklyn. And the first singer to actually drop a recording of “Fever” was another Black R&B musician who went by the name of Little Willie John (1937-1968).

Covers

Throughout the years “Fever” has also been covered by some of the biggest names in the game, including the following:

  • Madonna
  • Beyoncé
  • Boney M.
  • Elvis Presley
  • Michael Bublé
  • The Jam
  • Brian Eno
  • James Brown
  • Sumo
  • Buddy Guy
  • La Lupe

Peggy Lee’s version came out in 1959, shortly after that of Little Willie John’s. And it was featured on a jazz album she put out the following year, via Capitol Records, entitled “Things Are Swingin’”.

Fever

Peggy Lee did not actually base her rendition squarely on Little Willie John’s original. Rather there was another artist who covered “Fever” in 1957, Ray Peterson (1939-2005), using a rockabilly style. And it was his version that initially got her interested in the song.

Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee (1920-2002) is perhaps one of the few pop singers you’ll ever hear of coming from North Dakota. She was actually a prolific singer. She actually dropped somewhere in the area of 60 albums between 1948 and 1993. Most of this activity took place between the late 1950s and early 1970s under the aforementioned Capitol Records. 

And generally speaking, she is considered to be one of the greatest singers in American history. Moreover, as an interesting bit of trivia, it is actually Peggy Lee upon whom the Muppets’ character Miss Piggy was designed after.

More Interesting Facts about Peggy’s “Fever”

Peggy Lee’s version of “Fever” features major lyrical additions to the original. However, she is not credited as a co-writer. This is apparently because she did not take copyrighting her contribution too seriously. And her cover was produced by the late Milt Gabler (1911-2011). Gabler was the founder of Commodore Records and one of the most-influential music execs/producers of his day.  (And also as an interesting bit of trivia, he is a maternal uncle of comedian Billy Crystal.)

As implied earlier, Peggy Lee dropped a whole lotta songs. In fact she recorded over a thousand masters. But this is considered her signature piece out of the lot. 

Amongst its achievements is being nominated for Record of the Year as well as Song of the Year at the first Grammy Awards ever held. The song however lost in both categories to “Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare)” by Domenico Modugno.

In addition to its Grammy nominations, “Fever” also broke the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Chart. It also blew up massively in Australia.

The aforementioned Romeo and Juliet are a couple of fictional lovers whose names serve as the title of a classic book published by William Shakespeare in 1597. Meanwhile Pocahontas and Captain John Smith are real-life figures from the 16th century. However, they weren’t actually lovers as many people are led to believe, but rather it’s more like she saved his life on more than one occasion.

When was “Fever” officially released by Peggy Lee?

The official release date of Peggy’s “Fever” is listed as 4 May 1959. That would have been a few weeks shy of Peggy Lee’s 39th birthday. Nearing 40 years of age is generally considered to be past a singer’s prime. In fact having built up a reputation more as a swing artist, it has been noted that the success of “Fever” revitalized Lee’s career. At the end of the day, it garnered her relevancy among a younger, more jazz-oriented audience.

What genre of music is Peggy’s “Fever”?

It is pure Jazz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.