Cristina: Is that All There Is? – UK – 12″ – 
- Is That All There Is?
- Jungle Love
I didn’t find out about this withdrawn single until some time in the 80s. Certainly after the point in time when I had both of Cristina’s albums. But the legend that had grown around it was certainly vivid. It followed on the debut album from Cristina, and was also produced by August Darnell, who had done honors on the album. But while the “Cristina” album had included a Michel Polnareff cover version, that slotted without much effort into the flow of the album, which had been written by Darnell, this was a different cover version that was the first recording to bear the stamp of Ms. Monet’s pitiless aesthetic gaze. Having her artistic DNA in the mix was where the modern Cristina legend began in earnest. Unfortunately, the song’s ostensible writers, the esteemed Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were adamant that this record not be released any wider than it was, and used their legal clout to effectively ban the single. Which [rightly] became the stuff of legend.
Anyone from my generation would be familiar with the classic [anti] pop song, “Is That All There Is?” It was a massive hit in 1969, reaching number 11 in the Billboard pop chart and a Grammy® winning smash on the back of Randy Newman arranging and conducting the orchestra. The cold-eyed lyrics [“adapted” from Thomas Mann’s 1896 short story, “Disillusionment” by Jerry Leiber + Mike Stoller] painted a bleak picture of modern overstimulation where nothing much managed to get a rise out of people any more. Cristina took the song as her template and had her way with it. Thank goodness.
She still started with the fire as a little girl, but this time it was Mommy who was the firebug. And a trip to the circus was replaced with an event with very different clowns indeed; a trip to a disco. The singer still fell in love with a wonderful boy with whom she walked along the waterfront, only this time he beat her black and blue while she loved it. The sound in her voice when she proclaimed that “I’d a’ killed for that guy…” was priceless in her heartfelt admiration. But then the guy ditched her, but she was callous enough to only ultimately wonder “is that all there is to love?”
Cristina’s delivery of these words; spoken, not sung, as also on the earlier versions of the song, was an instance of her inhabiting the character of the song for the first time this fully. And the former drama student acquitted herself admirably. Her flat, and declamatory delivery was textbook Brechtian delivery. Which matched the Kurt-Weill-on-bennies arrangement that Darnell brought to the production of the music to a “T.” Darnell slathered on the irony with effects like slide whistles, champagne corks popping, cuckoo clocks, and in the psychotic middle eight, cut up party chatter suggestive of a breakdown. Meanwhile the tough cookie who was notably “talking at ‘ya” not “to ‘ya,” delivering these cold steel pearls of wisdom, was unflappable in the midst of it all decaying around her. Possibly due to her change of a lyric at the end which said “let’s break out the ‘ludes, and have a ball…” Leading the song to climax abruptly with the sound of glass breaking. An appriopriately brittle climax to such an emotionally shattered performance.
The astonishing power of “Is That All There Is” made the selection of an earlier song from her album on the single’s B-side all the more problematic. “Jungle Love” sounded like an overripe castoff from the first Kid Creole album. All Cristina could do on this track was trill and coo amid the thumping bass drums, vocal chanting, and cougar howls mixed into the kitschy, fondant iced layer cake of a disco tune. One that was a hair’s breadth away from toppling under a few too many layers. She truly sounded like an extra in her own production here with her girlish singing coming dangerously close to Marilyn Monroe burlesque.
The pity was that, as the A-side showed, she was capable of actually delivering so much more. The flip side song was the forge in which the mature Cristina ceased to be a puppet for her beau-label owner Michael Zilkha, and August Darnell, and became an artist. Telling her own stories in the most compelling of voices. Which, thankfully, would be the tenor of the rest of her career at Ze Records. Thankfully, the song can reach all and sundry ears 40 years later. Having gotten a full release as of 2004 as part of the reissue of the first Cristina album in the European version, called “Doll In The Box.” Alas, I only have this amazing song as a DL, but owning the 12″ single is a must and one day it should happen.
– 30 –
I remember this being played on WBCN Boston back in the day & pretty regularly at that.
diskojoe – The perks of living in a real city! I can’t denigrate Orlando too much. WPRK-FM was all over “Things Fall Apart” the next year. For all I know, WPRK might have been playing “Is That All There Is” the year prior, before I was listening to them regularly. My memories of WPRK-FM from a few years prior were like “freeform FM-Rock” with ELP deep cuts being played! So it never occurred to me to listen to the station prior to rediscovering it in 1981. Where it was all over Ze Records!
Never seen this on a 12″!
I have the 7″ with that great sleeve,but no other Cristina records,though I have heard them.
She certainly had style,elegance and talent in spades.
Gavin – At least you have the 7″! I’ve got a handful of Cristina records, but would buy more if I ran across them!
What I really need [besides everything] are these two singles:
This one had a unique extended dub mix of the all important “What’s A Girl To Do” that came out in front of the “Sleep It Off” album as the B-side to a USP 12″ of “Thing’s Fall Apart} in 1982. When I buy this record, it’s time to hole up one weekend and craft the 12” mix of my dreams of that pinnacle of Cristinamusik.
Then there’s also her swan song:
In a perfect world there will eventually be a 2xCD called [what else?] “Cristina’s World” that collated every non-LP mix, single and variant. Sigh.
That sounds like a job for … YOU!
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Don’t think it hasn’t been in my sights for, uh, about 5-6 years already.
I wonder why Leiber & Stoller wanted this version banned. They seemed like pretty hip guys. I know that Burt Bararach didn’t care for the versions of “Little Red Book” by Love & “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” by the White Stripes, but he let them slide, possibly for the sweet royalty money. The only thing that I could think of is the line “if you feel that way, why don’t you slit your throat & shut up”. I wonder how much they lost in royalties because of this.
diskojoe – I imagined that the sticking point was “…and he beat me black and blue and I loved it! I’d ‘a killed for that guy!” But I imagine the extreme liberties taken with the lyric rubbed them the wrong way. Which I sort of get, even though it was cheeky of them to lift the lyrical content from the Thomas Mann short story to begin with.
Here is how this works. Anyone can cover any song they want, legally and without permission from the writers, by paying for what is called a statutory license. The rate for this is set by the government, and it changes every few years to track inflation. Currently, it’s 9.1 cents per copy. So, if I cover a song and press 100,000 records, I have to fork over $9100 in royalties for the cover song. After various agents and managers take their cut, the bulk of this money goes to the song writers, or to whomever holds the publishing rights to the song (often the songwriters, but sometimes a record label or other entity).
If I want to avoid paying that much, I can skip the statutory license and just ask the original writer for their blessing to cover the song. Legally, they have to allow it, this is called a compulsory license, but the difference is that the rate is negotiated. They can also set their own price, and hopefully it will be less than the statutory license rate. That’s the advantage of asking permission: the writers might want to skip the agents and managers and also get cash in hand right away, or they just might like the person doing the cover, so they may quote a very reasonable price. Sometimes the original writer will not approve of the cover, but legally they can’t do anything to stop it, other than charging a ridiculous price. Once permission has been asked for from the writers, the person wishing to cover the song loses their right to the statutory license and must pay whatever the writers ask.
However, in either case, if I make substantial changes to the song – such as major lyrical deviations – this is now considered a “derivative work” and is actually legally different from a straight cover. The original writer can block the derivative work if they don’t like it. This is probably why Cristina’s cover was originally blocked, and also things like Revolting Cocks’ original cover version of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, for example. In both examples (I am speculating now) the writers might have found the covers to be in poor taste or not representative of the original intention of the song, so they found enough differences in them to claim that the covers were derivative works and get them blocked.
(I’m teaching a music business module this quarter!; my students are getting this same lesson next Wednesday!)
JT – Thanks so much for the legal insights there! It explains how examples like this record, the RevCo ONJ cover, and Dead Or Alive’s [fantastic, in my opinion, but NOT David Bowie’s] cover of “Rebel Rebel” managed to get blocked from release. Which Pete Burns cleverly circumvented by releasing with a statutory license under the band name of International Chrysis.
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Yeah, I recently had to learn more about these “cover song” licenses on behalf of a YouTuber friend who wanted to do a cover. Some services have a blanket license which covers this on things like YouTube, but she wanted to have the option to be able to release her cover on band camp or some such so she needed the info.
JT’s students will be learning from a master!