Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ Hits Number 1 For The First Time After 65 Years
via Brenda Lee / Youtube
Rockabilly and pop icon Brenda Lee achieved a historic milestone on Monday, December 4th, as her timeless holiday classic, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, secured the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 65 years after the song’s initial release.
Renowned for her unwavering spirit and formidable voice, even in her early years earning her the moniker “Little Miss Dynamite”, Lee recorded “Rockin'” at the tender age of 13.
Now, at 78, the diminutive singing powerhouse witnessed the song’s ascent to No. 1 on Billboard’s all-genre chart, thanks to the promotion by the major label UMG Nashville. Notably, this achievement marks the song as only the third holiday song to ever reach the peak of the Hot 100.
Lee has also secured the distinction of being the oldest individual to attain a number-one hit on the Billboard chart. Her most recent chart-toppers were back in 1960 with the release of “I Want to Be Wanted” and “I’m Sorry”.
A modest initial impact
Crafted under the production of renowned Nashville sound pioneer Owen Bradley, “Rockin'” made its debut in 1958, but its initial impact on the charts was mild at best. Brenda Lee achieved her first pair of No. 1 Hot 100 hits in 1960 with “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to Be Wanted”.
Buoyed by these triumphs, “Rockin'” attained an initial peak at No. 14 in December 1960. From December 2019 to the preceding year, the song spent a notable nine weeks at the No. 2 spot on the Hot 100, trailing only Mariah Carey’s ubiquitous “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
In the heart of Nashville’s Music Row, at Bradley’s Quonset Hut, Lee recorded “Rockin’,” where her voice, remarkably mature for her age, seamlessly blended with the song’s rockabilly holiday essence.
This convergence resulted in the creation of what would eventually become her unmistakable and defining piece.
The holiday magic started in the studio
Lee remembered how the studio producer significantly lowered the ambient noise within the studio and even adorned the place with a huge Christmas tree.
“The producer cut the air way down in the studio. He had a big Christmas tree and everyone was there — the Anita Kerr Singers and the A-team [of revered Nashville studio musicians], as we called them,” the singer shared.
There was a palpable sense of enchantment in the air, and that touch of magic translated into something truly extraordinary Leef fondly recalled.
“It was like a little touch of magic kind of sprinkled in, and it turned out to be magic. It really did.”
Remembering songwriter Johnny Marks
Johnny Marks, the creative force behind other festive classics like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”, penned “Rockin'” with Brenda Lee specifically in mind.
Reflecting on the late songwriter, who passed away in 1985, Lee fondly describes him as a “gentle soul”. The singer went on
“He was Jewish and didn’t even believe in Christmas, and all that would come out of him was Christmas music. He told me he was laying on the beach in New York and I guess he took a nap or something and when he woke up, he saw the pine trees were kind of swaying. I said, ‘You got pine trees on the beach in New York?’ He said, ‘Yeah and I thought the pine trees are rocking and he went home and came up with ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
Maintaining regular contact with Marks, Lee pointed out the songwriter’s humorous nature, recalling his weekly calls with lines like, “Brenda, just thought I’d call. There’s not a lot of us old-timers left”. She chuckles, adding, “I’d wonder how old he thinks I am,” emphasizing his precious and amiable personality.
An adorable music video to commemorate the song’s 65th anniversary
To commemorate the 65th anniversary of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, Lee took the opportunity to create the song’s first official video.
The video also showcases cameo appearances by country singing stars Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood.
The festive visual includes scenes of Lee lip-syncing to her teenage recording of the song, interspersed with footage of her, Yearwood, and Tucker baking holiday cookies and engaging in conversation around a table, ultimately enjoying a holiday feast.
Lee shared, “My buds are in there. We had a ball making it. We filmed it at the producer’s house, and nothing was choreographed, really. We just had fun. They were just precious to do that for me, and I think folks will love it.”