'Rockin' Puts Brenda Lee Back at No. 1

Posted December 15, 2007, courtesy
SC (Shakin_All_Over Discussion Group)

It's not your imagination - you are hearing it everywhere.

Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," which was recorded 49 years ago in Nashville, hit No. 1 this week on Billboard's Hot Holiday Songs chart. It climbed from No. 4, displacing Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," also recorded in Nashville.

Right now, Lee's peppy Christmas tune is beating Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You)," Burl Ives' "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas." And it's not the first time: "Rockin' " has spent the most total weeks at No. 1-13 overall - since the chart started in December 2001.

"I'm thrilled, to say the least," said Lee, a member of the Rock and Roll and Country Music halls of fame. "Next year, that song will celebrate its 50th birthday. I don't know the new statistics, but forever it's been the No. 4 of the top 10 Christmas songs of all time.

"I can't believe it's number one. I can believe it because the song is so great, but to have it endure and still be a viable piece of music. (Producer) Owen Bradley always said great songs withstand the test of time."

Lee said she realized "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" was special the first time Bradley played it for her in his 16th Avenue office. The song was written by Johnny Marks, who also penned "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

"I knew I wanted to record it, but I hadn't had a whole lot of success at that point, so I had no idea that I would have the success with it. It's so hard to get a Christmas standard because you have such little time to promote it and for it to sell. I knew the song was wonderful, but I just thought, 'There's no way I'm going to have a Christmas standard because it's unheard of this day and time.' "

When the song was released in 1958, nothing happened. The next year, when Lee's "Sweet Nothin's" hit the top 10, the song was re-released and did well. In 1960, she hit No. 1 with "I'm Sorry," and "Rockin' " took off.

Lee credits Bradley team

Lee attributed the song's success to the magic of those who made the record in Bradley's Quonset hut studio, including Bradley, engineer Selby Coffeen, the Anita Kerr Singers and Nashville's famed A-Team - Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore, Ray Edenton, Grady Martin, Harold Bradley and Hank Garland. The A-Team was recently among inaugural inductees into the Musicians Hall of Fame.

"It was just that whole array of people that just got together and said, 'Hey, I'm going to do this lick here.' We didn't have an arrangement; we just all sat down and listened to the demo. Hank Garland said, 'I'm going to do this riff on the front,' and Floyd said, 'I'm going to do this and you answer me.' It was a magical time in the studio."

Lee's fans have told her "they just love the whole spirit of it. It's a happy song," Lee said.

Most of the songs on the Hot Holiday Songs list that "Rockin' " now tops were recorded decades ago, by artists such as Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Gene Autry and the Eagles.

Christmas hits are older

The newest song on the chart's top 10 is Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," which was recorded in 1994, according to Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard's associate director of charts. The chart is compiled based on airplay at adult contemporary radio stations across the nation.

"The classic records are handed down from generation to generation, and there was a period in the late seventies to the early eighties where there were not an abundance of new Christmas music," Pietroluongo said. "Anything you heard on the radio or your home turntables were older records. So they have sort of kept that appeal as the younger generation has gotten older, and now we're handing it down to our kids."

Lee is in the midst of her busiest time of the year, so she will be out on tour until Dec. 23.

"I sing it all year long," she said. "I do it in any show that I do, no matter what time it is."

Lee explained the song's lyrics that say, "Everyone's dancing merrily/ In a new old fashioned way." 'The new old-fashioned way' means we're still rocking in a new way but we're paying tribute to the old-fashioned way. We've brought it up to the time. I think that is what Johnny meant."

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