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Brown is the unofficial king of Christmas music, Brenda
Lee has to be the unofficial queen. "Little Miss Dynamite" is
one of the most successful female singers in history, and she recorded many
Christmas sides including two albums and numerous singles. Only one, "Rockin'
Around The Christmas Tree," became a preeminent hit, but it was an irrepressible
that song defined the golden age of Christmas rock more than any other -
except maybe Bobby Helm's "Jingle Bell Rock," and Lee's is the
better record, to boot. Between the jaunty beat, the spicy guitar interjections,
and Lee's confident vocals, "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" is
a quasi-rockabilly masterpiece over-and-above its status as a Christmas classic.
Brenda's bold declaration that "everyone's dancing merrily in the new
old-fashioned way" exemplifies the very spirit of a rock 'n' roll Christmas
- a kinetic, volatile, joyful blending of traditional and modern, sacred
and profane, old and new.
Recorded in 1958 and written by Johnny Marks (who also penned "Rudolph
The Red-Nosed Reindeer"), "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" finally
hit the pop charts in 1960, when it leapt all the way to #14 - quite an accomplishment
for a Christmas single, even in those days. The record ultimately charted -
either on the Top 100 or the Christmas charts - for ten years running (1960-1969),
and occasionally thereafter.
Brenda Lee's Christmas credentials don't stop there, nor is that where they began.
She waxed her first Yuletide hit ("I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus") as
a prepubescent country star, and she released a great album, Merry
Christmas From Brenda Lee, in 1964 (new recordings plus "Rockin' Around
The Christmas Tree"). Highlighted by the effervescent, girl group lament, "Christmas
Will Be Just Another Lonely Day," the album nevertheless signaled Brenda's
move towards more adult sounds. Rockin'
Around The Christmas Tree: The Decca Christmas Recordings (1998) compiles
her complete Christmas recordings from 1956 through 1965, including the entirety
of her 1964 LP plus the rare cajun romp, "Papa Noel" (the original
b-side of "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"). Sharply mastered, beautifully
packaged, and fully annotated, I strongly recommend it! (Later repackaged as The
Best Of Brenda Lee: The Christmas Collection, part of Universal's enormous "20th
Century Masters" series)
Beginning in the late 50's, Brenda Lee ruled the pop charts for over ten years,
becoming the #1 female singer of the 1960's and later earning a spot in the Rock & Roll
Hall Of Fame. In the early 1970's, she switched gears, returning to her country
roots and ultimately entering Nashville's Hall
Of Fame, too. During this long, last phase of her career, she recorded another
Christmas album, A
Brenda Lee Christmas (1991). Recommended only for Brenda Lee buffs, the album
consists exclusively of country-tinged Christmas standards, including a new version
of her greatest hit - by now a Christmas standard itself. [top of page]
- The Angel And The Little
Blue Bell (1964)
Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day (1964)
I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus (1956)
Papa Noel (1958)
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree (1958)
Strawberry Snow (1964)
This Time Of The Year (1964)
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