Atlanta native Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ still wildly popular 57 years later

Brenda Lee in 1958 and 57 years later earlier this month. CREDIT: right- Getty Images

Brenda Lee in 1958 and 57 years later earlier this month. CREDIT: right- Getty Images

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Brenda Lee, an Atlanta native and Grady baby, generated nearly 30 hits in the 1960s, but her defining song has been a breezy 1958 ditty “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” The song endures on the radio every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

According to Mediabase 24/7, which tracks radio airplay, it’s the second most spun Christmas song nationwide, beaten only by Mariah Carey‘s much more modern 1994 “All I Want For Christmas.” The song was heard on AM/FM radio more than 23,000 times through December 16.

Billboard magazine’s Holiday 100 reflects the same top two, with Carey again edging Lee out for the top spot.

It is one of the oldest Christmas songs heard on the radio. (The oldest is Bing Crosby’s 1942 version of “White Christmas”)

At least five stations in Atlanta have spun the song this season: Kiss 104.1, Kicks 101.5, 94.9/The Bull, B98.5 and Fish 104.7.

“I think it’s all about tradition and standing the test of time,” said Fish 104.7 program director Mike Blakemore. His station is spinning the two minute four second song three or four times a day while it’s playing all Christmas music. “It’s a song that in its first few years out didn’t do so well.  But over time as Brenda’s career took off, it got more and more popular and has become a classic.”

Rhubarb Jones, a former morning host on Atlanta radio on Y106 and Eagle 106.7 who now works in development at Kennesaw State University, has adored Lee since he was a child. He heard “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” at a meeting this morning and smiled.

“You can’t help but feel good when you hear that song,” Jones said. “When my girls were young, we’d play that song, they’d dance around the house. I’ve been in love with her forever.” And thanks to his connections in the music industry, he has become friends with Lee over the years.

He calls her every year before Christmas to wish her a merry one. “She is truly a treasure,” he said.

Lee herself has never gotten sick of the song.

“I don’t think you ever get tired of the well-written, well-crafted songs, ” Lee told the Associated Press in 2006.

Lee was just 13 when she recorded “RockinAround the Christmas Tree” in 1958, kick starting a career that landed her both in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as well as the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

“We love it because of its upbeat fun nature and universal appeal,” Blakemore said. “It’s also one of those songs that kids, parents and grandparents all know and can sing along with together.”

The AP story provided history of how the song came about:

RockinAround the Christmas Tree” was written by Johnny Marks, who also composed “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “A Holly, Jolly Christmas.” It was cut in Nashville with famed producer Owen Bradley.

No snow was falling that day. As Lee recalls, it was July.

“Owen had the studio all freezing cold with the air conditioning, and he had a Christmas tree all set up to kind of get in the mood just a little bit, ” she said. “We had a lot of fun.”

Rockin‘” was released as a single in ’58 and again in ’59 before it finally took off in 1960 in the wake of her No. 1 smash “I’m Sorry.”

The Top 10 Christmas songs of 2015 on the radio, through Dec. 16

  1. Mariah Carey “All I Want For Christmas”
  2. Brenda Lee “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”
  3. Bobby Helms “Jingle Bell Rock”
  4. Burl Ives “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas”
  5. Jose Feliciano “Feliz Navidad”
  6. Nat King Cole “The Christmas Song”
  7. Andy Williams “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
  8. Johnny Mathis “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas”
  9. John Lennon “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”
  10. Wham “Last Christmas”

SOURCE: Mediabase 24/7

 

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