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Brenda Lee debuted 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree' in 1958. It just hit No. 1

Emily St. Martin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” just topped the charts 65 years after its initial release.

Debuting in 1958, with a 13-year-old Lee belting the holiday classic, the song has finally reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although it didn’t take off upon its first release, the upbeat song did break into the top 20 in late December 1960.

Then, in 1990, the song experienced a resurgence: A savvy Kevin McCallister staged a holiday party scene to trick burglars staking out his house in the classic Christmas movie “Home Alone,” and Lee’s song blasted from inside the home. Lee recently told Entertainment Tonight that she thinks “Home Alone” was the catalyst that pushed the song into the mainstream.

The multiplatinum holiday hit was in regular rotation on oldies radio stations of yore, and in 2014, streaming services helped boost its chart status. It’s been a mainstay every year since, spending nine weeks at No. 2 just last year.

Now, Lee, 78, the oldest person to officially top the Hot 100, has surpassed Louis Armstrong’s long-held record for “Hello, Dolly!” that he scored in 1964 at age 62. The “Jingle Bell Rock” and “I’m Sorry” singer also remains one of a small number of female artists to have been inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“If I could jump out of my clothes, I would,” Lee told Variety of her song topping the charts. “I have wonderful, wonderful fans that have been with me from the first time I opened my mouth to sing, and they’ve stayed with me, and everybody’s been loyal, and I’m more happy for them than I am for me. You can’t keep a good song down.”

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” the soundtrack to many a-Christmas-party-hop, was written by Johnny Marks, who also wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Lee credits the song’s success to the team of musicians and producers that made it the complete Christmas package.

“Well, you know what? [The appeal] is not necessarily me,” she told Variety, noting that famed producer Owen Bradley was “such a genius” and had “the A-Team of musicians, with Boots Randolph, who’s got the [sax solo] on that song, and the Anita Kerr Singers.”

 

“You put those kind of people together and it’s magic, and it happens every time you play it,” she continued. “I don’t normally listen to myself ever once I’ve recorded a song. This one I can listen to, and I don’t know why. . . It’s just a magical thing for me.”

The 65-year gap between the song’s original release and its acme position is the longest in history, according to Billboard. The record was previously held by Mariah Carey in 2019 when “All I Want for Christmas is You” topped the charts 25 years after its initial release.

When Lee was recently asked if she rocks to her own holiday hit, she confirmed that she does.

“I wonder if Mariah does though, or if she rocks to hers?” she mused, about the self-styled Queen of Christmas.

Last month, after more than half a century, Lee finally released a music video for “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in which she sings along with her 13-year-old self, dances merrily and clinks glasses with her “girlfriends” Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood.

The song has also been making the rounds on TikTok as many users expressed their disbelief that Lee was only a teenager when she provided the mature-sounding vocals to the seasonal hit.

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©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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