Country and Rock N Roll Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee performs at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in the CMA Theater on December 9, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMHOF

'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree': The Story Behind Brenda Lee's New Old-Fashioned Carol


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A couple of milestones for Brenda Lee came in Dec. 1958: her 14th birthday and the first holiday season with her Decca Records single "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" on living room turntables.

By the '60s, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" had benefitted from the rising popularity of Lee (AKA Little Miss Dynamite) with country music and rockabilly audiences. But by no means was the song a short-term pop sensation. Instead, it's as evergreen as Bing Crosby's "White Christmas," Burl Ives' "A Holly Jolly Christmas," Bobby Helms' "Jingle Bell Rock," Andy Williams' "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You."

Other pop culture happenings over the years, from the success of Lee's 1960 hit "I'm Sorry" to the soundtrack of 1990 film Home Alone, solidified the song as a permanent part of the "new old-fashioned way." In the 21st century, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" is a lock for Billboard's annual list of the most popular Christmas songs. Going into 2022, it's peaked at No. 2 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 three years running, putting a classic Christmas song in the same stratosphere as the global hits of Taylor Swift, Harry Styles and Post Malone.

It's since been covered by Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Alabama and the duo of Kim Wilde and Mel Smith.

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Johnny Marks, the songwriter of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," penned "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and had Lee in mind as its singer. She had previous Christmas music experience via novelty sides "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus" and "Christy Christmas." In 1964, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" anchored the album Merry Christmas from Brenda Lee.

When she was 13 years old, Lee recorded the song with producer Owen Bradley and several of Nashville's A-Team session players, such as guitarists Hank Garland and Grady Martin, sax legend Boots Randolph and the Anita Kerr Singers.

Though it wasn't an overnight success, "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" became the sort of perennial holiday favorite that makes it a must for playlists this time of the year (and Lee's set list regardless of the season). Not that Lee's complaining about having to sing a Christmas classic in July.

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"I'm proud. I'm overwhelmed. I'm grateful," she told the Tennessean in 2021. "All the adjectives that you could put with that. I always thought 'I'm Sorry' would be my signature song. And it's one of 'em. But it's 'Rockin'.' Whenever anybody thinks of Brenda Lee now, it's 'Rockin'."

For her contributions to popular music, Lee's name resides in the rock and country music halls of fame.

This story previously ran on Dec. 5, 2021.

Read More: 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer': The Story Behind the Song

"Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" Lyrics

Rockin' around the Christmas tree
At the Christmas party hop
Mistletoe hung where you can see
Every couple tries to stop
Rockin' around the Christmas tree
Let the Christmas spirit ring
Later we'll have some pumpkin pie
And we'll do some caroling

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You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear
Voices singing, let's be jolly
Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Rockin' around the Christmas tree
Have a happy holiday
Everyone dancin' merrily
In the new old-fashioned way

You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear
Voices singing, let's be jolly
Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Rockin' around the Christmas tree
Have a happy holiday
Everyone dancin' merrily
In the new old-fashioned way

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