Music

Story Behind the Song: Brenda Lee's New Old-Fashioned Holiday Favorite, 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'

Artist Brenda Lee performs at the "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" concert at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Laura Roberts/Invision/AP)

A couple of milestones for Brenda Lee came in December of 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 built off the rising popularity of Lee (AKA Georgia-born teenage sensation Brenda Mae Tarpley) with country music and rockabilly audiences. But by no means was the song a short-term pop sensation.

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. More impressively, the streaming sensation reached No. 3 on the Hot 100 singles chart in December 2019, playing third fiddle to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You" and Post Malone's "Circles."

Johnny Marks, the songwriter of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas," penned "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and had Lee in mind as its singer.

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

When she was still 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.

"That's the magic of a good song," she told the Tennessean in 2019. "You don't get tired of singing it."

For her contributions to popular music, Lee's name resides in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

"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

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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Story Behind the Song: Brenda Lee's New Old-Fashioned Holiday Favorite, 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'