By Geoffrey Rowlands
Christmas 2017 was certainly celebrated by British music fans. No fewer than 12 of the top 17 singles in the Christmas to New Year UK chart were songs associated with Christmas.
The usual suspects such as Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You and Last Christmas by Wham! made their annual appearance. But there were also less frequent Christmas entries such as Chris Rea’s Driving Home For Christmas and It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year by Andy Williams.
Drifting between both categories is Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree. At least one version of the song seems to turn up in the chart on most years with Kim Wilde’s recording usually leading the way.
It was a little different this time. The song doesn’t normally make the top ten but it has so far peaked at number nine. Neither is it Kim Wilde’s version which is enjoying so much success. Instead, it’s the original 1958 recording by American singer Brenda Lee which has given Little Miss Dynamite her latest top ten hit.
“I do still get called by that nickname,” laughed Brenda, now 73 years old. “In fact, I used it for the title of my autobiography. It was originally Little Miss Brenda Lee. I was only 11 at the time and Decca Records saw this as a way to emphasize my age. It became Little Miss Dynamite a year later after I released a song called Dynamite and also because it was thought I had a dynamic stage presence.”
The annual sales of Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree have made the song far and away Brenda’s most successful single. It has even found a place this year among the top 30 on Billboard’s Hot 100. But it took a while to get going.
The initial release saw sales figures tally no more than 5,000 copies. It was a similar story when the song was re-released in 1959. But 1960 brought an enormous increase in Brenda’s popularity. She had a pair of top five albums in America and two chart-topping singles with I’m Sorry and I Want To Be Wanted. Another re-release of Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree saw the song reach number 14.
“My breakthrough was with a song called Sweet Nothin’s. That got to number four in America and became my first hit in the U.K. where it also reached number four. This started a period where everything I released became a big hit.”
Brenda’s mark of nine consecutive top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and ‘62 set a record for a female solo artist. It remained unequalled until Madonna’s incredible run of chart success in the mid-1980s.
Although she was never to again achieve the same level of success, Brenda’s records continued to sell very well throughout the 1960s. When the pop hits eventually dried up, she returned to her musical roots by recording a string of country chart smashes during the 1970s and ‘80s.
“I started out singing country songs when I was a little girl. I won a singing contest when I was six. The prize was one appearance on a radio show in my home town, Atlanta, Georgia. But the listeners liked me and I was on the show for a whole year.
“By the time I was ten, I’d performed on many local radio and TV shows. My big break was appearing on national television in the ABC show, Ozark Jubilee. Things went so well that I was offered a five-year contract to perform on the show. My record deal with Decca came a few weeks later and I released the Hank Williams country classic,’Jambalaya, as my first single.”
Brenda’s involvement with the country genre is such that she announces the inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame each year and officially presents them with their membership medals at a special ceremony.
These artists join Brenda as members of the Country Music Hall of Fame but she can also boast membership of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. This recognition was topped off in 2009 with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy award.
“I’ve had a lot to be thankful for. There have been ups and downs of course in my career and family life. But I’ve had much more good fortune than bad. I’ve been blessed with a truly happy marriage, two wonderful daughters and my amazing grandchildren. I’ve even got another big pop hit. What more could I ask for?”
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