Brenda Lee has smashed a series of US chart records as her perennial festive favourite Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, first released in 1958, has finally reached No 1 on the Hot 100.
Written by Johnny Marks, the man behind Christmas favourites such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, the song was recorded when Lee was 13. Initially a flop, it rose to the US Top 20 in 1960 after Lee’s pop career had taken off and earned her back-to-back No 1 singles earlier that year.
It found a new audience with a high-profile placement in Home Alone in 1990, but Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree lay dormant in the charts until 2014, when its popularity on streaming services helped it return. It has charted in the US every year since, and spent nine weeks at No 2 over the holiday season last year.
The 65-year gap between the song being released and hitting No 1 is by far the longest for any artist – it was previously set by Mariah Carey in 2019, when All I Want For Christmas Is You reached No 1 after 25 years. She breaks another record previously held by Carey, at 32 years, for longest span of time between an artist’s first No 1 single and most recent, and beats Cher’s record 24-year gap between two No 1 singles.
At 78, Lee is now the oldest person to top the US chart, overtaking a record held by Louis Armstrong since 1964, when he reached No 1 with Hello, Dolly!
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree has become Lee’s definitive hit, rather overshadowing her other strong chart performances. As well as her two other chart-toppers, I’m Sorry and I Want to Be Wanted, she reached the US Top 10 nine other times in the early 1960s. “I would’ve never thought in my wildest dreams that Rockin’ would be my signature song,” she told the New York Times last month.
Unlike in the UK charts, where the Christmas No 1 is a yearly tradition and frequently topped by something explicitly Christmassy, Lee’s hit is only the third seasonal song to top the chart there, following Carey’s classic and The Chipmunk Song, a 1958 chart-topper for animated trio the Chipmunks.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree reached its highest ever position in the UK chart last year at No 4. It is currently at No 14, and jumped to No 6 in the midweek chart, where nine out of Top 10 singles are Christmas-themed. The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is expected to reach No 1 this week following the death of Shane MacGowan.