(This is part of a series of blogs on classic Xmas-rock songs) ” By Alan L. Chrisman
One of the most classic rock ‘n’ roll Xmas songs is “Jingle Bell Rock”. Originally recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957, it sums up the marriage between rock ’n’ roll and updated traditional holiday standards which other rockers were to follow. It purposely was trying to capture the new music direction which was becoming popular in the mid-50’s-rockabilly (a combination of R&B and country), which would soon become to be known as rock ‘n’ roll, typified by one of its first songs, “Rock Around The Clock”, By Bill Haley and The Comets.
The next famous version of “Jingle Bell Rock” is by Brenda Lee in 1964. Brenda Lee was known the ‘little girl with the big voice’. She had many hits in the early 60’s such as: “I’m Sorry”, “All Alone Am I”, “Sweet Nothin’s”’, etc. She had 47 chart hits in the 60’s; in fact, she was the biggest selling female, fourth only to The Beatles, Elvis and Ray Charles. But she was only 13, when she was approached to do another classic rock-Xmas combination song, “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree”. That song, as well as several other Christmas classics, were all written by one man, Johnny Marks. A lot of people don’t know that he also penned Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (for Gene Autry) and “Have a Jolly Jolly Xmas” (for Burl Ives). The catchy electric parts on both songs, “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree”, which made them so memorable, was by the same country-guitar player, Hank Garland.
Another 1950’s Legend of course is Roy Orbison. He had perhaps, next to Elvis, one of the greatest voices in rock. He wrote some of its finest songs. Despite several personal tragedies (losing a wife and a child in different accidents), he somehow turned his pain into and wrote beautiful ballads and with his distinctive soaring vocals. He had lots of hits in the 50’s and 60’s,“Only The Lonely”, “Crying”,“ Pretty Woman”, “ Running Scared”, to name but a very few. He was even to have them right up until his death in 1988, as part of the super group, Travelin’ Wilburys. But he also had a nice Xmas hit with his gentle “Pretty Papers” in 1963 (written by Willie Nelson).
All these above songs, although recorded over 50 years ago now, still represent the successful marriage between Christmas and rock ‘n’ roll.
BRENDA LEE doing Xmas-rock classic, “Jingle Bell Rock”:
“Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree”, by Brenda Lee:
Bobby Helms’ original version, “Jingle Bell Rock”, 1957: