As Brenda Lee’s classic holiday hit “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” hits No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 (dated Dec. 9), Johnny Marks and Owen Bradley, the late songwriter and producer behind the song, respectively, each achieve their first-ever No. 1 on Billboard’s charts.

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Marks wrote “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in 1958 for a then-13-year-old Lee. He previously penned other holiday favorites, including Gene Autry’s “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” released in 1949. After “Rockin’,” he wrote Burl Ives’ 1964 classics “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold.” Marks is also credited as a co-writer on Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” due to his trademark on the Rudolph character.

“He was such a gentle soul,” Lee recalled to Billboard of the late songwriter Dec. 4, upon learning of her new Hot 100 coronation. “He was Jewish and didn’t even believe in Christmas, and all that would come out of him was Christmas music. He told me he was laying on the beach in New York and I guess he took a nap or something and when he woke up, he saw the pine trees were kind of swaying. I said, ‘You got pine trees on the beach in New York?’ He said, ‘Yeah, and I thought the pine trees are rocking, and he went home and came up with ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.’”

Marks died in 1985 at age 75. Last week, he returned to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Songwriters chart for a 20th week on top. He’s led the chart annually since the ranking launched in 2019, as holiday hits return to the Hot 100 each season.

“Rockin’ ” producer Owen Bradley also scores his first No. 1 on the Hot 100. He also produced Bobby Helms’ 1957 classic “Jingle Bell Rock.”

In addition to his work on those holiday perennials, the Tennessee native and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee is also considered one of the architects of the “Nashville sound,” the style of country music that incorporates pop elements with soft strings and smooth tempos. He helped establish the subgenre through his production work on hits by Patsy Cline, including “Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” as well as songs by Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty and Kitty Wells. He started his career working at legendary Nashville radio station WSM-AM and later rose to become vice president of the Decca record label’s Nashville division.

Bradley died in 1998 at age 82. Similar to Marks, Bradley has topped the Hot 100 Producers chart every year since Billboard launched the rankings in 2019. He leads the latest list for a 13th total week.

Xander Zellner
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