When I think back on childhood Christmases, the musical accompaniment to my memories is not “Silent Night” or some other traditional carol. It’s “Jingle Bell Rock.”
I grew up in a house of modest size for a family of five, at least compared with today’s houses. Our finished basement gave us precious added space to spread out and get comfortable. That basement was our go-to spot for recreation. The television was there. So was our portable record player, and our little plastic-handled box of 45s.
“Jingle Bell Rock” was a holiday standard for us. Some consider it the first rock ‘n’ roll Christmas song, although it really has more of a country feel. The lyrics borrow a bit from “Jingle Bells,” published a century earlier, and from the 1952 classic “Rock Around the Clock.”
Artists from Chubby Checker to Lou Rawls have covered “Jingle Bell Rock” since its introduction in 1957. Bobby Helms was on a winning streak that year. He had a hit with “My Special Angel,” released in October, then went on to record “Jingle Bell Rock.” It landed in stores just before Christmas and a seasonal favorite was born. Teresa Brewer recorded “Jingle Bell Rock” the following year. Her single didn’t chart, despite the appealing style and energy she brought to the song. My senior audiences know Brewer mostly for her tremendously successful 1949 recording of “Music! Music! Music!” (Put another nickel in, in that nickelodeon…) when she was 18 years old. In 1964, Brenda Lee’s more relaxed, easy-going rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” appeared. She made a second hit recording of the song in 1967.
All of my family’s vinyl 45s are gone now. Pity. I’d like to be able to check the collection to see whose version of “Jingle Bell Rock” we used to listen to. I’ve consulted my brother and sister and listened to recordings on YouTube, but I’m still not sure which record we had. My sister, Mary Jane, thinks it was the one by Teresa Brewer, whose voice has an edge that reminds her of Wayne Newton. My brother, George, votes for Brenda Lee. We often listened to her recording of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” though, so it’s possible he’s confusing the two songs. I think our “Jingle Bell Rock” record was the original by Bobby Helms. Those sleigh bells right before he starts singing match the way I hear the song in my head.
Three siblings, three memories. Par for the course when families reminiscence. Memories are less like snapshots of the past than reconstructions, evolving and changing as we recall childhood events through the altering filter of time and experience. Most of us also occasionally create a memory, building on only the smallest nub of truth, remembering things that didn’t actually happen.
My brother’s memory of “Jingle Bell Rock” links to a medical mishap. We all agree that this one happened. Sometime in the mid-60s when George’s age was still a single digit, he was using the big, round, blond-wood table in our basement as his raised stage. He had set up the record player on the table, too, and was up there dancin’ ‘n’ prancin’ to “Jingle Bell Rock.” (My parents generously tolerated this type of thing in the basement.) George decided to jump off the table, perhaps for a dramatic “ta-da” finish, but his foot caught the electrical cord of the record player. He landed on the floor in a tangled heap and the trailing record player crashed onto his head. George’s performance ended with a trip to the emergency room for stitches. Yet even that hasn’t dulled his fondness for “Jingle Bell Rock”!
Whatever your special Christmas memories, enjoy them this holiday season.
Copyright © 2013 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.