There's a great story about Brenda Lee, related in Robert K. Oermann and Mary Bufwack's great book, "Finding Her Voice," about how at the beginning of her career, the pre-teen Miss Lee went into the studio with legendary Nashville producer Owen Bradley and while cutting a track with a bunch of seasoned studio pros, she had the moxie to point out that one of the musicians had hit a bum notes. All the guys tried to pooh-pooh her, but listening to the track in playback, they discovered the kid was right. One of the most naturally talented and versatile singers of the rockabilly era, Brenda Lee had perfect pitch and impressive range, along with explosive, abundant charisma. She rang uptempo rockers, pop ballads, songs of teen heartbreak and country weepers. She went back and forth between "pop" and "country" but eventually settled pretty firmly in the Country camp... Here's a quick look at her work.
Brenda Lee "Anthology: 1956-1980" (MCA Nashville, 1991)
An excellent 2-CD overview of her work on Decca/MCA, spanning rockabilly, pop, country and countrypolitan... Lots of great, great stuff!
Brenda Lee "The Brenda Lee Story: Her Greatest Hits" (MCA, 1991)
Brenda Lee "The Millennium Collection" (Universal, 1999)
Brenda Lee "The Definitive Collection" (Universal, 2006)
Brenda Lee "In The Mood For Love: Classic Ballads" (Hip-O, 1998)
Brenda Lee "Grandma, What Great Songs You Sang!/Brenda Lee" (Ace, 2004)
Brenda Lee "This Is... Brenda/Emotions" (Ace, 2004)
Brenda Lee "All The Way/Sincerely, Brenda Lee" (Ace, 2006)
Brenda Lee "Brenda, That's All/All Alone Am I" (Ace, 2006)
Brenda Lee "Let Me Sing/By Request" (Ace, 2006)
Brenda Lee "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree: The Decca Christmas Recordings" (MCA, 1999)
A swell collection of the ever-perky Brenda Lee's various holiday recordings in the 1950s and '60s. Of course, she had a huge hit in 1958 with "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," which practically made it mandatory she would have to record Christmas singles on a yearly basis... She actually recorded several Santa songs even earlier, in 1956, when her voice was even younger sounding and more childlike. One of these, "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus," has more of a country feel than her later, heavily orchestrated, pop-oriented recordings. But if you like Brenda Lee (and how could you not?), this is a nice collection of some of her goofiest material.
Brenda Lee "The Best Of Brenda Lee: Christmas Collection" (Universal, 1999)
This disc is pretty much a straight reissue of the Rockin' Around collection reviewed above... the same eighteen songs, in the same order. The difference? This version is in stereo; the other one has better album art. Either way... what a great record! (For other Christmas records, see my Hillbilly Holiday section.)
Brenda Lee "Grandma, What Great Songs You Sang!" (Decca, 1959)
(Produced by Owen Bradley)
Her first LP was kind of an odd outing, a "classy" set of nostalgic oldies from the pre-WWII era that slightly undercut her reputation as a rockabilly firebrand and perhaps didn't fully showcase her strengths. Still, it was a great repertoire, and if you want to hear a fourteen year-old prodigy gliding through classic tunes such as "Baby Face," "Pennies From Heaven" and "Just Because," you might want to give this one a whirl.
Brenda Lee "Brenda Lee" (Decca, 1960)
(Produced by Owen Bradley)
Here's Brenda Lee at her rock'n'roll peak. This includes her first Number One hit, the weepy, majestic "I'm Sorry," which reveals the full power of her voice -- also included are a funky version of Ronnie Self's "Sweet Nothin's," and strong remakes of her earliest singles, "Jambalaya" and "Dynamite," which originally came out a few years earlier. Lee is a real powerhouse on these tracks, joyful, potent and irresistible. Backing her is the cream of the crop from Owen Bradley's "Bradley's Barn" studio crew -- the Decca sound at its best, even if they do give her a slightly "square" pop sound at times. This is where you'll want start, though -- this are some of her best early recordings.
Brenda Lee "This Is... Brenda" (Decca, 1960)
Brenda Lee "Emotions" (Decca, 1961)
Brenda Lee "All The Way" (Decca, 1961)
Brenda Lee "Sincerely, Brenda Lee" (Decca, 1962)
(Produced by Owen Bradley; arrangements by Bill McIlhiney)
Classy, generally downtempo covers of pop and jazz standards by Irving Berlin, Haogy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer, et. al. Her vocals are flawless, though the arrangements are a little staid. Easy on the ears, for sure.
Brenda Lee "Brenda, That's All" (Decca, 1962)
Brenda Lee "All Alone Am I" (Decca, 1963)
Brenda Lee "Let Me Sing" (Decca, 1963)
Brenda Lee "By Request" (Decca, 1964)
Brenda Lee "...Sings Top Teen Hits" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
Brenda Lee "The Versatile Brenda Lee" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Too Many Rivers" (Decca, 1965) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Bye Bye Blues" (Decca, 1966) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Coming On Strong" (Decca, 1966) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Reflections In Blue" (Decca, 1967) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Johnny One Time" (Decca, 1969) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Memphis Portrait" (Decca, 1970) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Brenda" (MCA, 1973)
Brenda Lee "New Sunrise" (MCA, 1973) (LP)
Yeesh. Disappointing. He voice seems slightly haggard and limited, without the dynamism and swooping range of her youth... Also, the repertoire and arrangements are gooey and enervating. Terrible cover versions of Paul McCartney's "My Love" and Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" come early on, and reveal the limits of this album. Things get better when she finally gets a little more country, particularly on her version of Shel Silverstein's "Wrong Ideas" (a novelty recitation song about picking some guy up in a singles bar...) Overall, though, this is a pretty weak album. I'm not sure anyone was really trying on this one, at least not too hard. Oh, well.
Brenda Lee "Brenda Lee Now" (MCA, 1974) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Sincerely" (MCA, 1975) (LP)
Brenda Lee "L.A. Sessions" (MCA, 1976) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Even Better" (MCA, 1980) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Take Me Back" (MCA, 1980) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Only When I Laugh" (MCA, 1981) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Feels So Right" (MCA, 1985) (LP)
Brenda Lee "Brenda Lee" (Warner, 1991)
Brenda Lee "Greatest Country Songs" (Warner, 1996)
Re-recorded versions of old hits and some classics country songs...
Brenda Lee "Precious Memories: Favorite Gospel Songs" (BL Productions, 1997)
Brenda Lee "Gospel Duets With Treasured Friends" (Provident, 2007)
Hick Music Index