Songs of Yesteryear

Everyday, we are bombarded with thousands of new songs, forever expanding on a never ending, collaborative musical catalog. Each decade our sound evolves, drifting further away from the simplicity of our origins. The world is faster now, more intense, and more unhinged than ever before and we have the music to match. Sometimes you have to take a step back and appreciate the music of the past. Take a look around to see where we have been and where we are going to go. The music of the 60’s is a place I like to get lost in often. The beautiful ballads, voices and unenhanced talent are intoxicating and unmatched. A personal favorite of the decade is the underrated Brenda Lee. Although she gave the world numerous hits and paved the way for future musicians, she rarely gets the recognition she so greatly deserves.

Brenda Lee circa 1960 by Harry Hammond

Widely referred to as a child prodigy, Brenda Lee was a master of her craft as soon as she could speak. Her small size was misleading -she possessed a strong, Smokey voice and a range that could compete with the likes of Elvis. Her talent was undeniable, and after her father died  in 1953, it was her voice that would provide for her family. 

The gifted singer began her career as a Rockabilly kid working gigs around rural Georgia, sometimes getting paid a week’s worth of wages (about $35 at the time). In 1956, Lee got her big break and appeared on a show called Ozark Jubilee, hosted by Red Foley on ABC. The performance was a catalyst for Lee, leading to numerous other televised appearances and a deal with Decca Records that same year. The teen shifted into the pop scene and started strong with her single “Dynamite,” attracting an international audience. Throughout the 60’s, the star claimed multiple Top 10 pop hits, including the holiday favorite “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” In the late 70’s Brenda Lee returned to country music, the genre she began with and loved dearly. She went on to have six Country Top 10 hits and by the late 80’s,, she had sold over 90 million records, more than any other female singer at the time. Today she is an inductee in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

With such a diverse inventory, it’s hard to narrow down my favorites from Brenda Lee. Although I love many, my top three songs are  “Emotions,” “Break It To Me Gently,” and “I’m In The Mood For Love.” My top song, “Emotions,” is perhaps one of the most beautiful songs I have heard to date. A romantic, dreamy tune that floats through your headphones, slowly transforming the world around you. The ballad is a plea to the power that emotions hold over us, asking just for an ounce of mercy. Lee tactfully puts into words just how hard life can be when we feel so much. Her vocal mirrors the pain and confusion of the lyrics with a range of powerful bursts and hazy whispers. Lee’s voice is so seasoned and full with intent, you forget that she was just 17 years old at the time. 

An indisputable queen of the 60’s, I implore you to take a moment and get lost in the sounds of Brenda Lee. Let her music transport you to a time when things weren’t so complicated and true talent was abundant. A pioneer in the music industry, Brenda Lee should get as much credit as the other stars of her generation but for some reason she has been overlooked. As music ages, it often gets lost and pushed aside but it is our job to make sure it stays alive and relevant. Check out Brenda’s timeless classics on Spotify and watch her perform “Emotions” below. 

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