An international star who was voted Best Female Vocalist by the NME for five consecutive years, Brenda Lee sold over 100 million records all before she was 21. Although she showed a preference for recording ballads in order to reach the greatest number of record buyers, she also possessed one of the grittiest rock’n’roll voices of the era – THE greatest according to John Lennon.
Here are the tougher rock’n’roll recordings Lee made at the start of her career before she fully embraced the smooth certainties of the pop market. Comprising early singles and a few choice LP tracks, it is a stand-alone release designed to wrap up all her early rockers and serve as a companion volume to Ace’s existing programme of Brenda Lee album reissues.
Even at the height of her ballad phase, Brenda demonstrated that she had never entirely left her rock roots behind by placing rockers on the on the B-sides of her singles. These up-tempo offerings frequently became hits too – tunes such ‘Just A Little’, ‘Anybody But Me’ and ‘That’s All You Gotta Do’, all heard here, are typical examples. Also included is her breakthrough hit, ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ , the perennial ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’, the all-time classic, ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’ and early boppers such as ‘Dynamite (the 1957 version not the later re-cut), ‘Rock The Bop’ and Jambalaya’ which display a feisty attack for one so young – she was a mere 13 years-old at the time.
Some of Lee’s biggest American ballads were less successful in Britain where she was better known for her up-tempo material. In 1961, Brunswick, the label representing US Decca in the UK decided to re-promote an earlier release, ‘Let’s Jump The Broomstick’, in response to an underlying demand. The revived 45 reached #12 helping to keep Brenda’s name in the limelight here. Similarly, ‘Here Comes That Feeling’ (relegated to a B-side in the States) reached the Top 10 in Britain while barely making a ripple back home.
By the time the British Invasion had swept the States in 1964, Brenda’s recording profile had strayed just a little too far into AOR territory and she was keen to reassert her pre-eminence in the fast-changing teen market. British promoter Don Arden put her in touch with hotshot young British producer Mickie Most who’d taken the Animals to the top with ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. It was the first time she’d recorded outside Nashville since 1957. The result was the scorching double-sider, ‘Is It True’ c/w ‘What’d I Say’ featuring Jimmy Page and powerhouse drummer Bobby Graham.
In the States, ‘Is It True’ came out with a different flip, ‘Just Behind The Rainbow’, so American fans never got to hear ‘What’d I Say’. Cut in a single take, ‘What’d I Say’ appears here on CD for the first time and makes a tremendous closer to this engaging set by the Queen of Rock’n’Roll’, complemented, as always, by an attractive booklet brimming with rare ads and period pics.
By Rob Finnis