Friday, December 18, 2009

Bobby Helms's Hat Trick

In 1957, Bobby Helms (1933-1997) had three monster hits in a single year—one of which makes a comeback each Christmas season.

The first of the three was "Fraulein", released on March 30. It told the story of a young man who had fallen in love with "an old German’s daughter/by the banks of the old River Rhine" while serving in the postwar occupation of Germany. Stone country, it went to number one on the country charts and an astonishing number thirty-six on the Billboard Top 100—sort of the "pop charts" back in the day.

A few months later, Helms released "My Special Angel." More overtly pop in construction, and with backing vocals by the legendary Anita Kerr Singers, it went to number one on the country charts and peaked at number seven on the Billboard Top 100. It has proven over time to be the most durable of Helms’s mainstream hits; it was first covered by The Vogues in 1968 and has been in the repertoires of a number of groups ever since.

A few days before Christmas in that same astounding year, Helms released "Jingle Bell Rock." Possibly because it was a holiday-oriented song, and a novelty tune at that, it didn’t make it to number one on its first release; it went to number thirteen country and number six on the Billboard Top 100. However, it was re-released during an additional five Christmas seasons and eventually became one of those songs that—well, it wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t hear "Jingle Bell Rock" at least once.

After those three monster hits, all within a nine-month period in a single year, Helms settled into a comfortable if mediocre career. He never had another major hit, and recorded his last album in 1987. He died in 1997 at the age of 63, and has been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, although I think it’s about time the Country Music Hall of Fame added him to its roster.


  1. You're right, it just wouldn't be Christmas without Jingle Bell Rock.

    Helms career makes you wonder about the strange explosion of creativity that sometimes happens in a person's life, that seemingly comes out of ne where and just as quickly fades.

  2. Ah-ha, so that's where Jingle Bell Rock got its start!

    At least Helms was a three-hit wonder rather than one of the many one-hit "stars" that seemed so prolific in the 80's and 90's. And I guess that a mediocre career doing something you love is better than a fantastic one doing something you hate, right??

  3. Exactly, Barry. I've often wondered about that, the people who have written one novel, had one monster hit and never hit the peaks of fame again--the one who always comes immediately to my mind (probably because her book is my alltime favorite) is Emily Bronte--a handful of brilliant poems and WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and in the year of life that remained to her after WH was published, she never wrote another word. Sad and kinda creepy, no? Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I agree with you, Linda! Doing something you love, whether you're a huge success or not, trumps doing something you hate every time. Thanks for stopping by the Red Mud Inn!

  5. The single novel writer has always fascinated me. Helen Hooven Santmyer's great novel, "And Ladies of the Club" is one of my favorites. She wrote other things, but nothing came close to the novel that took her 50 years to write.

    P.S. I have my response to "O Come Emmanuel" up. It features another book.

  6. I read . . .AND LADIES OF THE CLUB twice--once when it first came out and again years later--found it a bag of books my sister brought to Mom--and loved it both times. A great work.

    I've read IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE many times. Loved it from the time I first read it in a RD Condensed Version and later the entire novel. I had read a previous Rumer Godden book (TWO UNDER THE INDIAN SUN? I think that's right) but only with IN THIS HOUSE OF BREDE did I realize that she was a truly great writer, and not nearly as well-known as she should have been.