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How This Public Domain Song "Rockin' Robin" Got So Popular

“Rockin' Robin” is a song crafted by Leon René, albeit under the fictitious name of Jimmie Thomas. The song was originally released on Class Records 45 single under a different title, “Rock-In Robin.”

Cartoon birds playing Rock & Roll


In 1958, it was recorded by the renowned American singer Bobby Day and went on to become his greatest single. As Leon René used pseudonyms while crafting it, there remains a debate over the songwriting credits. Bobby Day is sometimes accredited by being the co-writer. Another prominent name that pops up is Michael Mc Ginnis. However, it is speculated to be another fictitious name that Day used.

Musical Overview 

Bobby Day’s version was unique, as the singer collaborated with “Hollywood Flames,” his former musical group while recording it. The group also altered their name to “The Satellites” prior to performing the song. Earl Palmer was on drums while Barney Kessel played the guitar. The famous “piccolo” portion was performed by the famous saxophone player Plas Johnson. Later, eminent musicians like Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell, and Hal Blaine became a part of this group and performed on “Rockin’ Robin.”

The song was initially covered by various popular artists like The Hollies, Gene Vincent, and Chuck Berry.  In 1980, it also featured on “The Muppets,” featuring puppet characters. The show’s in-house band, “The Electric Mayhem,” played it live. The song contains some pretty intriguing vocal hooks, combined with compact choruses. However, despite the song is pretty short, running only for two minutes and 33 seconds, it packs about four choruses. Each chorus is subsequently followed by the vocal hook - the famous “twiddly-diddly-dee.” This vocal hook also initiates the song. The instrumentation is diverse, preventing the choruses from being too repetitive.

The song never actually slows down and was amusingly a part of Bobby Day’s album of the same title. Also, the song’s copyrights were not renewed, and it remains a part of the public domain. It’s a rare occurrence since publishers and corporations who own the rights tend to monitor songs that generate income. However, “Rockin' Robin” is free to use by the public, whether in commercials, movies, or karaoke versions. Anyone who uses it doesn't need to pay royalties, albeit its an original recording.

Rockin' Michael

In 1972, “Rockin’ Robin” probably earned it's most extensive recognition, when the legendary Michael Jackson (from Jackson 5) published his rendition of the song. His "single" version was included in “Got to Be There,” his solo album. “Rockin’ Robin” went on to become the album’s biggest hit, rising to Number 2 slot on “Billboard Hot 100” and No. 1 position on the singles chart, “Cash Box." In the early part of 70’s “Jackson 5,” of the record label Motown, was one of the most lucrative acts around. Jackson was groomed by the label for a solo career, and this led to his album “Got to be There.” It was an instant success, and “Rockin’ Robin” was the jewel in the crown. The Christmas classic was reinvented, and the results are still evident in the history of the record industry.

Usage in Popular Culture 

There are numerous adaptations of this classic song since Bobby Day first recorded it. Some of the famous renditions are:

  • In 1958, Cliff Richard and Eddie Silver crafted their own iterations of the song. 
  • In 1961, Dodie Stevens released a version of the song as a part of his album, “Pink Shoe Laces.”  
  • In 1962, Leon McAuliffe and Carroll Brothers crafted their interpretation of Rockin' Robin. In the same calendar year, The Merry Melody Singers combined with Clyde McPhatter to perform this song for an orchestra, which Jerry Kennedy conducted.  
  • In 1963, Dee Dee Sharp included Rockin' Robin as a part of her album, “Down Memory Lane.”
  • In January 1964, Rockin' Robin was a part of the album “Stay with The Hollies” by The Hollies. In October, The Boomerangs also created their own rendition of the song.  
  • In 1965, three separate versions of this song were released by three bands, namely The Henchmen, Ian & The Zodiacs, and The Streaplers. 
  • In 1972, the “The Alan Caddy Orchestra and Singers” released a version of the song. The punk rock band Bulldog also included it in their album “Bulldog.”
  • In 2004, Rockin’ Robin got featured in the album titled “Dis Ain'tcha Momma's Zodico,” of the musical group “Travis Matte and The Zydeco Kingpins.”
  • In March 2009, the singing group “Home Free” released an acapella version of the song for their album “Kickin' It Old School.”
  • In February 2010, the song was a part of The Cat's Pajamas Vocal Band’s album titled “One Stop Doo Wop.” It also has an alternate title “Oreo.”
  • The Overtones produced the most recent rendition of Rockin' Robin. It was released on their album titled “The Overtones” in October 2018.

A Christmas Classic? 

The fact that Rockin’ Robin is wheeled out every festive season and the bird “robin” is traditionally connected with winter (read Christmas) the song does lack in certain Christmas charms. Here, the robin is imagined as the central attraction of an “avian show,” where it effortlessly outperforms every other bird species. There is a distinct lack of snow, which has led to debates over whether it classifies as a Christmas classic. However, what it lacks in words is made up for through music. The “twiddly-diddly-dee” is ridiculously captivating and catches the listener’s hook, line, and stinker. This special effect itself does half the trick, and when combined with some spectacular guitar works, leaves a permanent imprint on the mind. Rockin’ Robin is a fantastic song. The whole arrangement works brilliantly, enticing the listeners into a prodigious festive vortex. 


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