To “younger” listeners (those under 60)—if they’ve heard of her at all—Rosemary Clooney is the voice of peppy novelty songs, the kind you hear in Olive Garden commercials, or alongside Louis Prima on soundtracks for movies with vast Italian mob families (Mickey Blue Eyes) or vast Italian meals (Big Night). It’s one of the ironies of her career that some of her most popular songs are her “dialect songs” like “Come On-a My House”, “Mambo Italiano”, and “Botch-a-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina)”. Heck, the music for “Come On-a My House” was written by Ross Bagdasarian (also known as David Seville of Alvin & the Chipmunks fame). How much more novelty can a song get?
Clooney was loathe to record songs like “Come On-a My House” because she felt they were too gimmicky and heavy with double-entendres, instead wanting people to focus on her smooth, jazz-based work. But there’s no denying their success, their role in establishing Clooney as a star, or that they’re just plain fun—regardless of how Clooney felt about such songs, you can practically hear a smile on her face as she sings them. Besides, Stan Freeman should have a street in pop heaven named after him for the way he rocked the harpsichord on cuts like “Botch-A-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciani Piccina)” and “Come On-a My House”.
Come On-a My House: The Very Best of Rosemary Clooney, naturally, covers the novelty bases (although it somehow leaves off “Mambo Italiano”), but it also addresses the other facets of Clooney’s sound. Clooney’s career spanned 50 years, so it’s impossible for any single-disc compilation to do her justice. She sang with giants like Duke Ellington, after all, and her touch with standards could be second to none. That said, Come On-a My House, performs pretty well as an introduction to Clooney.
There’s her frisky take on “I Only Have Eyes for You” and a slinky version of “Mack the Knife” (both led by Perez Prado), and her richly orchestrated “Get Me to the Church on Time” (the church bell solo winding around the horn blasts is an especially nice touch on Nelson Riddle’s part). Two duets with Bing Crosby, “How About You?” and “I Can’t Get Started”, hearken back to an era when duet partners didn’t always trample each other in their rush to over-emote.
Come On-a My House, through its focus on the Columbia years, covers the peak of Clooney’s popularity, with no tracks later than 1960. During her ‘50s commercial heyday, she had a TV show, a radio show with Crosby, numerous movie roles, and was so well known that people referred to her simply as “Rosie.” Her 1961 divorce from actor Jose Ferrer, a second divorce from Ferrer in 1967, and the assassination of her friend Robert Kennedy (she was standing near him when he was shot), sent Clooney into a spiral that resulted in nervous breakdowns and retirement. In 1976, she began a tenure with Concord Jazz that resulted in roughly an album per year until her death in 2002. It’s the early stuff, though, that defined Clooney, and while Come On-a My House, like so many other Clooney compilations, doesn’t tell the whole story, it at least gets the story started.