This Ole House, by Rosemary Clooney (her first of two #1s)
1 week, from 26th Nov. to 3rd Dec. 1954
Now this is more like it! After an incredibly sedate run of number ones – seriously, nothing since early-May of this year has been enough to get even a toe tapping – we are rocking and a-rolling!
You probably know this song. I certainly knew of it, for a couple of reasons. One is that Shakin’ Stevens revived it in the early ’80s. The other is that I can recall, way back in the mists of time, reading an ‘Oor Wullie’ comic (link provided for non-Scottish readers) in which this song was playing at a party, the words changed to something suitably Scottish (‘This ole house ain’t got no lino’, perhaps). My grandparents kept piles of old ‘Oor Wullie’ annuals lying about, and so have no idea whether it was a new-ish comic strip parodying the Shaky version, or a vintage comic parodying this version. Amazing, isn’t it? Anyone who tries to tell you that the charts don’t matter, and that the songs which make number one don’t form the backdrop to our lives, is very, very wrong. Anyway. You will know this song, I assure you – it’s got a sort of nursery rhyme feel to it and goes a little something like this:
* raucous piano, or maybe a harpsichord (???) or an organ *
This ole house once knew his children, This ole house once knew his wife, This ole house was home and comfort as they fought the storms of life, This ole house once rang with laughter, This ole house heard many shouts, Now he trembles in the darkness when the lightnin’ walks about…
Yes, it’s the tale of a lonely old man. Clooney then goes on to detail the repair work that this house needs – the floor, the hinges, the windowpane, even the shingles (I’m pretty confident that this is the only #1 hit to reference shingle). But he needn’t bother, this lonely old man, as he: Ain’t gonna need this house no longer, He’s getting ready to meet the saints…
This is a strange ole song. In a musical landscape of mopey, flowery, boringly chaste love-songs this is a best-selling song about a man sitting in his dilapidated house, waiting for the sweet embrace of death. The piece de resistance is the line: Oh his knees are a-gettin shaky, But he feels no fear or pain, ‘Cause he sees an angel peekin’, Through a broken windowpane…
Like, seriously. WTF? – as they most certainly didn’t say in 1954. I love it. It’s weird, morbid, almost sadistic. It’s quite modern, in a way, the juxtaposition of upbeat music with some with very downbeat, depressing lyrics. It’s interesting, anyway, and a lot better than some of the guff we’ve had to listen to recently. The gulf between this record and ‘My Son, My Son’ – its predecessor at #1 – is what makes a singles chart so interesting. The next chart-topper can always be something completely different.
Rosemary Clooney’s voice is standard, mid-1950s American. Polished, glossy, accessible. She even throws in a Westlife style key-change after the twangy piano solo which, if I’m not mistaken, is the first we’ve heard in this rundown. I, for my sins, love a good key-change. And we must mention her brilliantly deep-voiced backing singer – with his ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer, ain’t a-gonna need this house no more – who adds an even more bizarre edge to an already pretty bizarre record.
This was Clooney’s first of two number ones, the second of which will be coming up very shortly indeed. And, I can tell you now, it’s another cracker!