DEAR JERRY: A personal Hit Parade favorite of the 1950s is “This Old House,” by Rosemary Clooney.
Yet, as many countless times I've heard it on the radio and TV, not once do I recall any explanation or history behind this most unusual composition.
Do you have any information about “This Old House,” such as whether or not there really was such a house?
Cheryl Gentry, Carlisle, Pa.
DEAR CHERYL: My three-word answer, “yes to both,” is admittedly borrowed from Stuart Hamblen, writer of “This Ole House” sometimes shown as “This Old House.”
Stuart is also the one with the original release of “This Ole House” (RCA Victor 5739), a May-June 1954 issue. The Clooney recording came out in July.
You are clearly not the only one curious as to a possible story behind this tune. With so many music lovers asking this of Hamblen, he and RCA Victor responded by making a special interview record for radio station play.
Stuart Hamblen explains thusly:
“A lot of people, upon hearing this latest song of mine, called “This Ole House,” have asked me these questions:
“They ask if there a story behind “This Ole House,” or if there a hidden meaning in “This Ole House.”
“Yes to both questions.
“The story: A friend of mine and myself were hunting up in the High Sierras. We found a little old cabin that had almost been demolished by a wild storm. The only living thing around it was a starving old hound dog. In the back room we found a little old prospector that had cashed-in his blue chips.
“As I surveyed the wreckage of the storm, the friend of mine suggested that I write a song about all of this.
“About this old house, I said. And then I got the idea. Yes, this old house!
“Later on, riding down the canyon, with the old hound dog on the pommel of my saddle, taking him in to shelter and to food, I got to thinking.
“This old house, the ones made of wood and steel, shall all come down. And this old house of mine, made of clay, it's got to go too but there's a big difference.
“Although the wooden house, the steel house, or brick house may be scattered in the winds of a wild storm and its debris scattered over the hillside, this clay house in which I live shall be scattered too. But … the soul inside shall, in God's own good time, be gathered with the saints.
“In other words, we're all getting' ready to meet the saints.”
Though the first with a record of “This Ole House,” Hamblen's original didn't hit the charts until after Rosemary Clooney's million-selling rendition.
Other than the customary she-he pronoun switches, the major difference between the two versions is Stuart's fourth verse, which Rosemary omits:
“Now my old hound dog lies a-sleepin'
He don't know I'm gonna leave
Else he'd wake up by the fireplace
And he'd sit there and howl and grieve
But my huntin' days are over
Ain't gonna hunt the coon no more
Gabriel done brought in my chariot
When the wind blew down the door”
IZ ZAT SO? With “This Ole House” on a single backed with “Hey There” (Columbia 40266), Rosemary Clooney accomplished something done by just one other recording artist in over 52 years!
After six weeks as America's top hit, “Hey There” was replaced at No. 1 by “This Ole House.”
From the beginning of 1945 to October 1997, the only other instance of both sides of the same single being consecutively and individually ranked at No. 1 occurred in the summer of '56 with Elvis Presley's “Don't Be Cruel” and “Hound Dog.”
The tunes breaking this impressive streak are Elton John's “Candle in the Wind 1997” backed with “Something About the Way You Look Tonight” (Rocket 568108).