Image

Mark Steyn

Steyn's Song of the Week

This Ole House

Sixty years ago - in November 1954 - Rosemary Clooney had the Number One record in both America and Britain. Three decades later, it was a UK Number One all over again - providing a late-career windfall for a cowboy actor turned radio evangelist. This Song of the Week is adapted from Mark Steyn's Passing Parade, which is available in a personally autographed print edition direct from SteynOnline, or in new expanded eBook format from Amazon worldwide and the other outlets listed at the foot of the page:

This Ole House once knew my children
This Ole House once knew my wife
This Ole House was home and comfort
As we fought the storms of life...

Movie buffs will appreciate that moment in low-budget westerns when the leader of the bad guys, the brains of the outfit with the fancy suit and big cigars, swings open the saloon doors and says, "Saddle up, boys, we're ridin' out." In dozens of Republic and Monogram third features of the Thirties and Forties, the camera would then cut to the gang's heavy, chewing a stogie, downing a shot of red-eye, and playing poker in a menacing manner - Stuart Hamblen.

Most of his confrères in the gang were phonies - failed stage actors, effete Englishmen drifting through Hollywood - but Hamblen was the real thing: born in 1908 in Kelleyville, Texas, he'd learned to ride and rope as a child and quickly graduated to the local rodeo circuit. When he moved to Los Angeles to sing on KFI Radio's "Covered Wagon Jubilee", it was inevitable that he'd mosey into cowboy pictures.

In the movies, his evil deeds were routinely foiled by Gene Autry or Roy Rogers and Trigger. Off-screen, it was the Los Angeles Police Department who regularly slung him into jail for barroom brawls or shooting out streetlights. "My daddy was a Methodist minister," he said, "and I guess I was the original juvenile delinquent." To while away his prison stretches, he wrote songs like "Ridin' Ole Paint" (which he sang in the movie The Savage Horde) and "I Won't Go Huntin' With Ya, Jake, But I'll Go Chasin' Women".

In 1949, however, Hamblen was persuaded to attend a Billy Graham prayer meeting. Overnight, he abandoned the good ol' boy songs in favour of evangelical numbers like "When The Lord Picks Up The Phone". Even more impressively for one of the hardest drinkers in Hollywood, he also gave up booze, and in the 1952 presidential election ran against Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson on the Prohibition Party ticket, pledging to restore the outright ban on alcohol: he lost by 26 million votes. Marveling at his old drinking buddy's newfound moral rectitude, John Wayne wanted to know how Stu was managing to stay off the bottle. "Well," said Hamblen, "it's no secret what God can do." "That sounds like a song," drawled the Duke. So Hamblen made it one – "It Is No Secret (What God Can Do)" – and he had a hit with it, and so did Red Foley and Jo Stafford, and later Elvis.

Hamblen and his wife Susie hosted "The Cowboy Church Of The Air", one of the most popular programmes on the West Coast, broadcast on KLAC every Sunday morning from the family home, a California estate once owned by another hellraiser, Errol Flynn. And, although few of his religious numbers crossed over into the wider market, one of his songs, "This Ole House", did have the distinction of reaching Number One in Britain on two separate occasions, with Rosemary Clooney in 1954 and Shakin' Stevens in 1981.

"I always wanted to write music and for me it could be anywhere," he said. "This time, I was wandering way up in the mountains and came across this dilapidated cabin." He was hunting in the high Sierras and had noticed a mangy, starving old hound dog hanging around an otherwise abandoned cabin. "Inside, I found an old prospector lying dead. I saw curtains, so that meant a woman had been there. I saw kids' things lyin' around. And they were all gone now. The old man was alone." Most of us would just get out, some perhaps would go to the cops, but Hamblen sat down and, with the corpse lying next to him for inspiration, began to rough out a song. "It took about 30 minutes," he said. "I put it down on a brown paper bag the old fellow had left lying there:

Ain't a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain't a-gonna need this house no more
Ain't got time to fix the shingles
Ain't got time to fix the floor
Ain't got time to oil the hinges
Or to mend no window pane
Ain't-a-gonna need this house no longer
I'm a-gettin' ready to meet the saints.

Riding down the canyon, with the pooch on the pommel of his saddle, Hamblen firmed up the central idea of the lyric: There are two meanings to "this ole house" – first, the physical shelter, the wood frame and floor boards; second, the old prospector's body, the structure that houses his soul. Both houses end up as dust scattered to the winds. But the soul inside the "house" of the body is gathered up to meet the saints in the house of the Lord. Hamblen wasn't the first to put it like that. The apostle Paul, in his second epistle to the Corinthians, says:

For we know that, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

But Stuart Hamblen was the first to get a hit song out of the idea:

My ole hound dog lies a-sleepin'
He don't know I'm gonna leave
Else he'd wake up by the fireplace
An' jus' sit an' howl an' grieve…

If Rosemary Clooney was aware of this deeper meditation, she didn't let it get in her way. Jimmy Carroll's arrangement treats Hamblen's reflections on the transience of corporeal reality as a jolly novelty number, a quintessential bouncy pop song from the Mitch Miller era complete with the signature sound of Rosie's early hits - Stan Freeman's harpsichord, which almost certainly wasn't how Stu Hamblen heard the song when he was up there in that cabin cooking it up. But Hamlen was grateful enough to send Rosie a bassinet with 125 yards of pink tulle for her baby: even on the Hit Parade, in the midst of death there was new life. A quarter-century after he himself met the saints and a century after his birth, "This Ole House" remains the versatile Stuart Hamblen's most enduring legacy - and the only Number One hit written in the presence of a dead body.

~adapted from Mark Steyn's Passing Parade, which can be yours in personally autographed print format direct from SteynOnline, or in the new expanded eBook edition, which you can be reading within minutes in Kindle, Nook or Kobo - from Barnes & Noble in the US, from Indigo-Chapters in Canada, and from Amazon outlets worldwide. Click below for your nearest branch office:

Amazon US: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Canada: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon UK: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Australia: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon India: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon France: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Germany: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Italy: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Spain: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Japan: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Brazil: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

Amazon Mexico: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade expanded edition

November 16, 2014

 

Roses Of Picardy

As we approach the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, here's one of Mark's favorite songs from the Great War...

Continue Reading

It's the End of the World as We Know It

After "Cat Scratch Fever", Mister Squaresville goes in search of other rockers to cover

Continue Reading

Witchcraft

In this week before Halloween, how about a Song of the Week for the witching hour? I've always loved songs that use magic as an image of romantic seduction and intoxication. Cole Porter got in on it early in "You Do Something To Me" (1928):

Let me live 'neath your spell
Do do That voodoo
That you do So well…

Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer extended the thought in 1944:

That Old Black Magic has me in its spell...

But it was Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh who wrapped up the subject once and for all...

Continue Reading

The Quality of Mercer

A musical moment from The [Un]documented Mark Steyn

Continue Reading

Night And Day

What's the connection between the Muslim call to prayer and Fred Astaire?

Continue Reading

(You'd Be So) Easy To Love

Eighty years ago this month Cole Porter wrote one of the loveliest ballads in the American Songbook:

You'd be so Easy To Love
So easy to idolize, all others above...

A top-rank Porter standard, recorded by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Artie Shaw, Johnny Mathis, Carmen McRae, Charlie Parker, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Julie London, Stephane Grappelli, Sammy Davis Jr, Doris Day, and on and on and on, forever. Yet the guy it was written for didn't care for it. William Gaxton was the leading man in Porter's new Broadway show Anything Goes, and eight decades ago he and the rest of the cast were getting ready to open in Boston at the end of the month...

Continue Reading

The Party's Over/Just In Time

It's twenty years since Jule Styne died - back in September 1994. By then he was the last of the Broadway giants, the composer of Funny Girl, Peter Pan and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and perhaps the greatest of all American musicals Gypsy; the prodigious hitmaker of "Time After Time" and "People" and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend"; the guy who'd supplied all those sidewalk Santas and shopping malls with "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" I write about him in Mark Steyn's American ...

Continue Reading

Loch Lomond

Continuing our post-referendum Scottish theme this weekend, here's a song whose best-known lines figured in a lot of glib commentary in recent weeks - "Will Scotland take the high road, etc?" This essay is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the Steyn store: O you'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road And I'll be in Scotland afore ye... The best known Scottish song of all time is the one about ...

Continue Reading

Can't Take My Eyes Off You/The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

Mark celebrates the late Bob Crewe and two Sixties classics

Continue Reading

God Bless America

The following essay is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season: In the weeks after September 11th, several commentators wanted to know why everyone was singing "God Bless America" rather than the national anthem. The song was everywhere in those early days, and various musicologists were called upon to speculate learnedly on why this song had caught the public mood: Perhaps "The Star-Spangled Banner" requires too great a range, perhaps its complex use of melismas demands a professional ...

Continue Reading

Over The Rainbow

Last week we marked the 75th anniversary of The Wizard Of Oz, but without getting to the film's big song. It's about five minutes in, when we're still in drab, dusty, cheerless, broken-down black-&-white Kansas. Dorothy has tried to tell her folks about an unpleasant incident involving Miss Gulch, but Aunt Em advises her to "stop imagining things" and "find yourself a place where you won't get into any trouble". Dorothy wanders off, taking the injunction seriously. "Do you think there is such a ...

Continue Reading

Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead

This month marks the 75th anniversary of one of the greatest and most enduring film musicals ever made, and one of the few to match the dramatic ambition of the best Broadway shows. The Wizard Of Oz gave us a standard song that won the Oscar that year and was potent enough to provide Eva Cassidy with a posthumous hit in the 21st century. We'll get to that next week, but for this week's Song of the Week here's one of my personal favorites from a truly marvelous score: Ding-Dong! The Witch Is ...

Continue Reading

They Didn't Believe Me

When this weekly feature began eight and a half years ago, our Song of the Week Number One was "San Francisco", to mark the centenary of the 1906 earthquake. But, if I'd been thinking about a Number One song in more profound terms, our Number One song would have been the song we're finally getting round to almost a decade later - because this week's song was really the Number One song for an entire school of songs. As Mel Tormé put it, when Jerome Kern composed this melody, he "invented the popular song". If your idea of a popular song is "Call Me Maybe" or "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" or "The Tennesee Waltz", Tormé's claim is a bit of a stretch. But it's not unreasonable to claim that with this tune Kern invented what we now call the American Songbook - standards that endure across the decades and can be sung and played in almost any style. It is, thus, the Number One Song, the first and most influential entry in that American Songbook...

Continue Reading

A Greasepaint Medley

Three hit songs from one flop Sixties musical

Continue Reading

The Boy Next Door part two

To mark the centenary of composer Hugh Martin, here's the second part of Mark's two-part audio tribute to the man who gave the world "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"...

Continue Reading

I'll Never Smile Again/Put Your Dreams Away

As I mentioned yesterday, we're having a mini-Canadian festival on this long weekend for Simcoe Day and whatnot. This month marks the centenary of one of my favorite Canadian songwriters, albeit one who retired far too early, and we're celebrating with her two biggest hits. The section on "I'll Never Smile Again" is adapted from my book A Song For The Season: "I'll Never Smile Again/Until I smile at you..."

Continue Reading

(I'm In Love With) A Wonderful Guy

A few weeks back, apropos "June Is Bustin' Out All Over", I mentioned that we hadn't done a lot of "month" songs in the years we've been running this feature. Some months - mostly spring ("April Showers", "April In Paris") and fall ("September Song", "September In The Rain") - seem to lend themselves to musicalization. If "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" is about as big a hit title as the sixth month of the year has ever produced, the eighth (which looms this very week) can't even manage a title ...

Continue Reading

Cinderella Rockefella

What with all the Jew-hate around on the streets of Europe in recent days, I thought it would be nice to have a big Europop hit from that fleeting cultural moment when the Continentals regarded Israel not merely as a normal sovereign state but in fact a rather cool and enviable one...

Continue Reading

Fly Me To The Moon

I wouldn't want June to recede too far into the rear mirror without noting that it marked the 50th anniversary of a great and historic recording that, before the Sixties were out, burst the bounds of the planet. In June 1964, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie were in the studio making their second album together, It Might As Well Be Swing. The arranger was Quincy Jones, and his work for the set included a chart Frank kept in the act all the way to his very last concert...

Continue Reading

How About You?

Dominion Day looms - on Tuesday. We always like to have a Canadian song for the national holiday, and what could be more Canadian than...

I like New York in June
How About You?

Continue Reading

Put On A Happy Face

Some musical advice from Mark's graduation season

Continue Reading

Nessun dorma

The all-time great World Cup song

Continue Reading

Georgia On My Mind

Steyn celebrates the song Ray Charles used to hum in the back of his car on the way to the gig - until one day his driver told him to record it.

Continue Reading

June Is Bustin' Out All Over

Well, it's the beginning of June and that means June is bustin' out all over! Except that June doesn't really bust, does it..?

Continue Reading

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

This essay is adapted from Mark's book A Song For The Season:

Memorial Day in America – or, if you're a real old-timer, Decoration Day, a day for decorating the graves of the Civil War dead. The songs many of those soldiers marched to are still known today – "The Yellow Rose Of Texas", "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", "Dixie". But this one belongs in a category all its own...

Continue Reading

Yesterday When I Was Young/She

Ninety years ago this Thursday a baby boy was born in Paris ...well, that was the first unexpected plot twist. He was supposed to be born in America...

Continue Reading

Waterloo

Four decades ago, "Waterloo" hit Number One in the British charts, and the four Swedes never looked back, except to check whether their hot pants had split...

Continue Reading

My Lady Nicotine

Mark explores the art of the cigarette song

Continue Reading

Tea For Two

One of the biggest pop standards of the 20th century celebrates its 90th birthday this month. Exactly nine decades ago - April 21st 1924 - a new musical comedy opened in Chicago on its pre-Broadway tour. The plot was the usual fluff - three couples in Atlantic City, complications ensue, etc. It should have been a breeze, but it wasn't going well...

Continue Reading

Rock Around The Clock

Six decades ago - April 12th 1954 - a chubby-faced kiss-curled man pushing 30 with a backing group named after a theory published in Synopsis Astronomia Cometicae in 1705 went into the recording studio at the Pythian Temple on West 70th Street in New York and sang a song written by a man born in the 19th century...

Continue Reading

Luck Be A Lady

A musical postscript to our Marlon Brando movie night

Continue Reading

Blue Moon

A Rodgers & Hart classic - after three false starts...

Continue Reading

Till There Was You

The 50th anniversary of the Beatles' only showtune

Continue Reading

On The Good Ship Lollipop/Animal Crackers In My Soup

Shirley Temple - singer, dancer, actress, and rock'n'roller

Continue Reading

Angel Eyes

Mark celebrates a classic saloon song

Continue Reading

Almost Like Being In Love

A song for Groundhog Day?

Continue Reading

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Pete Seeger and the "folk song" he stole

Continue Reading

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Number One in January 1934 ...and January 1959

Continue Reading

A Marshmallow World

Mark tells the story behind "his" Christmas song, and presents an audio special celebrating the man who wrote it...

Continue Reading

The Boy Next Door

Hugh Martin, composer, lyricist, vocal arranger, pianist, singer, actor and the man who gave the world the great seasonal gift of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", was born one hundred years ago this week...

Continue Reading

Camelot

As the years go by I grow less and less interested in grassy knolls and all the rest, but I am struck by one genuine, non-conspiracy-theorist feature of November 22nd 1963...

Continue Reading

All Or Nothing At All

Mark celebrates the very first entry in the Sinatra Songbook - and one that stayed with him from big bands to disco

Continue Reading

Ain't That A Kick - Sammy Cahn All The Way

(Audio)To mark the centenary of one of the most successful songwriters of all time, Steyn presents a brand new Song of the Week audio edition, celebrating the man who wrote "Come Fly With Me", "Teach Me Tonight", "The Tender Trap", "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!", "All The Way", "Call Me Irresponsible", "My Kind Of Town (Chicago Is)", and many more.

It's over two hours of great music and stories, including special material from the SteynOnline archives.

Continue Reading

Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?

For Bastille Day it seemed appropriate to have a French number for our Song of the Week. Unfortunately, this one's British, but it does have an accordion...

Continue Reading

An Esther Williams Medley

To mark the passing of MGM's million-dollar mermaid: "On A Slow Boat To China", and "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

Continue Reading

Light My Fire

How a psychedelic anthem from the summer of love became an easy-listening blockbuster

Continue Reading

What A Diff'rence A Day Made

A day late for Cinco de Mayo, here's Steyn's Song of the Week: the most successful composition by Mexico's first successful female composer.

~and don't forget, if you like Mark's Song of the Week essays, some of his most requested are collected in his book A Song For The Season - including many songs for national days, from "America The Beautiful" to "Waltzing Matilda". You can order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore.

Continue Reading

The Sheik of Araby

April 29th apparently marks the anniversary of the launch of the Islamic conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the year 711. So I thought it would be fun to have a suitably Islamo-dominant number for our Song of the Week.

~and don't forget, some of Mark's most popular Song of the Week essays are collected in his book A Song For The Season. You can order your personally autographed copy exclusively from the SteynOnline bookstore.

Continue Reading

Easter Parade

An audio special in which Mark traces the story of the only Easter standard in the American songbook

Continue Reading

Follow Mark

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

Search SteynOnline.com

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

Image

© 2014 Mark Steyn Enterprises (US) Inc. All rights reserved.
No part of this website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied, modified or adapted, without the prior written consent of Mark Steyn Enterprises.