Where it was at
The sizzling summer of 1951 had a theme-song. Rosemary
Clooney's "Come-On-A-My-House," a Mitch Miller-produced novelty song was
making its way to the top of the popular music "charts".
Released in June (just in time for bathing suit season — remember, this was when bikinis hadn't yet made the mainstream of acceptable fashion); the song was shocking to some because it contained much
double entendre; almost too much for 1951 but just enough to make it a smash
hit for Clooney (and a feather in producer Mitch Miller's cap).
Where it went
A pre-rock and roll popular music tune written in 1954 by Robert "Bob"
Merrill, "Mambo Italiano" (as performed by Clooney) became a smash in the
fall/winter of '54 and spring of 1955.
Exactly like "Come On-A-My-House," (based loosely on an Armenian traditional
dance tune), "Mambo Italiano" was just a written-down and modernized version of
a popular Italian traditional song. The ever-cheesy Miller
decided that his "formula" for a novelty song could be reprised by virtually
"stealing" yet another folk song, commanding Clooney to affect yet another
accent, and adding the harpsichord (this time in a nearly creepy, frenetic
solo) played by keyboard artist Stan Freeman. "Mambo Italiano" may not have
surpassed the sales of "Come On-A-My-House" but arguably has out-lived the
latter because of the song's extensive use in Mob Movies and also as a title
for an independent film, produced after the new millennium.
One must take into context the incredible popularity of Latin and Afro-Cuban
rhythms in popular music during the last half of the 1950s and early 1960s to
understand why "Mambo Italiano" was a runaway hit. This song appealed to the
masses who were caught up in the Mambo dance craze (and by extension to the
Cha-Cha, Rhumba, Beguine and other Latin forms). The 'icing on the cake,'
however, was that Clooney's believable and endearing faux-Italian accent,
Italian diction and mention of so many things Italian assured the record a place in
the record-bins of all but the most conservative Italian-American families of
Now, Mitch Miller might have been capitalizing on a fad; but it worked for
the A&R executive once again. The infectious sound of the
Harpsichord played beautifully on the less-than-high-fidelity equipment of the
time. The beat was frenetic; Clooney beckoned the listener to dance with the
words "Shake-a baby shake-a 'cause I love-a how ya take-a-me." ("Take-a-me"
being a somewhat more explicit reiteration of the double entendre of
"Come-On-A-My-House" - offering delicious fruits to the singer's guest).
Years later, crooner Dean Martin came out with his own version, with a much
less frenetic beat. The ASCAP list of performances on record, as well as the
Dean Martin discography online, are silent as to exactly when this song was
performed/released by Martin. It exists, nonetheless, on "The Essential Dean
Martin," a compilation on Capitol records, released in 2004.
Clooney's much smoother, far-less-frenetic nod to her fans was a live
recording done near the end of her life at the Rainbow Room, contained on
Concord Records' "Rosemary Clooney: The Concord Years" (arguably the singer's
finest body of work).
A table of wiseguys is sitting in an exclusive club in New York;
the young ladies present are wearing the latest fashions. After the
stage show, one of the goons hands a $20 bill to the waiter and
insists that "Mambo Italiano" be played by the dee-jay. She is dressed
in a red bouffant party dress. Really red. The straps are
spaghetti-thin. Her lipstick is the color of a fire-engine. Her hair is
jet black and long and wavy. The guy's wearing a relatively expensive
suit, is manicured from head to toe, but has the speech and carriage of
a truck-driver. The couple spin and dance wildly (no normally
"off-limits" area of the young woman's anatomy is any longer
"off-limits" to the mobster's grasp.) They get into their black 1955
Chrysler Imperial and dash off into the darkness, presumably to some
Fancy a large picnic; the children are running around, it's about
1960. Grandpa and the other elders are busy drinking homemade wine in
the basement or grappa in the library of the house. The kids play the
new 45-rpm records on their phonographs. Some of the young husbands and
wives have had just one too many cocktails, and someone says, "hey;
Certainly, at this gathering of Italian-American family and friends,
the song that eventually gets the most people up dancing around
the patio is "Mambo Italiano."
- The writer's experience with this genre of music and this particular song.
- Official Website of Rosemary Clooney:
- American society of Composers, Artists and Publishers (ASCAP): (Title
Performer Search for Dean Martin: (came up empty on www.ascap.com)
- IMDB.com (the movie database):