The Fascinating Journey of "Come On-A My House"

rosemary clooney

 

“Come On-A My House” was a hit in 1951, recorded by Irish-American Rosemary Clooney but written by two Armenian-American men, William Saroyan and his cousin Ross Bagdasarian. Originally written in 1939 during a road trip the cousins took across the country, the music was based on an Armenian folk song. The duo wrote the song for their off-Broadway musical, The Son, but Clooney took it to #1 on the Billboard charts, and it has been covered dozens of times since.

The song features icons of Fresno’s Armenian orchard life: apples, plums, apricots, figs, dates, grapes, peaches, and notably pears and pomegranates, which appear as significant Armenian symbols throughout Saroyan's written works (see the stories “Five Ripe Pears” and “The Pomegranate Trees” for examples of this).

In Clooney's version, she opts for a generic “ethnic” European immigrant accent, or what some imagined to be an Italian-American accent, which was a popular trope in the 1950s and 1960s, used in novelty, or “dialect,” songs. Though the lyrics to “Come On-A My House” don't specifically call out an ethnic origin, they are written phonetically to simulate how an Armenian immigrant might say these words in English:

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you candy

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give a you

Apple, a plum and apricot-a too eh

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house I'm gonna give a you

Figs and dates and grapes and cakes eh

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you candy

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you everything

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you Christmas tree

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you

Marriage ring and a pomegranate too ah

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house I'm gonna give a you

Peach and pear and I love your hair ah

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house a come on

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you Easta-egg

Come on-a my house, my house, I'm gonna give you

Everything, everything, everything

Come on-a my house

 

Others picked up on this accent and covered the song with international variations. Louis Prima altered some of the words to better match an Italian immigrant's song in 1951, offering up calamari and scungilli in addition to fruit. Mickey Katz recorded it in 1951, in mixed English-Yiddish, adding a Klezmer interlude and replacing the fruits with matzo balls, fish, knishes, and kugel. Chiemi Eri covered the song in Japanese in 1952, followed by Eartha Kitt singing it in Japanese in 1965, and Coldfeet’s English-Japanese version in 2003. Daniel Santos & Los Jovenes del Cayo also recorded it in mixed English-Spanish with a Latin rhythm, in “Ven Pa’ Mi Casa” in 1951, followed by multiple covers in Spanish, including another popular take by Nico Estrada y su Sonora with Vicky Zamora in 1960. Anita Darian gave it a middle Eastern flair in 1959 and sang in English-Armenian. Bill Coleman gave it the first jazz treatment in 1952. Saroyan and Bagdasarian recorded a version in 1951 that includes a spoken-word introduction by Saroyan (Bagdasarian did the singing) that elaborates on the immigrant theme: “One lonely immigrant boy/Going from work one day/See fine U.S. Number-1 girlie/Fall in love with her right away./He looked on her/She looked on him/But he didn’t know just what to say/He loved her, he wanted for to marry her/So he told her in old country way.” This part has only occasionally made it into cover versions.

In 1959, Julie London released the most sultry version (later released as part of an album in 1962), taking the song in a whole new direction with more obvious double entendre. This interpretation was followed up in 2002 when Nasty Tales and Their Orchestra’s version was used as the theme song for the Playboy bunny reality TV show The Girls Next Door. Della Reese’s version was later lip-synched by Madonna in a dream sequence in the movie, Swept Away. Following up these sexier versions was Nina Ernst’s very provocative 2019 recording containing dark undertones with a video connecting the song to sex and drug use, showing that this song has staying power and many interpretations!

You can watch the transformation of this song over the decades using the list of videos below. From the upbeat pop sentiment of the 1950s to psychedelic versions in the 1960s, to 80s synth and 90/2000s ska. The song has been recorded dozens of times since the 1950s and has appeared in TV, movies, and theater. Below is a list of cover recordings, most of which took a direct approach to recording the song as written, but with a few loose adaptations that breathe new life into the song. After being covered for 70 years, it might qualify as an American folk song at this point. Have we left any off? Let us know if you have more covers of “Come On-A My House” to share!

 

1951 Rosemary Clooney: https://youtu.be/mriXncI96lw

1951 William Saroyan and Ross Bagdasarian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQFi612fjbI

1951 Kay Armen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5637g-I-ro

1951 Ella Fitzgerald: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q8gPCtogSEA

1951 Daniel Santos & Los Jovenes del Cayo (English/Spanish) “Ven Pa' Mi Casa”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6jxAzdwHdk

1951 Mickey Katz and his Orchestra (Yiddish/English): https://youtu.be/3m0c5yaEvLA

1951 The Three Suns: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpgGUgQBwdY

1951 and 1958 Louis Prima: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A98yXnLl2AQ

1951 Kay Starr: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h70_XG45Q9Y

1951 Dolores Martel with Tony Pastor Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJUWVAPZJi8

1952 Chiemi Eri: (Japanese) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RffoFrBHl04

1952 Bill Coleman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEZSRUuysC8

1950s (released in 2015) Peggy Lee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbfn_TpcKp4

1959 (1962 released on album) Julie London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaZ90M_BYjc

1959 Anita Darian (Armenian/English): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5H_W3zuO8g

1960 Della Reese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3A8bGCqpQQ

1960 Richard Hayes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyOLGNL7WGI

1960 Ñico Estrada y su Sonora with Vicky Zamora (Spanish/English) “Ven Pa’ Mi Casa”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsqm6R-bE1k

1961 Four Lads https://youtu.be/wWrM01VcWbU

1962 Patrice Munsel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TUvLOE_8SQ

1965 Ross Bagdassarian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3JjKRe362A

1965 Eartha Kitt (Japanese): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM8a2bhswXU

1967 The Bluebeards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1pMG4pwXpg

1967 The Shakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCZcvYTMT00

1982 Captain and Tenille (bonus track on album More than Dancing…Much More)

1988 Surf Punk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JTg8JshypY

1990 Voice Farm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1f7kShoM3qY

1994 John Pizzarelli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lbsP43PE1g

1999 Flat Earth Society: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jd11PIqY2k

1999 Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YO61iHkLFe8

2001 KT Oslin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57rsUl6BVBE

2002 Nasty Tales and Their Orchestra: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7UAb8ANY3g

Girls Next Door Intro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuPPApQY1hc

2002 Swept Away, Madonna/Della Reese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJwzDmscsPc

2003 Bette Midler: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDEHICERmj8

2003 Coldfeet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOFcC6VD4CU

2004 Barbara Lusch https://youtu.be/ks6tnGVvZ_A

2004 The Poker Dots https://youtu.be/nl392u9zqu8

2005 The Swingin Swamis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGEAt455KTo

2008 Courtney Collins and Jeremy Ylvisaker with J.T. Bates and Michael Lewis https://youtu.be/ERuSbIVb_oQ

2011 Coco d’Or: https://youtu.be/9mdBwDY9Cgw

2011 Sherry Dyanne feat. Candy Dulfer: https://youtu.be/iLu5qSN7ugA

2013 René Marie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zu30H3m-o0

2014 George Ch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emDkDwyUW0M

2015 Marin Mazzie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm0fnTR3Bso

2016 Rosemary Standley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxVj08B-eoA

2018 Imelda May: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE313LuTerw

2019 Shizuka Kudo: https://youtu.be/65mwUFhSbeI

2019 Sarah Mai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyPK9V9DS3w

2019 Nina Ernst: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66ygmIJh2RE

 

Article written by Dori Myer, Archivist, Forever Saroyan, June 2020

The Story That Started It All

A bearded beggar with a misshapen left leg standing

    Writers are often asked who their influences are or what made them decide to be a writer. Everyone has notable influences, but Saroyan, at age 64, could still pinpoint the moment he knew he would be a professional writer. In an interview from 1972 (published in 1973), he explains:

“I chose writing… The thing that started me acting upon it came when I was about 12. I was at Technical High School in Fresno learning typing. At that school I went to the library one day. It was a dull, dreary day early in the year, January or February. Nothing made very much sense to me in the world and in the human experience, and I was looking for something that might make sense. I got a book down from the shelf in the library and I opened it almost anyway and it was a story called “The Bell” by Guy de Maupassant. And that story did it. That was a revelation to me of the art of writing, of the role of the writer in society, in the world, and I was hushed by the power of a very simple story simply told. The way Guy de Maupassant wrote the story had a tremendous impact on me and I knew that then definitely, positively that was my profession. And so learning the typing and running into that story coincided with this decision to pursue this profession.” (Here's William Saroyan reading his own stuff and talking [portrait of the writer as a young man of sixty-four], Listening Library 1973 - Part 1 of 4, 10:25)

    Who was Guy de Maupassant? A Frenchman born in 1850, Maupassant is considered one of the first masters of the modern short story form. "The Bell"/"The Beggar" was originally published in the 1880s.

Guy de Maupassant fotograferad av Félix Nadar 1888

From Wikipedia:

Maupassant was a protégé of Gustave Flaubert and his stories are characterized by economy of style and efficient, seemingly effortless dénouements (outcomes). Many are set during the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, describing the futility of war and the innocent civilians who, caught up in events beyond their control, are permanently changed by their experiences. He wrote 300 short stories, six novels, three travel books, and one volume of verse.

    Like Saroyan, he wrote extensively and with a simple style that reflected the innocence of his characters. Maupassant’s influence can be seen all over Saroyan’s writing, from those humble beginnings at the library. Saroyan also writes about the story “The Bell” (also called “The Beggar”) in a chapter called "Guy de Maupassant" in his 1969 book, Letters from 74 Rue Taitbout (a book in which each chapter is a "letter" to someone significant to him, living or dead):

Guy de Maupassant: I remember wandering around one afternoon at Fresno Technical High School, where I was learning typing, eleven or twelve years old, in 1919 or 1920, desperate as only a man of that many years can be, angry at something or somebody, alone in spirit, bored, and hoping that I might find in the library something to speak to me.

              I found a story called “The Bell.” I sat down and began to read it, not knowing what it was or what effect it was going to have on me.

              Guy de Mauspassant, your story told me to write, and that’s all I needed to know.

              Six or seven years ago your specialist, Artine Artinian, an editor and translator, wrote to writers all over the world inviting them to say what your writing meant to them. Many were faithful, or at any rate almost so, but many more were almost embarrassed that they had ever been deeply moved by your writing or had ever cherished it.

              Well, the hell with them. I remain faithful.

              Your writing is your writing. Nobody else has ever written in that living manner, and every writer who has ever read your writing has been improved by it.

              I thank you again, as I do every year.

    Literary analysts and Saroyan enthusiasts are lucky that in his later years, Saroyan reflected on his life and career extensively, giving us special insight into the mind of a great writer.  

   The full text of Maupassant’s “The Bell”/ “The Beggar” can be found here.

the beggar, maupassant

Article written by Dori Myer, Archivist, Forever Saroyan, April 2020

The World of William Saroyan

flyerFor the first time in more than ten years, the world of William Saroyan’s artistic and literary creation will be unveiled in his beloved San Francisco in a sweeping exhibition featuring drawings, paintings, unpublished manuscripts, correspondences, musical compositions, and ephemera. Known as a prolific creator, winner of both an Academy Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Saroyan wrote or painted nearly daily for decades and saved much of this output for posterity.

In 1934, twenty-six-year-old Saroyan debuted on the American literary landscape garnering critical accolades. His short fiction was unconventional, rhythmic and fresh, exciting a country in the depths of the Depression. At a time when his Salinas Valley contemporary, John Steinbeck, was writing about the gritty realities of working life in California, Saroyan presented a hopeful view of humanity, highlighting the California that was a haven for hard-working immigrants who struggled but also celebrated life in their adopted land. Writing extensively about Fresno and San Francisco, there is much for locals to relate to in his body of work. Until his death in 1981, Saroyan wrote about his lived experiences, harnessing stories from his own life, imbuing them with the surprising combination of authenticity and parable.

In this exhibit, Charles Janigian, a cousin of William Saroyan, shares his private family collection with the support of The Grabhorn Institute. Special programming will accompany the exhibit to be announced.

This exhibit was originally scheduled for April 16, 2020 - June 22, 2020. Due to the spread of the coronavirus and California's shelter-in-place order, and to protect our community, we will be rescheduling the exhibit. Please stay tuned for new dates and events. Our prayers go out to all during this time of worldwide crisis. Be well!

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