Also released in that brand new format, the ''45''

It’s ten years ago this summer that jazz and pop singer Rosemary Clooney, (George’s dear aunt, and this dude‘s mom) died of lung cancer at the age of 74. But a new JCPenney ad is making sure she’s not forgotten.

And like the retailer’s April ad featuring a little-known song by 60s teen pop star Lesley Gore (“Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows”), they’ve dug deep and come up with a lovely find – the perfect soundtrack for a morning spent potting pansies and pulling up those pesky thistles in the garden before the guy comes to deliver your five cubic feet of mulch. (I love the smell of cypress mulch in the morning.)

Aww yeah: JCPenney’s new commercial features a 60-year-old b-side! The song’s called “On the First Warm Day”, and it first appeared as the flip side to Clooney’s 1952 78 rpm single for Columbia Records, “Botch-A-Me (Ba-Ba-Bacciami Piccina)” which charted all the way to #2 in its day.

Rosemary Clooney “Botch-a-Me (Ba-Ba-Bacciami Piccina)” (1952)

But even that huge hit is largely forgotten, having been overshadowed by another “ethnic” Italian novelty she recorded: “Mambo Italiano,” which has become to mob movies what Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” is to gay movies. I love that JCPenney is running with these lost oldies (what will they think of for June?). I’m a fan of Rosemary Clooney. One of my more recent CD acquisitions is a reissue of her 1956 album with Duke Ellington Blue Rose (featuring this swoony take on “Mood Indigo”). But I’d never heard “On the First Warm Day” until the JCPenney commercial.

Rosemary Clooney “Mambo Italiano” (1954)

Because I first associated Rosemary Clooney (born on May 23rd, in Maysville, Kentucky) with the goofier songs that she’s better known for (“Come On-a My House”, “Mambo Italiano”), I really became a fan of her more melancholy performances. One of my favorite Clooney songs is her gender-reversed take on the song “Hey There”, from the Adler & Ross musical The Pajama Game. The song itself was really inventive – a man having a heart-to-head chat with himself about the crush he’s got on that woman he knows from work (you know, the one who hates his guts). In the musical, he sings the verse into a dictaphone, then plays it back to himself, singing back to it in reply. In this performance, some background singers understudy for that dictaphone, but in the recording (which hit topped the pop charts for 6 weeks in the fall of ’54), she duets with herself.

Rosemary Clooney “Hey There” (1954)

I still love her sad songs best (and I still disdain the goofy ones), but I love the sense of joy she brings to “On the First Warm Day”. It doesn’t preclude the possibility of future sadness, but in its moment, it’s bright and hopeful: “we’ll teach those birds and bees a thing or twooooooo….” The song may not make me want to head right out to JCPenney, but it does make me want to browse their record collection.