Song of the Day: The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals

ghost by koyamori

“The House of the Rising Sun” is a traditional folk song, sometimes called “Rising Sun Blues”. It tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans. The most successful commercial version, recorded in 1964 by the English rock group The Animals, was a number one hit in the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Finland, and Canada.

Lyrics:

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
My father was a gamblin’ man
Down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and his trunk
And the only time he’s satisfied
Is when he’s all drunk

Oh, mother, tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the house of the rising sun

Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I’m goin’ back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one

……

Historians have not been able to definitively identify The House Of The Rising Sun, but here are the two most popular theories:
The song is about a brothel in New Orleans. “The House Of The Rising Sun” was named after Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant (which means “Rising Sun” in French) and was open for business from 1862 (occupation by Union troops) until 1874, when it was closed due to complaints by neighbors. It was located at 826-830 St. Louis St.
The song is about a women’s prison in New Orleans called the Orleans Parish women’s prison, which had an entrance gate adorned with rising sun artwork. This would explain the “ball and chain” lyrics in the song.

The oldest known existing recording is by Appalachian artists Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster, who recorded it for Vocalion Records in 1934. Ashley said he had learned it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.

In late 1961, Bob Dylan recorded the song for his debut album, released in March 1962. That release had no songwriting credit, but the liner notes indicate that Dylan learned this version of the song from Dave Van Ronk. In an interview on the documentary No Direction Home, Van Ronk said that he was intending to record the song, and that Dylan copied his version. He recorded it soon thereafter on Just Dave Van Ronk.

I had learned it sometime in the 1950s, from a recording by Hally Wood, the Texas singer and collector, who had got it from an Alan Lomax field recording by a Kentucky woman named Georgia Turner. I put a different spin on it by altering the chords and using a bass line that descended in half steps—a common enough progression in jazz, but unusual among folksingers. By the early 1960s, the song had become one of my signature pieces, and I could hardly get off the stage without doing it.”

Nina Simone recorded her first version on Nina at the Village Gate in 1962. Later versions include the 1965 recording in Colombia by Los Speakers in Spanish called La casa del sol naciente, which was also the title of their second album. They earned a silver record (for sales of over 15,000 copies). The Chambers Brothers recorded a version on Feelin’ The Blues, released on Vault records.

The Animals version

An interview with Eric Burdon revealed that he first heard the song in a club in Newcastle, England, where it was sung by the Northumbrian folk singer Johnny Handle. The Animals were on tour with Chuck Berry and chose it because they wanted something distinctive to sing. This interview refutes assertions that the inspiration for their arrangement came from Bob Dylan. The band enjoyed a huge hit with the song, much to Dylan’s chagrin when his version was referred to as a cover. The irony of this was not lost on Dave Van Ronk, who said the whole issue was a “tempest in a teapot,” and that Dylan stopped playing the song after The Animals’ hit because fans accused Dylan of plagiarism. Dylan has said he first heard The Animals’ version on his car radio and “jumped out of his car seat” because he liked it so much.

Dave Marsh described The Animals’ take on “The House of the Rising Sun” as “…the first folk-rock hit,” sounding “…as if they’d connected the ancient tune to a live wire.” Writer Ralph McLean of the BBC agreed that, “It was arguably the first folk rock tune,” calling it “a revolutionary single” after which “the face of modern music was changed forever.” Van Ronk claims that this version was based on his arrangement of the song.

The Animals’ version transposes the narrative of the song from the point of view of a woman led into a life of degradation, to that of a man, whose father was now a gambler and drunkard, as opposed to the sweetheart in earlier versions.

The Animals had begun featuring their arrangement of “House of the Rising Sun” during a joint concert tour with Chuck Berry, using it as their closing number to differentiate themselves from acts that always closed with straight rockers. It got a tremendous reaction from the audience, convincing initially reluctant producer Mickie Most that it had hit potential and between tour stops the group went to a small recording studio on Kingsway in London to capture it.

Recorded in just one take on 18 May 1964, it started with a famous electric guitar A minor chord arpeggio by Hilton Valentine. The performance took off with Burdon’s lead vocal, which has been variously described as “howling,” “soulful,” and as “…deep and gravelly as the north-east English coal town of Newcastle that spawned him.” Finally, Alan Price’s pulsating organ part (played on a Vox Continental) completed the sound. Burdon later said, “We were looking for a song that would grab people’s attention.” “House of the Rising Sun” was a trans-Atlantic hit: after having reached the top of the UK pop singles chart in July 1964, it topped the U.S. pop singles chart two months later in September, when it became the first British Invasion number one unconnected with The Beatles; it was the group’s breakthrough hit in both countries and became their signature song. The song was less successful in Ireland, only peaking at #10 and dropping off the charts one week later. Ireland had the showband scene and did not consider rhythm and blues a very popular type of music. The song was also a hit in a number of other countries.

The Animals’ rendering of the song is recognized as one of the classics of British pop music. Writer Lester Bangs labeled it “a brilliant rearrangement” and “a new standard rendition of an old standard composition.”[16] It ranked number 122 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list. It is also one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The RIAA placed it as number 240 on their Songs of the Century list. In 1999 it received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. It has long since become a staple of oldies and classic rock radio formats. A 2005 Five poll ranked it as Britains’ fourth favourite number one song.

As recorded, “House of the Rising Sun” ran four and a half minutes, regarded as far too long for a pop single at the time. Producer Most, who otherwise minimized his role on this occasion – “Everything was in the right place … It only took 15 minutes to make so I can’t take much credit for the production” – nonetheless was now a believer and declared it as a single at its full length, saying “We’re in a microgroove world now, we will release it.”

This was the first song since 1962 by a British band to hit #1 in America that was not written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The Animals

Eric Burdon & the Animals.jpg

Also known as Eric Burdon and the Animals (1966–1969)
Valentine’s Animals (1992)
Animals II (1992–1999)
Animals & Friends (2001–present)
Origin Newcastle upon Tyne, England, UK
Genres Rock, blues rock, rhythm and blues,psychedelic rock
Years active 1963–1969, 1975–1976, 1983
Labels Columbia, Decca, MGM, Jet, I.R.S.,Atco, Atlantic
Website http://www.theanimalswebsite.com
Members John Steel
Mick Gallagher
Pete Barton
John E. Williamson
Danny Handley
Past members See Members history
See Past Lineups

image by koyamori

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