The House of the Rising Sun
Writer(s): Alan Price/traditional (see lyrics here)
Released: June 19, 1964
First Charted: June 24, 1964
Peak: 13 US, 13 CB, 13 GR, 13 HR, 1 CL, 11 UK, 11 CN, 2 AU, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.4 UK, 8.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): 5.0 radio, 124.7 video, 842.67 streaming
Awards (The Animals):
Click on award for more details.
Awards (Tracy Chapman):
Awards (Sinéad O’Connor):
Awards (Sandi Thom):
About the Song:
The Animals concocted an unusual recipe for their breakthrough hit and signature song which was hailed as “the first folk-rock hit” DM and a “classic…of the British Invasion.” WK It is unclear if the song is about a real or fictional New Orleans brothel. One account says it is named after Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant (French for “Rising Sun”) and operated from 1862 to 1874 in New Orleans. WK It may date back to 18th century American settlers WK as an African-American folk song. SF
Folklorist Alan Lomax archived several versions in the ‘30s or it might have been lost forever. WK He said the title “Rising Sun” appeared in a couple of British traditional songs and suggested that the melody is related to “Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave” (also known as “Matty Groves”), a British folk tune published in 1658. SS Lomax says the focal point of the song was then “relocated to New Orleans in the early 1900s by white Southern performers.” SS
“House of the Rising Sun” was first commercially recorded by Clarence (Tom) Ashley and Gwen Foster as “Rising Sun Blues” in 1933. Homer Callahan recorded it in 1935 under the title “Rounder’s Luck” and Lomax made a field recording in 1937 by Georgia Turner. Roy Acuff recorded it as “Rising Sun” in 1938. In 1941, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger recorded the song, which they learned from Lomax, with the Almanac Singers. Leadbelly also learned the song from Lomax and recorded it in 1944. Josh White copyrighted the song in 1942 and Dave Van Ronk rearranged White’s version and turned it into “a signature piece” in Greenwich Village clubs, leading to Bob Dylan recording it for his 1962 self-titled debut album. SS It was also extensively covered after the Animals’ version hit big. Personal favorites include versions by Tracy Chapman (1990), Sinéad O’Connor (1994), and Sandi Thom (2010).
Drummer John Steel says Dylan’s version inspired them. “We followed the same chord sequence and we just made it electric.” HL They also took a cue from Dylan on refining the song’s bawdy lyrics, FB changing the perspective of a Southern girl trapped in a whorehouse RS500 to a gambling, boozing man. WK Ironically, Dylan abandoned playing the song live because people assumed he was copying the Animals. WK It has even been suggested that it was the Animals’ recording of “Rising Sun” that inspired Dylan to “put down his acoustic guitar and pick up an electric.” TB
Singer Eric Burdon claims to have heard folk singer Johnny Handel cover the song at a club in Newcastle WK although other reports say he heard Josh White’s version at ten years old. FB Regardless, Burdon thought it would distinguish the Animals from Chuck Berry, for whom the group was opening at the time. FB The song got a positive enough audience response to convince producer Mickie Most to record it. WK He said they recorded three takes of the song in fifteen minutes, “completely live, in mono, kept take two and recorded the rest of the album in the remaining two-and-three quarters hours.” TC
Most said it was an advantage that people knew the song because of Dylan, but said, “There was no intent or emotion in his voice. He could have been singing his laundry list.” DT He praised Burdon’s voice, saying “there wasn’t another singer in the world who could have put that much soul into that song.” DT He also said the song has “one of the greatest keyboard solos of all time – if not the best. Alan [Price] wrote it. Beautiful soul/jazz feel on that little Vox organ.” TC
Supposedly on the advice that everyone’s names wouldn’t fit, only Price was credited with arranging the traditional song. That meant only he got the songwriting royalties, a source of discontent which eventually split the band. KL Despite the song’s success, Price left the band in April 1965. SS He said, “We had a missionary zeal about blues music, and I felt…that Mickie Most was attempting to homogenise, sweeten, and make it accessible for the mass market.” TC
First posted 6/24/2012; last updated 9/16/2023.