"The House of the Rising Sun"
The Ruin of Many. . .
Based on the tune of a traditional English ballad, the original—with lyrics folklorist Alan Lomax traced to the Kentucky duo of Georgia Turner and Bert Martin, though exact authorship is impossible to verify—is sung from the woman's perspective. It was first recorded in 1934 by the Smoky Mountain singers Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, and since then has been modified endlessly—Nina Simone renders it as a disconsolate moan, Bob Dylan sings it in a severe tone on his debut album. The most famous iteration of the song, the Animals' 1964 chart-topping hit, is also one of the more radically altered: Fearing that a song about prostitution wouldn't get on the radio, the British band changed the lyrics into a sermon about the more generic evils of drinking and gambling, sung from a male perspective.
Amazingly, this doesn't diminish the song. Surrounded by a halo of haunting reverb and the hovering chords from Alan Price's organ, Eric Burdon winds his way through the arpeggiated guitar line as though counseling a little brother about the traps that await out in the big world. He knows he's made a mess of things, and though there's the hint of shame in his delivery, he won't play the typical helpless wayward drunk. Singing sorrowfully but not in defeat, he asks for compassion the way all the great soul singers do, by making clear that what happened to him could happen to anybody.
Released: 1964, MGM
Appears On: The Animals
Another Interpretation: Nina Simone: Four Women. Joan Baez: Joan Baez
Catalog Choice: Animalism
Next Stop: Blind Willie Johnson: The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (see p. 400).
Book Pages: 21–22
#1 from Brian Norton, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada - 04/29/2009 12:32
The sad thing is that the singles version, truncated for radio play, cut the guts out of Price’s organ break. It was clumsily done, very obvious, and irritating. Make sure you get the album cut.
#2 from andrew - 08/11/2009 5:59
Lots of single versions have their content cut. Its a radio think. But it does ruin the song in the end.