A Brief History of the “House of the Rising Sun”

The House of the Rising Sun is most commonly associated with the Animals and their chart-topping song. However, the folk song is one of those that pays homage to many things that came before. And like many things before, some of the origins are being forgotten.

Before the song’s most famous and credited “first” recorded by Alan Lomax, the song was recorded by Clarence Ashley in 1933. Clarence, from Georgia, claimed the song was learned from his grandfather. In the Appalachian hills of Kentucky, Alan Lomax recorded a girl, Georgia Turner, singing Acapella’s song. Lomax put the song on the Our Singing Country album, found in the Library of Congress.

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The house spoken of in the song may never have even been a real house. However, if apparently, if it did exists, it would have been in the New Orleans French Quarter. Tourists have come to look for it, and the closest they have come is a hotel (brothel) that used to be called Rising Sun open during 1808-1822 before it burned to the grown. Now, in its spot lives the Historic New Orleans Collection museum. Another conclusion drawn was that the song eludes to an alleged women’s prison that used to be in New Orleans, a rising sun etched over the gate. This would make the line of “ball n chain” seem plausible, especially if sung by a woman.

The Alan Lomax Version Lyrics:

There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun,
It’s been the ruin of many poor girl, and me, O God, for one.

If I had listened what mama said, I’d’a’ bee at home today,
being so young and foolish, poor boy, let a rambler lead me astray.

Go tell my baby sister never to do like I have done,
To shun that house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.

My mother she’s a tailor, she sold those new blue jeans,
My sweetheart, he’s a drunkard, Lord, Lord, drinks down in New Orleans.

The only thing a drunkard needs is a suitcase and a trunk.
The only time he’s satisfied is when he’s on a drunk

Fills his glasses to the brim, passes them around.
The only pleasure he gets out of life is hoboin’ from town to town.

One foot is on the platform and the other on on the train,
I’m going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain.

Going back to New Orleans, my race is almost run,
Going back to spend the rest of my life beneath that Rising Sun

Both versions are extremely similar, but how if they were both so spread apart. An author named Ted Anthony wrote about this in his book called “Chasing the Rising Sun.” He journeyed across the united states and the Atlantic ocean to find the song’s starting point and the roots of folk music. One way he believed that folk music traveled was with “medicine shows.”  Medicine shows consisted of musicians and salesmen. The singers played American folk songs while the salesman worked crowds selling “medicine,” but actually just liquor. Another way was the railroad, where people worked for hours and could share songs.

Beginning in the 40s, folk singers, including Josh White, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, and even Nina Simone, put their own spin on the song recordings. From banjo to being sung from a woman’s perspective. The Animal’s version of the song was the, buy far the most famous. It was recorded in May 1964 in a single take and went on to rule chars in the UK and the United States, beating out even some Beatles. The original version puts the narrator as either a prisoner or a prostitute. Mickie Most produced the Animals version, and the arrangement is credited to the band pianist, Alan Price. It was regarded not quite as positive but Eric Burdon, The Animals, singer.

The Animals Lyrics:

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

My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
And my father was a gamblin’ man
Way down in New OrleansAnd the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase in the trunk
And the only time he’s satisfied
Is when he’s on a drunkOh mother, tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Don’t spend your life in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising SunI got one foot on the platform
And another on the train
And I’m goin’ back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chainThere is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
Dear God, I know I was one
Dear God, I know I was the one

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