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Historians have not been able to definitively identify The House Of The Rising Sun, but here are the two most popular theories:
1) 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.
It's 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 melody is a traditional English ballad, but the song became popular as an African-American Folk song. It was recorded by Texas Alexander in the 1920s, then by a number of other artists including Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Josh White and later Nina Simone. It was her version The Animals first heard. No one can claim rights to the song, meaning it can be recorded and sold royalty-free. Many bands recorded versions of this after it became a hit for The Animals. (Thanks to music historian and author Ron Foster.)
The Folk music historian Alan Lomax recorded a version in 1937 by a 16-year-old girl named Georgia Turner
. In this context, it is sung in the first person, present tense with the singer lamenting how the House of the Rising Sun has ruined her life. In this traditional Folk version, the main character is either a prostitute or a prisoner. The Animals changed it to a gambler to make their version more radio-friendly.
The Animals performed this song while touring England with Chuck Berry. It went over so well that they recorded it between stops on the tour. In our 2010 interview with Animals lead singer Eric Burdon
, he explained: "'House of the Rising Sun' is a song that I was just fated to. It was made for me and I was made for it. It was a great song for the Chuck Berry tour because it was a way of reaching the audience without copying Chuck Berry. It was a great trick and it worked. It actually wasn't only a great trick, it was a great recording. The best aspect of it, I've been told, is that Bob Dylan, who was angry at first, turned into a rocker. Dylan went electric in the shadow of The Animals classic 'House of the Rising Sun.'"
This was the first #1 hit in the UK or US that was over 4 minutes long. The single version is cut down, but still runs about 4:30, which was very long for any song on the radio at the time.
Bob Dylan recorded this on his first album. The Animals version was one of the first songs to put a Rock rhythm to a Folk song, something Dylan did a lot soon after.
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 recorded this in one take, as they had perfected the song from years of performing it on the road. The Animals' drummer John Steel recalls in 1000 UK #1 Hits
by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "We Played Liverpool on May 17 1964 and then drove to London where Mickie (Most) had booked a studio for ITV's Ready Steady Go!
Because of the reaction we were getting to 'Rising Sun,' we asked to record it and he said, 'Okay we'll do it at the same session.' We set up for balance, played a few bars for the engineer - it was mono with no overdubs - and we only did one take. We listened to it and Mickie said, 'That's it, it's a single.' The engineer said it was too long, but instead of chopping out a bit, Mickie had the courage to say, 'We're in a microgroove world now, we will release it.' A few weeks later it was #1 all over the world. When we knocked The Beatles off the top in America, they sent us a telegram which read, 'Congratulations from The Beatles (a group)'" The producer Mickie Most recalls, "Everything was in the right place, the planets were in the right place, the stars were in the right place and the wind was blowing in the right direction. It only took 15 minutes to make so I can't take much credit for the production. It was just a case of capturing the atmosphere in the studio." (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
The Animals had 13 more Top 40 hits in the US, becoming one of the most successful British Invasion bands in the United States. They split up in 1968 over various music and business issues. Burdon told us: "I don't think that The Animals got a chance to evolve. We were the first to admit that we took Blues songs from American artists, but if the Animals had stuck together and worked together instead of worrying about who was getting all the money, we could have evolved more and come out with more music to be proud of."
Alan Price is the only band member given credit for arranging this, meaning he is paid almost all the royalties. Their record company told the other members that there was not enough room to list them as arrangers.
The organ solo was inspired by jazzman Jimmy Smith's hit "Walk on the Wild Side." Alan Price performed the solo on a Vox Continental.
The man who created Yacht Rock with "Sailing" wrote one of his biggest hits while on acid.
Van Dyke Parks
U2, Carly Simon, Joanna Newsom, Brian Wilson and Fiona Apple have all gone to Van Dyke Parks to make their songs exceptional.