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“The House Of The Rising Sun” The #1 Hit That Killed The Band

Entertainment | November 23, 2021

The song that destroyed a band. (amazon)

“The House Of The Rising Sun” dates back to at least the 18th century as an African American folk song. But it rose to prominence in 1964 thanks to the British rock band, the Animals. Its origins vacillate between being about a brothel or a women’s prison in New Orleans.

While the song’s provenance might not have been a happy one, The Animals used it to knock The Beatles off their string of #1 hits. The Animals' rendition of “The House Of The Rising Sun” also changed history, convincing Bob Dylan to go electric. As lead singer Eric Burdon said, "We were looking for a song that would grab people's attention" and boy, did they ever.

"The House Of The Rising Sun" was around a long time before The Animals made it a hit. (financialtimes)

A Long Time Coming

As we mentioned, “The House Of The Rising Sun” goes way back. In fact, The Animals were part of a long line of musicians to take their swing at it. Lead Belly, Roy Acuff, and Woody Guthrie all made use of it.

In fact, just a year earlier Nina Simone and Bob Dylan attempted a folksy version. However, after hearing The Animals take, Dylan realized he could take a folk song and apply a rocker style. As Burdon said, "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.'"

Burdon felt a kinship with the song from the start. (youtube)

Meant To Be

Despite the song's genesis happening 100 or more years before his time, Burdon believed it was meant for him. "'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 Animals made a few hit but could have done so much more. (pinterest)

A Single Recording

As Burdon alluded, the band began working out the song while on tour with Chuck Berry. Its piecemeal creation continued through its recording, which only required a single take. Funnily enough, their recording happened during another band's recording time. It became a launching pad for famous British Producer Mickie Most. Drummer John Steel recalled the momentous day.

"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 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)'."

For a few years after The Animals broke up Burdon performed solo. (amazon)

Junior Beatles?

Prior to The Animals’ “House Of The Rising Sun,” The Beatles owned a vice grip on the number 1 spot. Unfortunately for the Animals, their run ended in the same fashion only faster. As Burdon put it, "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."

The group did manage 14 top 40 hits in the US, becoming one of the most successful British Invasion bands of the ‘60s. Ironically, their most iconic hit played a big role in their demise.

The band that couldn't survive success. (forbes)

The #1 Hit That Killed The Band

Credit can be a difficult thing to dole out, especially when there’s a boatload of money involved. Somehow the organist Alan Price ended up getting the majority of the royalty rights. Guitarist Hilton Valentine told it from his perspective, "We were in a rehearsal studio in London when [manager] Mike Jefferey came in and said it was too long to put 'Trad. Arranged by' with all our names on the record." They came to a verbal understanding that equal compensation would be arranged later…

"Can you believe that we were so naive? Well – we were," Burdon later lamented. "We all could have done with the extra cash, but I guess Alan Price felt he needed it more than anyone else." Price left the band within a year or so. "He must've got his first royalty check," was bassist Chas Chandler's reaction. By 1967 the band was no more. Still, as Burdon eloquently put it, "This is a song that will never go away. When they put me in the grave, there will be angels flying around singing this song."

Tags: House Of The Rising Sun | The Animals | The Beatles

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!