'The House of the Rising Sun:' The Animals' Hit Predates New Orleans

By | March 2, 2018

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Single cover for an EMI/Columbia issue of The Animals' 'House Of The Rising Sun.' Source: Amazon

"The House of the Rising Sun," was a hit for the British rock and roll band The Animals in 1964. The classic rock song tells the story of a young boy who was led into a life of pain and misery at house of vices and ill repute. The lyrics paint a portrait of a city where gambling, prostitution and corruption run rampant. It is well known as one of the first, if not the first, traditional American folk song about the infamous city of New Orleans.

There is a house in New Orleans, they call the Rising Sun;
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy, and God, I know I'm one.

The History of the House of the Rising Sun

“The House of the Rising Sun,” is said to have a close resemblance to another song, “The Unfortunate Rake,” an old 16th-century folk song. Over time, much like has been said about “The House of the Rising Sun,” has evolved many, many times over. The earliest known variant of “The Unfortunate Rake” laments over a young man dying of syphilis. This count would be in line with the song that The Animals made so famous. Other versions depict the fate of young soldiers, sailors, cowboys or maids whose lives ended much too soon. In any event, it really is the tale of a sad state of affairs.

Musicologist Alan Lomax Traced The Song To England

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According to Lomax, an accomplished American collector of folk songs during the 20th-century, “Rising Sun” was the name of a vulgar house of vices in two different traditional English songs; as well the name of pubs across England. He also suggested that the location of the house was changed from England to New Orleans by white southern performers.

Other sources have suggested that the “Rising Sun” came from France and referred to a sunburst insignia dating all the way back to Louis XIV; it could have been brought to North America by French immigrants.

The Rising Sun was to have been in New Orleans, Louisiana and some say it was a real place and others say it wasn’t. It all depends on who you talk to and their version of the song and their version of the myth. The question would be similar to, “which came first… the chicken or the egg?” Some say the song was named for a real place and others say that real places were named for the song. No matter which version you subscribe to, there is a set of lyrics and more than one folk tale to go along with each.