The House of the Rising Sun Lyrics: How The Animals Transformed a Traditional Folk Ballad into a Rock Classic

by Alex Harris

20th April, 2023

The House of the Rising Sun Lyrics: How The Animals Transformed a Traditional Folk Ballad into a Rock Classic

If you have ever heard the song The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, you might have wondered what it is about. Who is the narrator of the song, and what is the house he is singing about? Is it a real place or a metaphor for something else? And how did The Animals come up with their version of the song, which is so different from the original folk ballad?

In this article, we will explore the meaning, history, and evolution of one of the most iconic songs of the 20th century. We will also analyse the lyrics of The Animals’ version and how they changed the perspective and tone of the song.

What is The House of the Rising Sun?

Over the years, numerous artists have recorded The House of the Rising Sun, a traditional folk ballad. The song tells the story of a person who has fallen into a life of sin and misery in a place called the House of the Rising Sun. The exact location and nature of this place are unclear, but some interpretations suggest that it is a brothel, a prison, or a gambling den in New Orleans.

The song has been traced back to at least the early 1900s, but its origins are probably much older. Some musicologists believe that it is based on a 16th-century English ballad called The Unfortunate Rake, which tells the story of a young man who dies of syphilis after visiting a brothel. Other possible influences include French and Irish folk songs that also mention a house in New Orleans or a rising sun.

Clarence Ashley and Gwen Foster, an Appalachian group, made the first known recording of the song in 1933. Since then, numerous artists have recorded various versions of the song, including Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, and Five Finger Death Punch. However, none of these versions achieved the same level of popularity and acclaim as The Animals’ version, which was released in 1964.

How did The Animals transform the song?

The Animals were an English rock band that emerged in the 1960s as part of the British Invasion. They were known for their bluesy and gritty sound, and their covers of American R&B and folk songs. Their version of The House of the Rising Sun was their first and biggest hit, reaching number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Animals’ version was based on Bob Dylan’s version, which he recorded in 1961 for his debut album. However, The Animals made some significant changes to the song that gave it a new twist and appeal.

Here are some of the main differences between The Animals’ version and the original folk ballad:

  • The Animals changed the gender and occupation of the narrator. While most versions of the song are sung from the point of view of a woman who works as a prostitute or a prisoner in the house, The Animals’ version is sung from the point of view of a man who follows his father into alcoholism and gambling ruin. This change made the song more radio-friendly and relatable to a male audience.
  • The Animals added an organ solo. Alan Price’s organ solo, which gives the song more drama and intensity, is one of the most distinctive aspects of The Animals’ rendition. The organ solo was inspired by Ray Charles’ version of I Got a Woman, which Price had heard on a jukebox.
  • The Animals shortened and rearranged the verses. The original folk ballad has many more verses than The Animals’ version, which only has four. The Animals also changed the order of some verses and omitted some details that they considered irrelevant or redundant. For example, they skipped the verse that mentions that the narrator’s siblings are also in trouble because of the house.
  • The Animals used electric instruments and amplifiers. While most versions of the song are acoustic and folk-like, The Animals’ version is electric and rock-like. They used electric guitars, bass, drums, and an organ to create a powerful and modern sound that contrasted with the old-fashioned lyrics.

What do The House of the Rising Sun lyrics mean?

The House of the Rising Sun lyrics by The Animals tell a tragic tale of a young man who regrets his life choices and warns others not to follow his path.

Here is a breakdown of each verse:

[Refrain] 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

This is the chorus of the song, which is repeated after each verse. It introduces the main theme of the song, which is the house of the rising sun. The house is a symbol of sin and temptation, and the rising sun is a symbol of hope and redemption. The narrator identifies himself as one of the many poor boys who have been ruined by the house, and expresses his remorse and despair.

[Verse 1] My mother was a tailor She sewed my new blue jeans My father was a gamblin’ man Down in New Orleans

This verse establishes the background and family of the narrator. His mother was a hard-working and honest woman who made his clothes, while his father was a reckless and irresponsible man who wasted his money on gambling. The narrator implies that he inherited his father’s vices and that he left his mother’s care to follow him to New Orleans, where the house of the rising sun is located.

[Verse 2] Now the only thing a gambler needs Is a suitcase and a trunk And the only time he’s satisfied Is when he’s all drunk

This verse describes the lifestyle and mindset of a gambler. The narrator says that a gambler has no attachments or belongings except for a suitcase and a trunk to carry his clothes and money. He also says that a gambler is never happy or content, except when he is drunk and numb to his problems.

[Instrumental Break 01:43-02:28] [Organ Solo]

This is the instrumental section of the song, which features an organ solo by Alan Price. The organ solo adds emotion and drama to the song, and creates a contrast between the old-fashioned lyrics and the modern sound.

[Verse 3] Oh mother, tell your children Not to do what I have done Spend your lives in sin and misery In the House of the Rising Sun

This verse is a plea from the narrator to his mother, asking her to warn his siblings not to make the same mistakes he did. He admits that he has spent his life in sin and misery in the house of the rising sun, and that he regrets it deeply. He also shows that he still cares about his family and that he does not want them to suffer like him.

[Verse 4] Well, I got one foot on the platform The other foot on the train I’m goin’ back to New Orleans To wear that ball and chain

This verse reveals that the narrator is leaving the house of the rising sun, but not for a better life. He says that he has one foot on the platform and the other foot on the train, which means that he is undecided and conflicted about his decision. He also says that he is going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain, which means that he is either going to prison or going back to his addiction. Either way, he implies that he has no hope of escape from his fate.

[Refrain] Well, 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

This is the final chorus of the song, which repeats the main theme and concludes with the narrator’s confession. He admits that he is one of the many destitute boys who have lost everything because of the house of the rising sun and that there is no hope for him.

Cultural Significance of The House of the Rising Sun

The cultural significance of the song is that it is a reflection of the social and historical context of its time and place. The song captures the themes of sin, temptation, regret, and warning that were prevalent in the American South, especially in New Orleans, a city known for its vice and corruption. Due to the song’s adaptation and transformation by numerous artists from various genres and backgrounds, it also serves as a symbol of the musical innovation and evolution that took place in the 20th century.

The song is a testament to the power and influence of folk music, which has been a source of inspiration and expression for many generations of musicians and listeners. The song is also a part of the American cultural heritage, as it has been recognised by the Library of Congress as one of the songs that shaped America.

Some other songs that have been inspired by The House of the Rising Sun are:

  • Elsie’s Baby Boy (flashback) by Kid Cudi, which samples the guitar riff and chorus of The Animals’ version and tells the story of Cudi’s mother and her struggles as a single parent
  • Amazing Grace by Elias (WWE), which interpolates the melody and lyrics of The House of the Rising Sun and changes the theme to a religious one
  • House Of The Rising Sun by Claude Denjean, which is an instrumental version of the song played on a Moog synthesiser
  • NO EXCUSES (Acoustic Live) by NEEDTOBREATHE, which interpolates the chorus of The House of the Rising Sun and adds new verses about overcoming challenges and excuses
  • House of the Rising Sun by alt-J, which is a cover of The Animals’ version with some changes in the lyrics and instrumentation

The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals is a song that has captivated generations of listeners with its haunting lyrics and powerful sound. It is a song that tells a timeless story of temptation, regret, and warning. It is also a song that showcases how The Animals transformed a traditional folk ballad into a rock classic by changing its perspective, tone, and instrumentation.

The House of the Rising Sun lyrics are evidence of the musical evolution and creativity of The Animals, as well as to their influence on rock music history. They are also a reminder of how music can transcend time and culture and touch people’s hearts and minds with its universal message.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like to read our other articles on music analysis:

Previous post

Be the first and never miss an update!

2024 © All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • instagram