Study Guide

House of the Rising Sun Introduction

House of the Rising Sun Introduction

In a Nutshell

If you search for "House of the Rising Sun" on YouTube, you'll find more versions of the song than you can count on your fingers and toes put together. Perhaps more surprisingly, more than a few of those versions will actually be pretty great.

At its core, the song is a word of advice from a speaker who is now older and wiser, warning young people to steer clear of the path that led the speaker to ruin. Whether "House of the Rising Sun" is a brothel, a women's prison, or some different kind of sordid locale, the song is always a dark one. Some versions are addressed to young women, and some to young men.  

The song knocked around the southeastern United States for decades, perhaps even a century, before the Animals picked it up in the 1960s; Alan Lomax's 1937 recording of a teenager named Georgia Turner had really put the song on the map. Somehow, a British invasion band took this deeply American song and not only made it their own, but brought it to a wider audience—and presumably made more money off of it—than anyone had before. 

How did this song get from 19th-century Appalachia to the top of the Billboard charts? We've got the story for you right here.

About the Song

ArtistAnimals, The
Year1964
LabelColumbia
Writer(s)Unknown/traditional; Animals' arrangement by Alan Price
Producer(s)Mickie Most
Musician(s)Eric Burdon (vocals), Alan Price (Vox organ), Hilton Valentine (guitar), John Steel (drums), Chas Chandler (bass)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumThe Animals

Music Video

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Influences on Animals, The

Eric Burdon has cited Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Billy Holiday, Joe Turner, and Jimmy Whiterspoon as his dominant influences.

Keyboard player Alan Price, responsible for most of the musical arrangements for the Animals, turned from skiffle to rock and roll after hearing Jerry Lee Lewis.

Influenced by Animals, The

Tom Petty, Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, and Joe Cocker have all acknowledged the influence of the Animals on their work.

House of the Rising Sun Resources

Books

Ted Anthony, Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song (2007)
Anthony travels around the country and back in time to uncover the origins and evolution of the song made most famous by the Animals in 1964. The book is clearly written, separates fact from fiction, and provides fascinating (and entertaining) samples of alternate versions.

Eric Burdon with Jeff Marshall Craig, Don't Let Me Be Understood (2002)
Not one of the best of this genre, but Burdon's fans will enjoy this account of his days before, after, and with the Animals. Those interested in the Animals more than Burdon, should read Sean Egan's Animal Tracks.

Albums

The Animals (1964)
Here's the Animals' debut album, which opens with their hit single "House of the Rising Sun."

Animal Tracks (1965)
The Animals' third album and the last before Alan Price—the band's talented keyboard player and musical arranger—left the band. Includes the hit singles "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood."

The Twain Shall Meet (1968)
The second album released by Eric Burdon and the (now reconstituted) Animals. Rhythm and Blues has given way to psychedelic rock. The most enduring tracks are "Monterey" and the anti-war "Sky Pilot."

Images

"House of the Rising Sun" Single
Here's the cover image for the Animals' hit single, "House of the Rising Sun."

The Animals
Here's the whole band.

Alan Lomax
The ethnomusicologist who made recordings of an enormous amount of American folk songs, including "The Rising Sun Blues" in 1937.

Dave Van Ronk
Somewhat miffed since Dylan recorded his arrangement of the song—he deserves a little attention.

Movies & TV

Eric Burdon and the Animals: Finally (2003)
A fairly typical rocumentary with concert footage, interviews with band members, and a look backstage. Casual fans interested primarily in the Animals' hits will not be disappointed—they are all here.

Websites

The Alan Lomax Collection
The Library of Congress has posted a website to accompany its Alan Lomax collection which consists of the field notes, correspondence, recordings, and photographs accumulated by the folklorist and ethnomusicologist.

Official Animals Website
There is an "official" site dedicated to the band, but it's thin on content and amateurishly constructed.

Video & Audio

The Animals, "House of the Rising Sun" (1964)
Here's the version that made the song a number one hit.

Georgia Turner, "Rising Sun Blues" (1937)
Alan Lomax's recording of 16-year old Georgia Turner singing "The Rising Sun Blues" in 1937.

Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, "Rising Sun Blues" (ca. 1960)
The fabled folk musicians record their version of "The Rising Sun Blues" as part of their remarkable Original Folkways Recordings.

Nina Simone. "House of the Rising Sun"
Nina gives the song her signature sound in this live performance, which you can read about in our modules on "Sinnerman" and "Four Women."