Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
While “House of the Rising Sun” may conjure up the sound of Eric Burdon’s deep powerful howls over a haunting interplay of guitar and organ, The Animals did not write the hit that made them major players during the British Invasion of the ‘60s – and arguably the first band to score a “folk-rock hit,” according to music critic Dave Marsh.
The origins of “House of the Rising Sun” are a mystery and even the subject of a book called Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song by Ted Anthony. The earliest known publication of the song’s lyrics are from a 1925 column called, “Old Songs That Men Have Sung,” in Adventure magazine. The earliest recorded version – titled “Rising Sun Blues” – is from 1933 by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster – Ashley had said he learned the song from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.
Another often contested mystery is the house at the center of the song. Some believe it’s an old women’s prison on the outskirts of New Orleans (where the words “rising sun” were etched in stone above the entrance), others believe it’s an all men’s hotel in the French Quarter that burned down in 1822 at 535-537 Conti St. (there is some evidence of a hotel called Rising Sun existing at this address), and some believe it’s an old brothel. Then there are theories of it actually originating in England or France. Of course it’s possible this house never actually existed at all.
Every recorded version of the song is a cover. But to include The Animals version in a list of covers seems a little too obvious. Their version inspired Bob Dylan to go electric, ranked number 122 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time,” was included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll,” and received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. The Animals have gotten their due.
Now on to five (other) good covers of “House of the Rising Sun.”