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House of the Rising Sun
The anthemic House of the Rising Sun has spawned countless imitations in myriad genres, and captured generations of folk rock's dispossessed, writes Barry York.
The song probably has its origins among the itinerant black American musicians who frequented the red-light district of New Orleans at around the turn of the 20th century, and spread with their movement through cities, towns and isolated rural communities. As with all successful folk songs, it has changed, lyrically and musically, as it has passed from individual to individual, from town to town and from time to time.
It was adopted by leftists in the American folk scene in the 1940s and 1950s because of its identification with the oppressed. In the 1960s, its implicit — albeit dark — sexuality, again made it a song for the times.
The earliest recording dates to 1937, when musicologist Alan Lomax went collecting in the Kentucky hills for the US Library of Congress. He came across a "ragged Kentucky Mountains girl", Georgia Turner, who sang The Rising Sun into his Presto reproducer. It was not her song, she didn't write it, and no evidence exists about who passed it on to her.

House describes the decline of a sinner, a theme that was popular in isolated rural communities where Calvinism and Presbyterianism were strong. Cosmopolitan, urban New Orleans was about as sinful as life could be. House is public domain; it belongs to no one and everyone.
Before The Animals, different versions were commercially released, with moderate or little success, by folk singers such as Josh White, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Nina Simone did a knock-out, Afro rhythmic version in the 1960s, reminding everybody of its feminist origins.

Neither Lomax nor Turner could have imagined that within three decades, the simple ballad would become an icon to a generation and would create an entire music genre: folk rock.
A dramatic song detailing the moral decline of a human life, the story of the song's evolution also contains dramatic scenes, moral choices, conflicts, exploitation and lament. Georgia Turner died in 1969, aged 48. She received less than $120 in royalties for the song, and these were paid only after Lomax tracked her down again in 1963. In 2000, Ted Anthony of The Washington Post visited Turner's "desperately poor" home, where he met her eldest son. When Georgia died of emphysema, she left behind 10 children.
-Gene Seymour, Newday

Recording sessions
1961 April: New York Village Gate
We're going to do a folk song called the House of the Rising Sun

There is a house in New Orleans
They call it the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor girl
And me oh God I'm one

If I had only listened to what my mama said
I'd be at home today
But being so young and foolish my Lord
Let a-gamblin' lead me astray

Now my mother is a tailor
She sews those new blue jeans
And my sweetheart is a drunkard Lord
Drinks down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a drunkard man needs
Is a suitcase and a trunk
And the only time he's satisfied
Lord is when he's wholly drunk

Somebody go get my baby sister
Tell her to do never to do what I have done
But shun that house in New Orleans
They call it the Rising Sun

Well I'm going back to New Orleans
My race is almost won
Yes I'm going back
To spend my life beneath the rising sun

(Lyrics transcription by Roger Nupie)
1966 October 19 - 1967 January 5: New York RCA Manhattan B
There is a house in New Orleans
Call it the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor girl
1968 June 16: Montreux (CH) 2nd Jazz Festival
1968: New York Bitter End
2005 [3:37] DVD 3 The Soul of RCA/Legacy 82876 71973 2 (US)