Houses of the Rising Sun

“The House Of The Rising Sun” is a traditional English folk ballad that may date as far back as the 16th century. It became famous when The Animals recorded it in 1964:

I love this video, partly because it is colour footage from 1964, but mostly because lead singer Eric Burdon looks like a naughty schoolboy who has just been caught pilfering sweets from the school tuck shop. The universe randomly decides who gets talent and who does not.

Until I read the Wikipedia entry on the song, I didn’t know that Bob Dylan performed it on his first album:

Bob Dylan’s nasal and atonal sound works for a lot of his own material – I love the Highway 61 Revisited album – but I don’t think it works here. I only made it through 0:53 of this. It’s probably just as well that Dylan had to stop performing this live because audiences thought that he was covering The Animals’ version.

When I was growing up, I used to sometimes hear a version by Frijid Pink:

This was recorded in 1969, and you can tell: check out the fuzz tone guitar and the wah-wah pedals. Trippy, man! Frijid Pink were from Detroit, and this was their only significant hit – it reached #7 on the Billboard charts.

There are plenty more versions than this, of course. Jimi Hendrix covered it at one point as an instrumental:

The backing tracks for this song have a vaguely discoish feel. I didn’t listen to too much of it.

A random search on YouTube turned up a heavy metal version by Five Finger Death Punch, whose video features random tattooed ladies and gentlemen cavorting in the desert:

The moral of this video is very clear: do not play high-stakes poker in a game where everyone is heavily armed. This style isn’t really my thing, and replacing “New Orleans” with “Sin City” in the lyrics doesn’t really work (not enough syllables). To me, the lead singer sounds vaguely like Stan Ridgeway of Wall Of Voodoo fame. It’s not horrible, though.

Libby Holman performed this song back in 1943:

She sings very slowly – it took her 1:23 to get through the first verse, and I wasn’t patient enough to sit through the rest.

Leadbelly’s wife sings a version of it too:

Like all of Leadbelly’s music, this makes me think of people driving down dusty highways in the southern United States in the 1930s. It’s pretty good.

The Ventures did an instrumental version of this in the 1960s, featuring some yummy fuzz-tone guitar and a fairly accurate reproduction of The Animals’ organ sound:

Sinead O’Connor has also covered it:

This sounds like she was singing it all alone in a darkened room. To her credit, she doesn’t overplay the song, except for one or two vocal flourishes here and there, even when the musical accompaniment goes more over the top. The last 30 seconds or so of the ending are unnecessary, but it’s not bad otherwise.

Compare this with the version from Fred Turner, of Bachman-Turner Overdrive fame:

Turner doesn’t really have a pure enough voice to tackle this one – he can only reach high notes by shouting at them (hey, it’s better than I can do), and he does not resist the temptation to over-emote. Unfortunately, it winds up being unintentionally funny.

Lastly, there’s Bon Jovi’s live version from 1995, which is a fairly faithful cover of The Animals’ version:

He emotes this about as much as Eric Burdon does, which is the best that you can hope for, really.

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About davetill

I'm a writer and occasional web designer. I live in Toronto.
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