This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #322: The House of the Rising Sun by Eric Burden and the Animals.
I am not sure if any of you watch the tv show called, “The Curse of Oak Island” on the History Channel but, if you do then, you’ll attest to the fact that they spend a lot of time digging up fragments of ancient artifacts, getting them analyzed and dated and then, discussing the relevance, to their treausure hunt, of finding such an artifact, from such and such a period of time in History. Sometimes, the significance of the find is obvious but, much of the time, the folks on that show are left scratching their heads and labelling the find as “another piece of the puzzle”.
When it comes to the History of Music and, in particular, the History of individual songs, “The House of the Rising Sun” holds a place of particular importance. First of all, the version of this song we are most familiar with is the one by Eric Burdon and the Animals. It was released in the mid-1960s and is famous for being the first version of this song to include electric guitars. But, Eric Burdon and the Animals had no more to do with the writing of that song that I had to do with the writing of the Books of the Bible.
“The House of the Rising Sun” by Eric Burdon and the Animals is just one, of hundreds and hundreds of cover versions of this song. In fact, this song falls under the category of “Folklore”; with the origins of the song dating back as far as the Sixteenth Century. No one knows exactly who first wrote about the dangers to both, men and women, from brothels or houses of ill-repute but, whoever it was, they tapped into an element of the human condition that seems universal and time-tested. Over the centuries, this song has been sung from the point of view of men but, also, from the point of view of women.
The first written lyrics that have been found date from the early 1900s. Since then, the song has been sung by any number of performers over the years. Many of these singers were either Country and Western stars or else, they were Folk singers. In both cases, the instrument of choice was an acoustic guitar and, as such, “The House of the Rising Sun” was always regarded as a Folk song. That was, until Eric Burdon came along. He added a new twist to the song by adding in an electric guitar. Funny thing though, Bob Dylan used to perform this song in the classic Folk-style but, had been experimenting with electric guitars, too. He was all set to record and release an electric version of “House of the Rising Sun” as part of his “Dylan-goes-electric” transformation. But, just before he did so, he heard the version recorded and released by Eric Burdon and the Animals and knew that he had forever lost that race. When “The Animals” released their version of “House of the Rising Sun”, they became the first band to play a form of “Folk-Rock” that is quite common today. So, their place in the annals of Musical History, as innovators, is assured.
The “Eric Burdon and the Animals” version is noteworthy because of the electric guitars that were added but, also, because of the gospel fervour with which Burdon tackled the song (as opposed to the traditional, more Folksy, restrained, slower style of singing). Furthermore, the song clocked in at almost four and a half minutes long which, at the time, was thought to be too long for a song to be played on the radio. When the first singles were pressed, it was an edited, two-and-a-half minute version that the public was allowed to buy. It wasn’t until The Animals released their next full-length album that the original four and a half minute version was made available. That version, with its extended instrumental breaks, is the classic version we all know and like today and, which has gone on to become Eric Burdon and the Animals signature song.
Eric Burdon and the Animals are best known for their version of “House of the Rising Sun” but, they also had hits with songs such as, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, “See See Rider”, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and “Bring It On Home to Me”. They have sold millions of albums worldwide and, for a short time in the mid-1960s, they were every bit the equals of “The Beatles” and “The Rolling Stones”. However, line-up disputes and problems with their management company caused the band to break up as the 1970s dawned. But, while they played as a close-knit group, they made great music. Eric Burdon and the Animals were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.
Without further delay, here are Eric Burdon and the Animals with the first electric version of the centuries-old classic folk song, “House of the Rising Sun”. To watch this video is to watch Music History being made. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “The House of the Rising Sun” by Eric Burden and the Animals, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Eric Burden and the Animals can be found here.