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House of the Rising Sun

Updated on January 19, 2015

... And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy

And God I know I'm one ... .


The Poingnant Roots of the Standard

No one's ever called me a tear baby. It's not the way I'm wired. But there is one catalyst for those salty traitors. It's a song. A song that when sung well, can bring even the most stoic among us to a misty-eyed moment at the least and blithering idiocy at the most. That song is The House of the Rising Sun.

In this article I'll share some of the many voices which have embraced the song as though a lover, and loved it according to their the depths to which it's meaning has wrapped around their heart. I know if there's any reason I don't have a siren's voice, it's this. This song would be my compulsion and the only inclusion in my repertoire.

We'll never know the writer of the original lyrics to the song. I'm certain they would have been intimately acquainted with source of its inspiration. Perhaps they too met their ruin in some house of ill repute whether the merchandise was women, drink or drugs; they'd been with their muse in some darkened, smoke-filled room that catered to the weaknesses of its guests.

The roots of the song go back to an old broadside ballad known as "The Unfortunate Rake." A close cousin is the cowboy ballad, The Streets of Laredo.

Buster Poindexter ~ House of the Rising Sun

My Favorite Rendition

In high school, all those many years ago, I collected cassette tapes of my favorite songs and artists. Once such favorite was by Buster Poindexter (aka: David Roger Johansen of the New York Dolls). It was, The House of the Rising Sun, the start of my love affair with this song.

Five Finger Death Punch - House of the Rising Sun

The Variations

The flexibility of the classic ballad allows for subtle and perhaps not so subtle changes to the original lyrics of any given song in the genre. This is the case with this ballad. In some lyrics the song is written from the point of view of a woman rather than a man. In others, different lines in the song are changed. But whatever the change, the theme itself is about ruin at a young age resulting from one's actions.

This is simply the prodigal son with a twist. There's no going back to the family home and gaining forgiveness. There's no return to favor by changing one's ways. Instead the subject of the song always returns to "the ball and chain."

The version by Five Finger Death Punch is the most divergent, to me, from the more popular arrangements. I warn that the video at the right has some ripe scenes. This fits nicely in my favorite head bangers list.

Anna Christine - House Of the Rising Sun

The Power in It's Meaning

The use of music in therapy for terminal patients as well as for individuals with cognitive challenges is field of study in the medical world. Music can calm, it can soothe and it can motivate. The ability of music to channel the deeper thoughts and emotions of a person is a study only touched on the surface.

The power of the lyrics combined with the right voice leaves an audience in tears every time. This young girl's talent comes through in her performance. In my opinion, she puts most other artists I've heard to shame. One wonders how one so seemingly innocent and untouched by the darker tenets of life can grok the depths of this song so thoroughly.

Tracy Chapman - House of The Rising Sun (Live Solo European Tour 2008)

Speculation Abounds

It's not known if the title of the song reflects reference to an actual location in New Orleans or if it's a figurative reference. I like to think that someone down on their luck, back further back in history than there's documentation, sat down, with their guitar or banjo or some other instrument and their voice and began to sing about all the troubles and all the woes in their life that had brought them to where they were at that place in time. And then, they looked up through the windows of whatever bar or bedroom or other place they were in and saw the rising sun. This was sight enough to give them hope, perhaps. I'm hopelessly optimistic. You might enjoy this article with discusses further the various theories as to the origins of the song, Was There A House In New Orleans They Called The Rising Sun?


Tracy Chapman is one of my favorite singers. Her unique vocal style caught my attention when she won the Best New Artist award in 1989. Though this recording is a live performance, her music ability brings life to this song that is all her own.

Danie Geimer - THE X FACTOR USA 2013 ~ House of the Rising Sun

Just A Few Nits To Pick

I've listened to a few renditions of this song, as you might have guessed. I have a few things that make the performance more enjoyable.

  • One, a powerful voice is a must. The thin and reedy voice, except in one case, immasculates the powerful message of the song. However, on one occasion, the thin and reedy quality and artist's style made for a haunting, if not chilling delivery.
  • The singer should identify with the subject of the song. So, if it's a male singer, the male pronouns should be used. The same goes for female singers, use the female pronouns. The why of this nit is simple. By not being the subject of the song, the performer becomes detached from the message and the message becomes less powerful.
  • For those able to empathize with the songs subject and truly become one with the message, the song takes on a strength and passion that would be just barely contained. In so doing there won't be a dry eye in the house. Feel the passion of the music, don't just sing the song.

Lead Belly ~ The House of the Rising Sun

Lead Belly Lyrics

The most different lyrics I've come across are those by Lead Belly. The recording of him plucking his guitar and singing this song is very old. There are two recordings by Lead Belly of this song. He lived from January 20, 1888 – December 6, 1949.


The lyrics below, sung by The Animals, are the most common used. Most renditions today are variations of these lyrics. The Animals version of House of the Rising Sun was a hit and popular not only in the USA but other countries.

I've included a number of other videos below for your enjoyment. Should you want to hear more renditions of this wonderful standard, here are a few more you might try. They're all on you tube, just search for their name followed by the title of the song: Dave Van Ronk, Libby Holman, Joan Baez, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, Vixen, Jimi Hendrix (no vocals), Muse, Dolly Parton, BB King and Mary Travers, Holly Henry, Kentucky Headhunters, The Eagles (no vocals) and the list goes on.

Lyrics Used by the Animals


Animals ~ House of the Rising Sun

Sinead O'Connor - The House of the Rising Sun

Nina Simone- The House of The Rising Sun, Version 2

Lauren O'Connell - House of the Rising Sun

Nina Simone - The House of The Rising Sun

The Doors - House of The Rising Sun

Bob Dylan - House of the Rising Sun

Briana Cuoco vs. Jacquie Lee: "House of the Rising Sun" - The Voice Highlight

Frijid Pink ~ House of the Rising Sun

The White Buffalo - The House of The Rising Sun (Sons of Anarchy Season 4 Finale Song)

What do you believe is the truth about The House of the Rising Sun?

Do you believe the house referenced in the lyrics is a place that existed at some time in the past?

See results

My mother was a tailor, she sowed these new blue jeans

My sweetheart was a gambler, Lord, down in New Orleans

— Bob Dylan, Lyrics

© 2014 Tanya Jones

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to comment regarding the hub, or some related topic.

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    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, LisaMarieGabriel, for visiting and commenting. I played guitar when I was younger, but never learned this one. Great interpretation. There are quite a few.

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 

      4 years ago from United Kingdom

      I learned to sing and play this song at a very young age before I had any idea what it might mean. I now believe it to be a speakeasy or some other house of ill repute, probably long gone, but not forgotten in the folk tradition. The singer is bewailing an underprivileged childhood and being led into a life of crime and shame. Very powerful stuff.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      I clean up writing I publish in book form as well as I can then send it off to my editor. She has a hawkeye for errors and makes all the difference to my writing pursuits.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      4 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      We all have them, that's why when it seems "almost publisher time" for the book you finally write, it is time to hire a professional editor to make sure it really is ready. No need for that here, just come back to Hubs after an overnight pause....and remember that Spell Check doesn't catch correctly spelled words that are wrong.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thanks for the catch, Perspycacious. I can look at the same sentence multiple times and miss a glaring error. Guess that's because I'm always on the run or multi-tasking. I appreciate your stopping in to comment.

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 

      4 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Do a quick edit of this one for such blips as "and loved it according to their the depths..." "they would have been intimately acquainted with source of its inspiration" and " is field of study in the medical world. " Please don't take offense, you can do the edit and delete this comment.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, PaulsArt, for stopping in an commenting. I've not heard that one.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      My favorite version is Amazing Grace to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun performed by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      I agree, teaches12345. Poindexter has a raw, sexy voice which does the song justice. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      4 years ago

      Poindexter certainly had a wonderful voice for this song. I listened to it, as you mentioned it was your favorite, and found it was a song I have heard many times in the past. It has a sad story but very memorable as a message.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Lissa Clason, thanks so much for stopping in and commenting. I recall watching one of the vids and noticing the judge's lack of interest in the song choice until she heard the contestant sing. I figured it's a regular for the competition.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, goatfury, for stopping in and commenting. The soundtrack to any show can definitely make (or not) the show. It's amazing how many renditions there are. I'm sure there are even more that haven't ever been recorded as well.

    • Lissa Clason profile image

      Melissa Clason 

      4 years ago from Fayetteville, NC

      I really like this song's powerful lyrics and haunting melody. It seems to mean a lot to many people since it's the most-covered song on American Idol. I didn't realize that it was so old, though, and that The Animals were not the original artists.

    • goatfury profile image

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      I love the SOA use of this song. Kurt Sutter does such an amazing job with picking out songs to use, much like the guy with "Breaking Bad" did.

      Also: I had no idea there were so many renditions!

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Hi there, Homeplace Series. Glad to see you. Thanks for stopping in and commenting. Glad you enjoyed. Did you have a favorite performance?

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I enjoyed the presentation, very much. Thanks for sharing! ;-)

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, DreamingBoomer, for stopping and commenting. This is a really wonderful standard. I think this song will be around for a long time in one form or another.

    • DreamingBoomer profile image

      Karen Kay 

      4 years ago from Jackson, MS

      wow. I've always loved this song. Never knew it to be based on a true story, but I certainly can imagine it. So many people have done it... and the variations are so different. I love how they mix it up. One of the few songs I still know (most of) the lyrics to. Thanks for bringing it out of the dust jacket again for me!

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, notsuperstitious1, for visiting and commenting. Let me know if you find a new favorite. I'd not heard the animal's version until writing this hub.

    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I have listened to 2 or 3 artists performing House Of The Rising Sun since I first heard Eric Burdon And The Animals perform it in 1964 and it is still my favorite version. I will listen to the other artists mentioned to hear if I like any other version better. Excellent choice on a hub.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Thank you, Ericdierker, for stopping in and commenting. Wow. That is something. On vinyl no less. I wonder if they have converted any of those albums over to cd. That's an interesting thought about the origins of the song. Now, "Take Me Home Whiskey" is a new one to me. There is a neighbor around here with a dog named whiskey. ;)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      My dad had Leadbelly on vinyl (78 rpm) We grew up with the history of it being a brothel of Black persuasion in New Orleans. Seemed an 80 year old friend named Emmet Dijon (in 1960), son of a slave, had known it. But that is just the story my big sister would tell before singing it. It fit right in with: "Let Me Go Home Whiskey" by Amos Milburn.

      Thanks for an awesome hub my friend

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      Jodah, thanks for your visit and comment. I hadn't realized that Hotel California was influenced by this song. Definitely something worth looking into.

    • Arachnea profile imageAUTHOR

      Tanya Jones 

      4 years ago from Texas USA

      You're welcome, Nancy Hardin. I appreciate your stopping in and commenting. I'd not heard the Animals' performance until I started working on this hub. There are so many good ones out there.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Wow Arachnea, this is one of my favourite songs of all times. I know the Eric Burdon and the Animals version so well. I grew up with it but I never realised there had been so many cover versions. Some great ones too....especially Tracy Chapman..incredible. Thanks so much for sharing this. I think the Eagles' Hotel California may have been influenced by The House of the Rising Sun too. Voted up.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 

      4 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      This is one of my favorite songs of my life, but I had no idea there were so many artists who have performed "The House Of The Rising Sun." I am biased toward The Animals performance, probably because that was the first one I heard. I love reading about the background of it, and seeing all those other performers. Amazing! Thanks for sharing.


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