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House of the Rising Sun
... 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.
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 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)
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?
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