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House of the Rising Sun

11 Jan 2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8Pm1XeQHLk

Every so often the morning mall radio will surprise me with great music. For the past couple of years it was terrible pop music. More recently the ethereal Simon's Mall DJ has switched to an oldies station, an appropriate selection for the retired walking crowd plus me.

After listening to House of the Rising Sun, a familiar but mysterious tune, I was compelled to read the backstory of the song on wikipedia. If you are curious about the origin of ballads*, it's a rich history. The melody has roots in an English song Matty Groves, and the interpretation  of the lyrics are a toss up between a brothel, bar or jail.

The Animals' version transposes the narrative of the song from the point of view of a woman led into a life of degradation, to that of a male, whose father was now a gambler and drunkard, as opposed to the sweetheart in earlier versions.

Notes:
*= I didn't realize I was curious about ballad history until writing this post.

Here are the lyrics to the variation performed by the Animals.

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

My mother was a tailor 
She sewed my new bluejeans 
My father was a gamblin' man 
Down in New Orleans 

Now the only thing a gambler needs 
Is a suitcase and trunk 
And the only time he's satisfied 
Is when he's on a drunk 

------ organ solo ------ 

Oh mother tell your children 
Not to do what I have done 
Spend your lives in sin and misery 
In the House of the Rising Sun 

Well, I got one foot on the platform 
The other foot on the train 
I'm goin' back to New Orleans 
To wear that ball and chain 

Well, there is a house in New Orleans 
They call the Rising Sun 
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy 
And God I know I'm one