On A Drunk

No one seems to know where this song ‘House of the Rising Sun’ comes from, that is why it usually listed as written by ‘Traditional’.  It is anyone’s guess how long this song has been around, but it is thought that this song has been around in one form or another for at least 100 years, and very possibly for hundreds of years.  The oldest published version of the lyrics are by Robert Winslow Gordon from 1925.  In November 1928, Algernon Alexander, known as Texas Alexander, recorded what is the oldest version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’.  Appalachian artists Clarence ‘Tom’ Ashley and Gwen Foster recorded this song in 1934.  Some of the other early people who recorded this song are Georgia Turner in 1937 and Bert Martin also in 1937, and it said that Bert changed several stanzas in this song.  Lead Belly was performing this song in the 1930s, Woody Guthrie recorded this song in 1941, Josh White recorded a version in 1947.  Pete Seeger recorded this song in 1958, Lonnie Donegan recorded this song in 1960, Joan Baez recorded it in 1960, Bob Dylan made a recording in 1962, and Nina Simone also recorded it in 1962 as well.  The gender in the song often changes depending on who is singing it.  Alan Lomax a famous musicologist, collected the lyrics below and they appear in Lomax’s 1941 book “Our Singing Country”.

“There is a house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl and me, O God, for one.
If I had listened what Mama said, I’d be at home today.
Being so young and foolish, poor boy, let a rambler lead me astray.
Go tell my baby sister never do like I have done
To shun that house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.
My mother she’s a tailor, she sewed these new blue jeans.
My sweetheart, he’s a drunkard, Lord, Lord, drinks down in New Orleans.
The only thing a drunkard needs is a suitcase and a trunk.
The only time he’s satisfied is when he’s on a drunk.
Fills his glasses to the brim, passes them around.
Only pleasure he gets out of life is hoboin’ from town to town.
One foot is on the platform and the other one on the train.
I’m going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain.
Going back to New Orleans, my race is almost run.
Going back to spend the rest of my days beneath that Rising Sun.”

This song is a compelling dark tale about a life that made a wrong in New Orleans.  It taps into a very basic awareness of danger and carries an exemplary hope that parents would do a better job raising their children, sending shivers up our spines, so that their sibling can avoid the harmful effects of suffering the same fate.  The House of the Rising Sun is probably just a generic place of ill repute.  One theory is that the brothel was located on St. Louis Street and it was owned by a madam Marianne Le Soleil Levant (whose name in French means ‘The Rising Sun’), but there are no historical records to back this up, however this brothel supposedly opened in 1862 when Union Troops occupied the town and closed in 1874 when the town received too many complaints by neighbors.

In 1961, Eric Burdon performed for Alexis Korner’s band ‘Blues Incorporated’, and this is where he met keyboard player Alan Price.  In 1962 he joined the Alan Price Combo band which changed their name to The Animals in 1963, in honor of a Newcastle gang member that they hung out with ‘Animal’ Hogg.  The other founding members were guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler and drummer John Steel.  In 1965, Alan Price left The Animals and Burdon founded the new band, called Eric Burdon and The Animals.  In 1995, The Animals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rolling Stone included the Animals’ ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on its list of the greatest songs of all time.

Eric Burdon and the Animals recorded this song in just one take on May 18, 1964, and on September 5, 1964, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ became the Number One single in America staying at Number One for three weeks and it eventually this record went multiplatinum.  When this song knocked The Beatles off the top of the charts in America, The Beatles sent them a telegram which read, “Congratulations from The Beatles (a group)”.  They followed this song up with seven more Top 40 hits (and six more Top 40 hits), including these four hits ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ (Number Fifteen), ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ (Number Thirteen), ‘It’s My Life’ (Number Twenty-Three) and ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ (Number Twelve).

The performance took off with Eric Burdon’s lead vocal as he carried this song with an effortless intensity, allowing the listeners to hear this painful, melancholy tale from a bunch of British kids in matching suits.  It started with a famous electric guitar a minor chord arpeggio by Hilton Valentine.  Alan Price’s pulsating organ part (played on a Vox Continental) completed the sound that grabbed people’s attention, making this the group’s breakthrough hit.  When Price left the group in 1965, he took the copyright of the Animals version with him.  When Burdon left the Animals he started the group Eric Burdon and War, where he recorded a hit single ‘Spill the Wine’.

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

My mother, she was a tailor
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 a trunk
And the only time he’ll be satisfied
Is when he’s on a drunk

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

I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I’m going back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

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

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Guess, for Ragtag Community – Copyright, for Scotts Daily Prompt – Harmful and for Word of the Day Challenge Prompt – Exemplary.

15 thoughts on “On A Drunk

  1. I swear this is true. I just started reading your post while sitting in my living room. For background noise, I have the classic rock Music Choice channel on my cable TV, and lo and behold, “The House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals starts playing. Wow, just wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I distinctly remember this song performed by a group of male varsity students serenading outside the girls’ dormitory windows (1970), whereafter they proceeded to sing our then (before 1994) national anthem to the melody of House of the Rising Sun. Great memories. Thank you for the interesting article.

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