David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 88: The Animals (The House Of The Rising Sun)

July 23, 2020

You all know the house. It's been the ruin of many a poor boy. And there have been a bunch of versions, some haunting (Joan Baez), some spiritual (Leadbelly), some iconic (Woody Guthrie).

And then consider what The Animals achieved with their 1964 version of "The House Of The Rising Sun":

  • They knocked The Beatles, or more precisely Lennon and McCartney, out of the top spot on Top 40 Radio in 1964, breaking a string of 5 Beatles songs and 1 additional Lennon-McCartney song that dominated American charts from February 1964 to September 1964.
  • They supposedly outdid Chuck Berry opening for Chuck Berry by improvising their raucous version of the song, trying to make it sound like Berry, much to the delight of the British fans on Berry's tour through Great Britain.
  • They might be the reason Dylan went electric, as many stories suggest.
  • Stylistically, the song may have provided the opening for Ray Manzarek and The Doors.

I can't necessarily find evidence of this last potential fact, but the other three are rumors found all over the internet, and since the song is notoriously about supposition, myth, and legend, why be it for me to deflate any of them? Because, even though the song is about a house of "sin and misery," an eventual "ball and chain" that was the "ruin of many a poor boy," I swear it is an organ that is the "ruin of many a poor boy.

Get your mind out of the gutter.  The organ I reference is Alan Price's Vox Continental Organ. The Vox Continental had only been invented two years before the release of this song, so in many ways The Animals took advantage of modernizing an old song with the newest technology. Most histories of the Vox have this song as its introduction to popular music, and it wouldn't take long for a whole lot of other "boys" to willingly make the Vox their ball and chain:

? Mark and The Mysterians -- "96 Tears";

The Rolling Stones -- "Time Is On My Side";

The Beatles -- "I'm Down";

The Monkees -- "I'm A Believer";

The Doors -- "Light My Fire" (and almost everything after);

Van Morrison  --"Brown Eyed Girl";

The Box Tops -- "The Letter";

Iron Butterfly -- "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida";

Tom Petty & The Heartbreaker -- "Don't Do Me Like That";

REM -- "Stand" just to name a few.

The Vox was a versatile little organ, so many a poor boy probably could afford them, and their tinny sound fit well with their flimsy nature. Watch Steve Nieve from The Attractions, for instance, play one on Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, and you are convinced it will not survive the set. For The Animals, Price's keyboards solidified the song and took it from the realm that Leadbelly, Guthrie and Baez had made for it as a whispery folk tune, to turn it into a full-fledged electric onslaught.

Trust me, though, don't underestimate Chas Chandler's bass or Hilton Valentine's guitar as part of the song's hypnotic quality, almost as if both refused to concede all primacy to Price's organ. Chandler may outdo Price with the bass line in the second to last verse, pounding away like the police on the brothel door. Additionally,  Eric Burdon's voice plays a key role in memorializing the legend of the Rising Sun. His singing comes out charging in the "it's been the ruin" during the opening verse, then elevates even more with "My mother was a tailor" in the second verse, as if he is trying to sing his family ghosts right out of the room, exorcising his own sins with "tell your children not to do what I have done."

The words fell on deaf ears. Pretty soon everyone wanted to do what The Animals had done.

"The House Of The Rising Sun." The Animals. The Animals. MGM. 1964. Link here.

<-Day 87: Randy Newman "Shame."

Day 89: The Replacements "Can't Hardly Wait."

See complete list here.