Historians have not been able to definitively identify 'The House Of The Rising Sun', but here are the two most popular theories:
1) The song is about a brothel in New Orleans. "The House Of The Rising Sun" was named after Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant (which means "Rising Sun" in French) and was open for business from 1862 (occupation by Union troops) until 1874, when it was closed due to complaints by neighbors. It was located at 826-830 St. Louis St.
2) It's about a women's prison in New Orleans called the Orleans Parish women's prison, which had an entrance gate adorned with rising sun artwork. This would explain the "ball and chain" lyrics in the song.
The melody is a traditional English ballad, but the song became popular as an African-American folk song.
All began in Middlesboro, Kentucky when a music historian by the name of Alan Lomax arrived at the doorstep of a poor miner’s daughter by the name of Georgia Turner.
Lomax was making recordings of popular folk songs sung by ordinary people in their natural environments for the Library of Congress and his travels brought him to little Georgia who was just 16, he hulked out his cumbersome presto reproducer recording machine and she sang her favourite sad song for him, an old bluesy folk tune about living a life of sin called 'Rising Son Blues'.
It had been about for years but never committed to tape before, indeed Lomax believed it dated back to 1600’s England while others dated it to the American Civil war, either way history had been made!
The song was recorded in 1937, from there the legendary Lomax put the song in a songbook and it spread like wildfire through the folk music scene on the east coast with versions springing up in the 1940’s from the likes of 'Pete Seeger', 'Woody Guthrie' and bluesman 'Josh White'.
Not bad for a song warning about the perils of prostitution eh? 'The House Of The Rising Sun' was traditionally a euphemism for a bordello in English circles, and the song is really little more than a tale of woe concerning a woman’s decline into the oldest profession in the world.
Amazing that no one really picked up on that and censored the whole thing from the start! With every passing year the songs fame grew until 'Bob Dylan' covered it on his debut album (calling it 'House Of The Rising Sun') and in 1964 a band of R&B reprobates from Newcastle in the north east of England called 'The Animals' came to record it and the face of modern music was changed for ever.
The song ranked #122 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
We would like to present to you 5 cover versions of the song by '70s.