House of the Rising Sun

“It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl”


Many and various are the versions of The House of the Rising Sun. It was first written down and introduced to the world outside Appalacia by Alan Lomax in 1932, but the song’s origins lie a century earlier. The earlier lyrics tell of the lamentable downfall of a young woman. Later on in the history of the song, it’s a poor boy who is telling the story of his fall.

Whatever. The House of the Rising Sun is a great song. It’s been recorded very extensively. I love to sing it and to play it, and I hope you do too. I’ve done it a million times on the blog, and I did it again just yesterday.


The setting is late 19th century New Orleans, before there was recorded music, if you can imagine that. Like most folk songs, House of the Rising Sun has a rich history. Almost as an inevitable result of the song’s popularity and longevity, we wind up with multiple versions of lyrics and melodies. The 1960’s Animals version is what I heard first and the one most people know. The Animals‘ chord progression supposedly is taken from the way Bob Dylan did it. And Dylan got it from Dave Van Ronk. But who Dave Van Ronk got it from I just don’t know. By the way, I really love the way the great Doc Watson plays it. He plays it in major key but sings it in minor! I would check out Doc Watson’s version just as soon as you’ve listened to Bumbas playing it. Anyway, sing along. 

4 thoughts on “House of the Rising Sun

  1. Truly one of the best songs ever. It is really interesting how long it survived even before it was written down. I know it had great significance to me and I am sure to many others. Imagine what the lyrics will be in another 100 years.

    1. When I started this blog I ran a contest with impossible questios, and one of the questions was what was greatest rock and roll single. It was between House of Rising Sun and Georgia on My Mind. I think the answer was A, but not C or D.

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