Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 1: The Animals, "The House Of The Rising Sun"

Artist: The Animals
Song: "The House Of The Rising Sun"
Album: The House Of The Rising Sun (single)
Year: 1964

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While the lineage of some musical genres is a bit gray and one can argue a few ways in which it came into existence, when one looks back on the history of recorded music, the roots of rock and roll are quite obvious.  It is very easy for even the most novice of music listeners to trace the evolution of rock music from r&b and blues, and it is the time from the late 1950's into the beginning to the 1960's that this transition becomes the most apparent.  Though there are a number of bands that people attempt to label as "original" rock and rollers, one can easily make the case that this evolution comes down to two bands: The Rolling Stones and The Animals.  The way in which both of these groups took deep, soulful blues and gave them a faster tempo and an edge has served as the blueprint for decades, and one can easily make the case that rock music would not exist in its current state without the early efforts of these bands.  Though The Rolling Stones often overshadow them, the string of uniquely brilliant singles that The Animals released during the early 1960's have easily withstood the test of time, and one can hear the influences of these songs across the generations.  Truth be told, it was The Animals that brought a far darker, more mischievous mood to their music, and this attitude has in many ways become the hallmark of rock music.  Though they had many memorable songs, few stand as influential and musically perfect as The Animal's 1964 take on the classic song, "The House Of The Rising Sun."

Though there is no "shredding" or excessive volume, one cannot deny the fact that the guitar progression that opens "The House Of The Rising Sun" has become one of the most iconic riffs in history, and it remains one of the most easily recognized.  Played by Hilton Valentine, the riff instantly sets the mood for the song, as it is dark and almost unsettling in a way unlike anything else that had previously been recorded.  This fantastic mood is still as powerful after repeated listenings, and this serves as a testament to just how perfectly the guitar was recorded.  Adding to the amazing mood on the song, the organ playing of Alan Price is nothing short of stunning.  Setting a tone that would be heavily copied by The Doors, few songs have so perfectly utilized this instrument, and it gives "The House Of The Rising Sun" a full and strangely vivid feel, placing the listener into the setting even before the lyrics begin.  The rhythm section of bassist Bryan Chandler and drummer John Steel give the song an almost jazzy feel, as there are few recordings that feature better hi-hat work, and Chandler wraps his bass around the other sounds in a wonderfully unique manner.  The overall mood on The Animals' version of "The House Of The Rising Sun" remains truly unparalleled, and the almost folk-like mood defies description, as it almost seems as if the recording was somehow taken from hundreds of years previous.

This unique mood is solidified by the outstanding vocal performance of Eric Burdon, and the fact of the matter is, before this recording, there had never been anything similar from any genre.  Burdon brings a rather troublesome, almost sinister mood to the song, and few previous recordings had so perfectly captured the sense of sin and danger that is abundant on "The House Of The Rising Sun."  The true mastery of Burdon's vocal work is thrust into the spotlight during the bridge portions of the song when he moves to yelling, and yet there is never a sense that this was forced, as it flows perfectly with the overall feel of the song.  The emotion and authenticity found within Burdon's vocal work here is nothing short of amazing, and it is hard to believe that with this in play, he did not write the song which he sings.  In reality, "The House Of The Rising Sun" stands as a bit of an anomaly, as few songs of the "rock era" have a writer and origin that is unknown.  There are countless stories as to where the song originated, but each of these theories has holes in it, and most have resigned to the fact that the true source of "The House Of The Rising Sun" will never be known.  In many ways, this enables the song to be applied to nearly any area that "fits" within the words and mood, and it is much the reason that a song that seems to sing of New Orleans was able to become a hit for a U.K.-based band.  Throughout the song, Eric Burdon brings every word of "The House Of The Rising Sun" to life, and it is the reason that The Animals' take on the song remains the standard.

Truth be told, The Animals did take a bit of "artistic license" on their version of "The House Of The Rising Sun," as earlier recordings of the song have it from the point of view of one of the female workers of this home of ill repute.  The Animals take the opposite approach, telling the tale from the perspective of a male whose father's life has been wrecked by the house in question, and this turns the song into a folk-tale much in the same spirit as Casey Jones, John Henry, or even Stagger Lee.  However, The Animal's take on "The House Of The Rising Sun" has a far darker underlying feel than nearly any other song before it, and one can look to this song as the source for the countless bands that took on the "bad boy" persona over the decades that followed.  Furthermore, there were many of The Animals' peers that attempted this dark, mischievous attitude, but in many ways, none ever matched the mood with the same sense of authenticity that one finds within the debut single from The Animals.  Whether it is the mesmerizing, winding guitar progression or the organ playing that overflows with mood and emotion, there is no questioning why this song shot to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and turned The Animals into overnight sensations.  Finished off by the unrivaled vocal perfection of Eric Burdon, there are few songs as influential or truly unforgettable than The Animals' legendary 1964 single, "The House Of The Rising Sun."


Domingo said...

Totally agree with you, it's really amazing!

Anonymous said...

A true classic..but what about the story behind the song and Alan Price..when they finished recording the song they wanted to put the author of the song but there was not enough room to put every ones name on the record because it was a group they put the keyboard players name on the record as the writer...he got all the money from royalties and never gave any to the rest of the band ..HUGE MONEY..he quit and kept all the money..pissed off the rest of the band...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insightful article. One little thing though:

"Adding to the amazing mood on the song, the organ playing of Alan Price is nothing short of stunning. [...] placing the listener into the setting even before the lyrics

The organ doesn't start any earlier than the vocals ...