July 22, 2011

House of the Rising Sun - Which Version is Best?

I suppose there are a few songs in existence that cannot be overplayed, or worn out over time. One of them, by a country mile for me, is Bob Dylan's version of House of the Rising Sun - recorded on his eponymous debut album .

Part of it is the story the song tells, the bitter sadness of it, the weariness of hard-lived and expired lives. To hear Dylan's young voice nearly swallow the last line is to hear the entire summation of the song's context.

Much to my surprise (and obvious ignorance), I discovered Dylan did not pen this song, as he did the outstanding Song to Woody. No, the song's writer is unknown, it being one of those travel-worn ballads that passed around like an old myth. The song was likely brought to America by early settlers; some historians have found traces of it kicking around as far back as the Civil War.

Did the House of the Rising Sun actually exist? Some think the title is a euphemism for any place of ill-repute. But there were some old hotels in the early and late 1800's that bore the name Rising Sun. Whether or not they are what the song refers to is another question.

The song is covered extensively. Most notably by the The Animals, who released it just prior to Dylan, which made some think Dylan was plagiarizing when his version came out. Dolly Parton also recorded a version (terribly, I should say), as did Sinead O'Connor (also terribly). There's also the great Leadbelly's version, and Joan Baez' slow, clear version that I believe came out before The Animals' but doesn't quite ring true (to me).  

Dylan's remains my favorite. I think he captured the sentiment of the song perfectly and tragically. Close second is Odetta, and I must confess Muse's swirling assault is pretty damn listenable too. As is the Be Good Tanya's version.

Here are some of the other versions for you to decide. Post comments on who you like and why:

The Animals


Nina Simone




harpoon said...

Muse do a pretty bombastic version...Muse isn't for everyone, I love some of their stuff, but their cover of this really punches you in the face.

Rob Taylor said...

I've always enjoyed the Be Good Tanyas version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH78fqrnsFY

Harry Tournemille said...

Thanks for the suggestions, lads. I'll be checking them out shortly.

Anonymous said...

Sentenced's drunken version always seemed most fitting.

Toto's take also deserves a listen, though I think it doesn't really fit the song.

Anonymous said...

Animals comes first, without a doubt, the rest are merely all the rest...

Anonymous said...

For me, the Five Finger Death Punch version is the most powerfull one

Brian Lambert said...

Doors did a excellent version