Monday, July 23, 2012

The House of the Rising Sun (variorum)

O mothers -- …..  --- tell your daughters!
Not to do -- what I !-- have done !! !!!   !!!!!!!!!!
to (!) spend -- your life --   in sin   (-and-)
mis-er-y ….
at the House
of the Ri-high-….
zzing Sun …..

Just as  for  Lorne (on "Angel"),
everyone on the planet
should be required   to sing this song.
And to judge from YouTube, almost everyone has.

A sampling:

Animals (color, emphasis on the (wonderful) organ):

Animals (b&w -- organ de-emphasized, bass thereby somewhat highlighted):

Animals (visuals -- nothing; plus an ad; but acoustically crisp)
Animals (album version, with visuals of contemporary relevance):

Clarence Ashley:
The oldest extant recording, according to Wiki.
Homey;  unremarkable.   At this level, a forgettable song.
That Bob Dylan and Eric Burdon could intuit its depth,
is greatly to their credit.

(unaccountably shallow)

Libby Holman:
(horrible -- included only because it precedes the popular versions by many years.
Showing how great an advance  Eric Burdon made  upon earlier materials.)

Josh White:
(A curiously different interpretation -- bluesy rather than blues.
Crooning, chromatic, with luscious rather than urgent vocals.
All you can focus on is his deliciously creamy voice,
rather than the chilling tale that’s told.
-- He uses the “poor girl” version of the lyrics;  kudos.)

Joan Baez:
(rather shrieky;  her voice, and her temperament, are simply not suited to this)
(much better)

Dolly Parton:
(Quite worthless.   Included only because she has, on some songs, been quite wonderful.   That this song  does not belong in her repertoire, provides a sort of Direchlet-boundary-value-problem perspective  upon this song.)

Sinead O'Connor:
(uninteresting, but unpretentious, and interestingly  minimalist)

(Not one of her best -- but even her least-good is notable.  This artist is way underappreciated.  Her low-key version here  is similar to O’Connor’s.)

Jimi Hendrix:
(no vocals, so uninteresting,  although  simply as guitar-work,  it’s pretty spectacular.
But what makes this song great   is not the spectacle.)

Leslie West:
(Another one where the guitar is front-and-foremost.
This one adds vocals, and he certainly gives it his best shot, but…  some reason… leaves me cold.)

Frijid Pink:
(just a cover -- but actually, not bad.
In hard-driving 4/4 rather than 6/8 time.
In fact … actually … not bad at all.   -- Who are these guys?)
(concert version -- apparently misattributed to better-known band)

one “Doug Duffey”
(piano to the forefront.  The voice is not much.)

someone called … O who cares…
(Utterly worthless, both vocally and instrumentally.
Yet an incredible number of UTube views, and drooling viewer comments)

Dylan:  unavailable -- alas.  And a true classic.
He has the courage and authenticity to sing “many a poor girl”.  The reference, after all, is to a sporting-house.

~     ~     ~

This modest post  was intended as a celebration of an old folk-classic; yet, remarkably, the covers far surpass the originals.  The more conventional assessment (among the bien-pensants) is the reverse, alluded to here:

Thus, instead of a chronology, this post is more like a love-letter to Eric Burdon, obliquely alluded to here:

He’s just so super-cute, in his early-Beatles suit.
If I were a thirteen-year-old girl,
he would make my heart go pit-a-pat.
[Update] Check out the unusually well-informed Comment below.
The writer mentions a friend of mine, whom you can read about here:
Bobby D & me


  1. A few comments:

    My favorite version is a rough 1937 field recording of a 16 year old Kentucky girl, Georgia Turner, who actually sounds like she knows something aout hard times.

    I agree with the good doctor regarding Clarence Ashley's version, noting only that he would probably take exception to "homey" - his vocal and instrument styling is patterned after Jimmie Rodgers, an early country star whose aspirations were very uptown. It's Ashley's very original perception to hear in the song a connection with Rodger's repertoire of rounders, bounders, and girls gone wrong.

    Dylan's arrangement is brilliant, but probably largely filched from Dave Van Ronk. Or so Van Ronk always claimed.

    Of the commercially released recordings, the Animals' version bears away the prize, in my book.

  2. It would be good to hear that field recording.
    Can you upload, or email?