Jan 05

THE ANIMALS – “House Of The Rising Sun”

Popular24 comments • 4,543 views

#172, 11th July 1964

Nik Cohn’s AwopBopaLooBopaLopBamBoom is the best book on Sixties pop, it makes everything else seem like marginalia. He’s almost always right, so I only ever open it when I’m stumped by a record. And “House Of The Rising Sun” stumped me. What does Nik have to say about it? He nails the British ‘blues boom’ as an Art School fad – seems fair to me. He has a healthy suspicion of suburban boys singing – no, performing – the blues. His take on Eric Burdon makes a lot of sense – “he’s always been trendy and painfully sincere, a tough combination to handle”. He also says that this one is a great record, and I may grudgingly have to concede.

When I used to occasionally bump into “House Of The Rising Sun” on the radio it seemed like a seriously boring track. Even the secret knowledge that it was about a (whisper it) whorehouse couldn’t rescue it. Slow pace, phoney Transatlantic accent, effort as a shorthand for emotion – yes, it checks my bad boxes. But when I pay more attention I can hear what’s special in the record. For one thing Eric Burdon doesn’t really sing the song, he surfs on it. Once you’re past the first verse it’s like he’s not even sure what the words are, he’s just swaying and howling, rising and falling over the roil of the band, letting the music drag and carry him.

And the band have a good day to say the least. As soon as Alan Price comes in on organ the song steps it up and the last couple of minutes are irresistible, total confidence and aggression, with Price dancing and jabbing through any gaps he can find. I can only think I never got to the end before. Close listening can’t make me love the song but I can manage a wary admiration.



  1. 1
    bramble on 8 Sep 2006 #

    It is usually Eric Burdon that people remember as the key one of the Animals but Alan Price, though jumping ship fairly early, was a crucial part of their sound, and his replacement Dave Rowberry never had the same skill. If you listen to Alan Price’s post-Animals work with the Alan Price Set, Georgie Fame and on his own (Lucky Man, Jarrow Song), it stands up far more today than anything done by Eric Burdon or the New Animals.

  2. 2
    Lena on 16 Apr 2007 #

    I like “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place” more than this one, but its intensity (complete with the ‘hog-calling’ voice of Burdon [Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone History of Rock ‘n’ Roll]) keeps it on the oldies show I listen to, and I always listen to it, as Burdon & Price & Co. lose themselves in the song.

  3. 3
    rosie on 4 Jun 2008 #

    Have I mentioned before – perhaps in the Haloscan era – that this was my absolute seminal pop experience? My Sex Pistols moment, if you like? Me being only 9 years old when it hit the top, and I dare say an odd sort of song for a 9-year-old to be besotted with. But then I was an odd sort of 9-year-old, and loving this put one over on Cliff-besotted (well, Paul McCartney- besotted by this time I think) Big Sister?

    In my early days of following Popular I was quietly tipping this as Tom’s first 10, and I was disappointed, nay outraged, by a piddling 6! This is a record to thrill, and no mistake. Nor does it sound one little bit stale 44 years on.

  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 5 Jun 2008 #

    It’s never quite made it for me, either, possibly because of Burdon’s voice which absolutely reflects Nik Cohn’s description. I haven’t tried but it sounds impossible to dance to.

    We’ve Got To Get Out Of This Place builds like an avalanche (can’t think of a shipbuilding analogy there) only to fall flat on the chorus where it sounds like half the instruments, notably the guitar, drop out of the mix. This might be sacrilege, but maybe Mickie Most didn’t serve their too well.

    The two singles they released on Decca in ’66 before they split fulfil the soot’n’dust-toughened promise for me: the one-chord Inside Looking Out (sung from a prisoner’s perspective) and Goffin/King’s fuzzed-up psychodrama Don’t Bring Me Down. Both decent sized hits but totally forgotten by radio.

    Then again, my downer on the Alan Price Animals might be influenced by Alfie Darling, the 1975 film I watched last night with Price reprising Michael Caine’s role. He’s a truck driver criss crossing Europe. Dalliances? There are many (Rula Lenska as a French truckstop owner’s wife!). And that’s it. Beyond dismal.

  5. 5
    Adam Bruneau on 5 Jan 2009 #

    This just came on the oldies radio last weekend and I have to agree with you about the last half. When Price’s solo comes in, it is quite possibly the most devastating rock organ moment in an era which had plenty!

  6. 6
    lonepilgrim on 6 Jan 2009 #

    there’s a great tale from Dave Van Ronk, in the ‘No Direction Home’ Dylan doc, about how Bob ‘appropriated’ VRs version of this song for his first LP. VR had to stop playing it because he was accused of ripping off Bob. When the Animals released this version (based on Bob’s LP performance) Bob had to stop playing it because he was accused of ripping off the Animals.

  7. 7
    Mark G on 6 Jan 2009 #

    So where does Miriam Makeba’s version fit in with this linear tale?

  8. 8
    AndyPandy on 15 May 2009 #

    I’m working in Keighley at the moment and have seen the “Keighley Krawl” music festival advertised all over the place and think that the headliners must be one of the strangest such juxtapositions in popular musical history

    viz. THE ANIMALS (and the typeface on the posters is appealingly the proper sixties one) and
    *GOLDIE LOOKING CHAIN(I’m more surprised they’re still going than the Animals)

  9. 9
    Waldo on 7 Aug 2009 #

    Great. And famously printed in one single take for the price of a bacon buttie.

  10. 10
    inakamono on 21 Mar 2010 #

    I would agree with Rosie’s comment from a few years ago, that this should have been the first “10”

    Listening to this today, there’s something utterly compelling about it — whereas with most of the 60s No.1s so far, where I can listen to the first half, think ‘oh yes, I remember that,’ and move on, with this one I have to listen to it all the way through to the last chords, every time. It builds a momentum that captivates and addicts, which is exactly what the lyrical content is trying to express. In that sense, it’s a perfect fusion of content and form — commenting about addiction whilst also drawing the listener into that addiction, explaining it while also decrying it, sharing its attraction but at the same time warning you not to be attracted. And it never gives its secret away: is ‘the House’ a brothel, or a gambling den, or a prison cell, or just a bar? It’s up to each listener to identify their own addiction.

    It also seems to me to be a watershed, a touchstone of the music of the 60s. There’s a big difference between the Merseybeat/Beatlemania 60s that came before it and the psychedelic 60s that came after, and this is the single that stands at the crossroads, with elements of both –it’s the first No.1 that crossed the bridge.

    I can’t think of a more deserving 10 than this, almost to the extent of finding your score of 6 insulting. I’d be interested to know if you still hold with that rating.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 27 May 2010 #

    fans of Alan Price may want to take this opportunity to listen to Savaloy Dip, his unreleased album from 1974: http://bigozine2.com/roio/?p=498

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 27 May 2010 #

    Mike’s “Which Decade…” threw up (literally) Frijid Pink’s cover of this, so I thought it timely to revisit The Animals’ HofTRS. Eric Burdon’s vocal is maybe a little overblown for my liking, but there’s real feeling there. And there’s no denying the weight of that monkey on his back. He’s almost breaking down on that “Oh Mother tell your children” line.
    Then there’s that simple guitar riff that somewhere along the line melds into Alan Price’s understated, but beautifully melancholic organ.
    If Tom can accept it is a track worthy of “wary admiration”, then he knows deep down that many more will love it. I was born too late to regard this as anything more than a classic oldie. Those who were around to hear it played by the pirates or selected on jukeboxes must have felt that thrill, that sense of menace, that sense of flirting with a subtext that seems illicit and forbidden.

  13. 13
    Billy Smart on 28 Jul 2010 #

    TOTPWatch: The Animals twice performed House of the Rising Sun on Top of the Pops;

    1 July 1964. Also in the studio that week were; Brian Poole & The Tremeloes and The Rolling Stones. Alan Freeman was the host.

    24 December 1964. Also in the studio that week were; Billy J Kramer & The Dakotas, Herman’s Hermits, Manfred Mann, Sandie Shaw, The Beatles, The Four Pennies, The Honeycombs, The Kinks and The Searchers. Jimmy Saville, Alan Freeman, Pete Murray & David Jacobs were the hosts.

    Neither edition survives.

  14. 14
    Sam on 12 Sep 2010 #

    I have it in my head that this was the first number one to be more than three minutes long. Can anyone confirm or demolish this fancy?

  15. 15
    Erithian on 13 Sep 2010 #

    I seem to recall, although I couldn’t confirm it via Google, a Richard Digance song reminiscing about the 60s including the lyric “The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun / a four-minute single at number one”. It’s commonly thought that HOTRS was the first FOUR-minute, as opposed to three-minute, number one single – but even that is incorrect, as Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child”, the 1957 Christmas number one, clocks in at 4 minutes 12 seconds.

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 13 Sep 2010 #

    At 4.29 it was the longest number one ever at this point, a record it held until 1968, when ‘Hey Jude’ went off the scale at 7.06 – You could play ‘What Do You Want?’ four times in that duration!

  17. 17
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2010 #

    The US equivalent of Popular pays a visit to this ole house here:


  18. 18
    James K. on 13 Nov 2010 #

    Re Burdon as both trendy and painfully sincere: I enjoy the snarky tone that slipped by the NPOV watchdogs in the Wikipedia article on “San Franciscan Nights”:

    “Pulling in as many 1960s themes as possible, the song then concludes with a plea that the American dream include ‘Indians too.'”


  19. 19
    rosie on 13 Nov 2010 #

    lonepilgrim @ 17:

    Yes, nailed it.

    British performers finding common cause with Black Americans and their music, learned not through the radio and the dance hall but through discarded discs of vinyl or shellac brought into British ports as ships’ ballast, and imitating it is one thing. Taking that raw base material from an ocean away and forging it into a new music that was quintessentially of the British industrial classes and reflecting their experience. I said “forged” deliberately – those seemingly never-ending guitar arpeggios like a relentless machine take the the song out of the Mississippi Delta and plonk it down in the factories, the shipyards, the collieries of industrial Britain. A New Orleans whorehouse becomes a dockside boozer in South Shields. From the cotton fields to the cotton mills, if you will. An Industrial Revolution of pop; the sound of British popular music finding its own feisty identity.

    To be there was to witness a cataclysm in pop culture, but it’s hard for me to imagine anybody of any age with any sensitivity not being aware on listening to THOTRS of just how big and all-consuming and menacing it is.

  20. 20
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #


    Alan Price, Singer, Musician, (1982)

    Barry Cryer, Comedian, Writer (1987)

    David Linley, Member of the Royal Family, Furniture designer(2002)

    Jack Vettriano, Artist(2004).

  21. 21
    mapman132 on 13 Feb 2014 #

    To me, one of the greatest records of the 60’s, and one that I’ll give a full ten to. My favorite memory of this song is hearing it come on the radio as I was driving through Yeehaw Junction, a remote crossroad in the middle of nowhere of rural Florida. There’s an old vintage inn at the intersection and not much else and it just felt like one of those classic American road trip moments where I had literally gone back in time. Happened in 1998 and I still remember it 16 years later.

  22. 22
    hectorthebat on 23 Mar 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 11
    Dave Marsh (USA) – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made (1989) 91
    Gary Pig Gold (Canada) – The 40 Most Influental Records of the 20th Century (1999)
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    RIAA and NEA (USA) – 365 Songs of the Century (2001) 240
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 75
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 122
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 123
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 89
    BBC (UK) – Pop on Trial, Top 50 Songs from the 1960s (2008)
    Colin Larkin (UK) – The All-Time Top 100 Singles (2000) 59
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 58
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Records That Changed the World (2007) 86
    New Musical Express (UK) – The Top 100 Singles of All Time (1976) 76
    Paul Roland (UK) – CD Guide to Pop & Rock, 100 Essential Singles (2001)
    Q (UK) – The Ultimate Music Collection (2005)
    Vox (UK) – 100 Records That Shook the World (1991)
    Zig Zag (UK) – Gillett & Frith’s Hot 100 Singles (1975)
    Nerikes Allehanda (Sweden) – The 50 Best Rock Songs of All Time (1992) 39
    Pophandboek (Netherlands) – Errit Petersma’s Top 20 Singles from the 60s (1970)
    Berlin Media (Germany) – The 100 Best Singles of All Time (1998) 67
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Rolling Stone (France) – The 100 Best Singles of the Last 25 Years (1988) 54
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  23. 23
    lonepilgrim on 18 Mar 2015 #

    I’ve already made a few comments on this one but this still sounds like one of the rawest number ones of the 60s so far. Eric Burdon’s singing is a bit too impassioned for me but Alan Price’s organ playing is what makes this work so well.

  24. 24
    Gareth Parker on 2 Jun 2021 #

    I really like Tom’s review here. I feel the same regarding why I can’t quite get to grips with this record. 5/10 for me, although I am a fan of the Animals.

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