Saturday, November 6, 2010

Animals -- "House of the Rising Sun" (1964) (part 2)

There is a house in New Orleans 
They call "The Rising Sun" 
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy 
And God I know I'm one 

(Click here to read part one of this two-part post.)


On to the music.  If you don't play an instrument, you may want to skip ahead – but if you do have a guitar or a piano, feel free to use the chords below to play the song yourself.

The song begins with 8 bars of guitar arpeggios (basically a chord played one note at a time – going up in pitch and then back down), with a chord change on the downbeat of each bar – the progression is Am, C, D, F, Am, E, Am, and E.

There is never a chord change in the middle of a measure, or on an off-beat – there's no syncopation.  That's one reason the song is so relentless.  Its tempo is constant (until the slight slowing – or ritardando – at the very end) and the always-on-the-first-beat accents (reinforced by the accompanying chord changes) are as regular as heartbeats – but somewhat speeded-up heartbeats.  

The time signature is a quick 6/8 – really two units of three beats apiece -- with the accent on the first of the three beats: ONE two three one two three.  (Many 4/4 versions of this song have been recorded, but the 6/8 time signature is a very important part of why the Animals' version works so well.)  The twitchy three-beat figures ratchet up the tension the listener feels as the song progresses. 

There are six verses – each is 14 measures long (plus one syllable), and each is followed by an 8-measure instrumental bridge, the chords of which are the same as the chords in the introduction.

Here's the first verse, with the chords added:

There is a house in New Orleans 
          Am  C              D                     F
They call the Rising Sun 
         Am         C          E7                E7
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
              Am          C           D                     F 
And God I know I'm one 
        Am     E             (Am) 
Yes, I know that's 15 chords, not 14.  The way I see it, the last word of each verse is sung on the first beat of the 8-bar bridge.

(I don't want to get bogged down in minutiae, but another way to look at the musical structure of "House of the Rising Sun" is to say that it consists of 18-measure verses and a 6-measure bridge.  Actually, the most accurate way to describe the structure may be to say that there are 18-measure verses and 8-measure bridges, each paired set of which has 22 measures.  The two transitional measures – whether you think of them as the last two bars of the verse, or the first two bars of the bridge – really do double duty.  It's like one voice sings for 18 measures, and a second voice sings for 8 measures – but the second singer begins to sing when the first one still has two measures to go.  Capisce?  Probably not, but let's not worry about it any longer.)

Eric Burdon sings the first verse accompanied by only the guitar arpeggios.  Alan Price sort of sneaks in on his Vox Continental organ during the instrumental bridge between the first and second verses, and the organ increasingly dominates as the song progresses. 

The Animals
After three verses, Price gets a 14-bar solo – the solo functions as sort of a 7th verse, with the usual 8-measure instrumental bridges on either side of it.  (Or 18 and 6, or 18 and 8 equalling 22.)  He is joined by guitarist Hilton Valentine, playing chords instead of arpeggios, which carry quite a bit more force.  This is when all hell starts to break loose.

The organ and guitar back off a little when Burdon returns with the fourth verse, but quickly crank it back up for the fifth verse – as does the singer.  Nothing's held in reserve.

But the song doesn't end there – there's a sixth verse (actually, it's the first verse repeated once more), and it is just as loud and fast and intense as the previous verse was . . . only more so.  

After Burdon sings the last line of the last verse, you finally get to catch your breath.  The song ends with a 18-measure instrumental coda, which is twice as long as the introduction or the between-verse bridges.  The tempo slows down just a bit – I would mark it decelerando, not ritardando.  (To me, ritardando is like putting on the brakes.  Decelerando is taking your foot off the accelerator.)  You realize that you've been breathing shallowly and so you're a little short of oxygen, so you take a nice deep breath as the song decelerates.

The whole experience reminds me of the last time I rode one of those modern thrill rides that teenagers love but no sane adult views with anything other than abject terror.  You start climbing relatively slowly, but it doesn't take long before the scary stuff begins.  There's a bit of a break about halfway through and you let your guard down a bit – just in time to get scared silly by a vertical loop that takes you a full 360 degrees.  But before you have a chance to fully recover from that, it's time for a couple of head-over-heels corkscrew 360s.  

The "Alpengeist" at Busch Gardens (Williamsburg, VA)

Finally, you start to coast, gradually slowing down until the brakes are finally applied and you come to a complete stop.  You climb out of the ride wishing you could lie down for a few minutes with a cool washcloth on your forehead until your heart rate returned to normal and your brain started functioning properly again.

By the way, this discussion is about the original 4:29 version of the song.  A hastily edited 2:58 version was released in the U.S. as a single.  We will speak of it no more.


A whole lot of people did "House of the Rising Sun" after the Animals did – including (in no particular order) Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bon Jovi,  Toto, Tori Amos, Duran Duran, Gary Glitter, Sinead O'Connor, David Allan Coe, and the Seamonkees.  Don't waste your time.

There are several newer versions worth listening to.  Click here for Frijid Pink's 1970 version, which is not in 6/8 but what I would call 8/8.

Click here for a 2006 version by Evereve, a metal band from Hamburg, Germany.  (Not 6/8, however.)

Click here for a very recent recording by Muse, which it is VERY good – probably my favorite of all the non-Animals versions.  (It's in 6/8, too.)

There are quite a few Spanish versions of "La Casa del Sol Nasciente."  Click here for one by a conjunto group called Lone Star, which is somewhat like the Animals' version.

Click here for another Spanish version – a 1972 recording by a rock band from Colombia that seems to have gone by Gene-sis, Genesis, and Genesis de Colombia:

Here's a trailer for the "Infamous 2" video game, which features Buster Poindexter's 1987 recording of the song.  (Buster Poindexter is the alter ego of New York Dolls frontman David Johansen.)

Finally, you can click here for a really compelling high-definition video of the Animals performing the song live – or at least lip-synching live.  Unfortunately, the ending cuts off a bit abruptly. 


The ride's over, folks – if you made it all the way to the end, I'm impressed by your endurance.

But before bringing this post to a close, I'd like to reflect for just one moment on the first year of "2 or 3 lines."

When you're the creator of a wildly popular blog like "2 or 3 lines," you have very little time to rest on your laurels – you've got to keep your eye on the prize.  If you're not moving forward, you're moving backwards.  That's just simple physics, n'est-ce pas?

But one startling statistic should not go unremarked.  I'm not talking about the record-breaking numbers of hits and page views that "2 or 3 lines" is achieving month after month after month.  I'm talking about the content that generated all those hits and page views.

The first six months that "2 or 3 lines" was in existence, I produced 18 posts.  The last six months, I produced 73 – yes, I said 73!  In fact, I wrote more posts in October alone than in the first six months of "2 or 3 lines."  (And as the quantity of posts increased, did the quality fall off?  Well, maybe just a little.)  

So don't tell me that "2 or 3 lines" is just a hobby – a diversion – a pleasant way to while away some of my leisure time.  No, no, no, no, no . . . it is much more than that.  It is a force of nature – an unstoppable force and an immovable object, all rolled up into one.  It's a big deal, and don't you ever forget that.

In the words of Maino's "All the Above" (a song that could just as well have been written about "2 or 3 lines"): 

How the hell could you stop me?
Why in the world would you try?
I go hard forever
That's just how I'm designed 
That's just how I was built 
See that look in my eyes . . .
Take a look 
And you can tell that I'm destined for greatness

I did take my foot off the accelerator a little bit this week, and took my time for a change.  Every "2 or 3 lines" post is very special, but I wanted this one to be very very special – so I gave this truly great record all the time and effort it so richly deserved.

But this post took a lot out of me, so don't be surprised if I sort of phone in the next one.  (You can't expect a magnum opus every time.)

That's all folks -- hasta luego . . . hasta la vista . . . hasta yo mama

Click on the link below to order "House of the Rising Sun" from Amazon:

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