“The House of the Rising Sun” is best known as a chart-topping 1964 smash for the Animals. Frontman Eric Burdon says it’s also responsible for pushing Bob Dylan toward rock music.
The track, sometimes referred to historically as “Rising Sun Blues” after the Alan Lomax-recorded 1937 version by Georgia Turner, was later reworked by Roy Acuff, Woody Guthrie and Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter — who actually issued two separate versions in the 1940s, one called “In New Orleans” and another titled “The House of the Rising Sun.”
Dylan’s version — via the late American folk singer Dave Van Ronk — actually predates the Animals by three years, having appeared on his eponymous 1961 album. But Burdon has said he didn’t initially hear it from Dylan, but while on tour with Chuck Berry, as performed by an English folk singer named Johnny Handle.
Still, the link between Dylan and the Animals remains. Burdon says, during a recent episode of the Breakfast with the Beatles radio program, that his take had a cataclysmic impact on a performer who had previously focused on folk music.
“There was a connection that went on between the Animals and Bob, and our recording of ‘The Rising Sun,’” Burdon says. “I’ve been told by lots of people who know, and were around at the time, that that’s what stimulated Bob into going electric, and becoming a rock star as opposed to a folk star. You might say were were all exposed — when I say ‘all of us,’ I mean the same age group on both sides of the Atlantic — we were exposed to the root of true black music at the same time, and realized that that was the road that we wanted to take.”
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