House of the Rising Sun

(I think this was an unused first draft of something I posted to the blog a couple years ago.)

I was never into the early Beatles stuff. Not my thing. Too teeny bop. I thought they were much better once they started taking drugs. But also in 1964, amid all the screaming and yeah yeah yeahs, the Animals released House of the Rising Sun and rock music suddenly grew up. Most fans didn’t–they were still silly squirrelly teenagers–but House of the Rising Sun is a thoroughly adult piece of music. A man whose squandered his life away in a whorehouse in the New Orleans has his tale told by the incredibly blues soaked and angry voice of Eric Burden. The arrangement is hip and driving and Alan Price’s keyboards are pure jazz, just wonderful. There is nothing teenaged about this, the only innocence has long ago been lost to sin and damnation. I mean this was grown up shit. And I’ve never understood why people don’t recognize this record for what it is…that The House of the Rising Sun points the way to the depths of feeling, emotion and blues authenticity–as well as sophisticated soloing– that British rock music would be capable of within a couple years. I Love You Yeah Yeah Yeah stuff is fun, but House of the Rising Sun is real. The subject is real, the words are real, and the music is as real as pop music got in 1964.

I’m not putting down the Beatles at all. I’m just saying it’s time to recognize House of the Rising Sun as the landmark record it truly was. It was the first great grown up rock record of the 1960’s, and must have opened up a whole new world to zillions of kids looking for something deep and dark and bluesy, something beyond Merseybeat. More than any other British Invasion single, it brought back to America its own music, the blues, with all its passion and power and groove. And to this day, even after a zillion listens–I heard it on the radio today, in fact–it has lost none of its power for me. It’s still gets down and gets evil.  You see Eric on Ed Sullivan howling this sad tale, and Alan Price unrolls one of the great bluesy organ runs, the band pushing themselves harder and faster till Eric, channeling a doomed, broken man, tells the kids not to do what he has done. Do they listen? No, they scream themselves silly. Helter Skelter began with the Animals, with this song, all that vile, twisted nastiness to come with Hells Angels beating up hippies and hippies slaughtering movie stars, you can hear all of that in House of the Rising Sun. You can hear it now, anyway. Back then all you could hear was the silly, squealing girls.

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