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House of the Rising Sun

“House of the Rising Sun” was possibly originally sung by a woman to her younger sister, admonishing her to stay away from New Orleans. The version of the song by Odetta is close to the original intent of the song. Nina Simone’s version is unique and righteous – maybe because she heard the Animals version and wanted the world to know the song’s true origin. Words were changed to make it a “male” oriented song which ended up with Eric Burdon and the Animals British version. Which is a great version creating the cascading chord structure that is now part of the song’s heritage. There are many different verses. Woody Guthrie was one of the first people to sing the song. Bob Dylan did several versions. But the version by Dave Van Ronk is touching. He was one of the original folk singers in Greenwich Village in the early sixties. It was a frugal existence but he was a dedicated folkie. He had discovered the forgotten song and fashioned a very personal arrangement, with his intense vocal style of moans and gasps. LIttle Bobby Dylan had just arrived in the Big Apple and heard Van Ronk’s version. It was to be on Bob Dylan’s first album on Columbia. Dave claimed that Bob had lifted his version.
The original is probably in the key of A minor. Odetta brings it up to B flat minor and adds some jazz chords. Bob Dylan uses only two chords on one version. It is a cyclical chord progression in that it does not have a separate bridge or verse chorus. House of the Rising Sun can be repeated as a progression to improvise over if you are feeling adventurous.

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