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    The House of the Rising Sun

    How cool is this song? And its history! Whose is your favourite version?

    The one thing that seems so difficult to pin down about the song is its origin. Who definitively wrote the words, the chords and the melody cannot be actually be identified from the potted history presented on Wikipedia.

    I plan to try and find and listen to the various recordings to make up my own mind, but perhaps, as they imply, the song developed through the ages, each new performer adding their own touches. What is evident to me just from the number of goes at it is that it’s a great and a lasting song.

    The arrangement most folks probably know the best was done by the Animals, and it’s one fine piece of work, arguably the best. Although the songwriting credit and royalties go entirely to keyboardist Alan Price, according to singer Burdon, “this was simply because there was insufficient room to name all five band members on the record label, and Alan Price’s name was first alphabetically”. That version was performed by the Animals who were [at the time] Eric Burdon (vocals), Bryan Chandler (bass), Alan Price (keys), John Steel (Drums), and Hilton Valentine (guitar).

    Nina Simone’s version isn’t bad either – like she could perform anything badly! And I was surprised to note she recorded her version before The Animals, too. But most surprising to me after I investigated a couple of leads from the Wikipedia article – was my own response to a very evocative version I’d never heard before. I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering this is Bob Dylan we’re talking about. It is worth a listen.

    However, his fantastic performance aside, that Dylan credited himself with writing the song raises the context of questionable ethics as apparently Dave Van Ronk argued that he first wrote the altered chords we know today, and that Dylan had copied his version which Van Ronk had performed many times by the early sixties. Not knowing the details of this dispute I cannot comment but it isn’t first tale I’ve heard of Dylan “stealing” someone else’s ideas. It doesn’t change the generally accepted observation that in his own right he is one of the best songwriters we’ve ever known, but it does disappoint.

    Dylan didn’t win in the money stakes on this song, though. If you ask about the publishing rights to the song itself, it is EMI Publishing, and royalties do indeed just go to Alan Price. That to me seems unfair. His organ performance on the Animals’ version was undoubtedly very very good, but there’s more to that version than the keyboards.

    Here ends my random post. And if this works correctly, there's a poll below to see which version people prefer:

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