Am......C..... D.....F..... Am......E......Am.....E
Back in 1964 when I first heard a guitar play that chord progression arpeggio (each string of a chord played in succession instead of all the strings played at the same time), I was instantly hooked, and I still am.
It is the opening riff of The Animal’s hit song “The House of the Rising Sun”. I had heard different versions of the song before, Joan Baez had it on her first album in 1960 and in 1961 Bob Dylan stole a version from Dave Von Ronk and put it on his first album before Von Ronk could. The song has recently been on the news because Hilton Valentine (what a name) the guitarist for The Animals, who came up with the riff, died this week.
He had used the chords from Bob Dylan’s version of the song, but played the guitar chords, one string at a time instead of all at once, and what an iconic chord progression it became. The song became the first “British Invasion” hit in North America that was not done by The Beatles.
The song itself evolved from an old folk ballad with various versions. Old miners sung the song in 1905 and in 1925 the words:
“There is a house in New Orleans, its called the Rising Sun
It’s been the ruin of many poor girl
Great God, and I for one”
were printed in a magazine.
The folk song has been sung by a myriad of artists: Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Andy Griffith (Andy Griffith?), and Dolly Parton to name a few. Last summer Joni Mitchell released her previously unknown version, that was recorded in 1963 at a radio station and had laid undiscovered in a basement until now. It is on the Joni Mitchell archives album.
With all these different takes of the song, none of them have the magic for me that The Animal Version has. One of my favorite genre of music has always been Folk Rock, and many consider the 1964 Animal version of Rising Sun the first “Folk Rock” hit because it was an old folk song recorded with electric guitar.
It is reported that when Bob Dylan first heard the Animal version of the song on the radio, he stopped his car to listen, then got out and banged on the hood of the car. The song influenced folk singer Dylan to go “electric” which took his career in a completely different direction.
I had been playing “Rising Sun” almost daily for about a month, before I heard of Hilton Valentine’s death. I was playing it because I loved it, and also because I now have trouble playing Am and F on the guitar and Rising Sun gives me a pleasurable way to practice the chords.
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