The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun” Lyrics Meaning

Although “The House of the Rising Sun” has a distinct storyline, it is actually based on a folk song that centered on a completely-different character.  Moreover ‘the house of the Rising Sun’ in the traditional rendition is considered to be either an actual historical prison or house of working girls. So for instance the reference to the “ball and chain” near the end of the song is largely considered to allude to said penitentiary. But in The Animals’ case, it reads as if the title itself may rather refer to a gambling house.

Still though there remains the moral undertone of the lyrics, as the singer is advising the listener not to fall prey to the “sin and misery” that he has. And the insinuation is that his vice is something along the lines of gambling and consequentially excessive drinking. This is because he acknowledges his own father as possessing those weaknesses. And the conclusive message is that somehow this lifestyle has gotten him, the singer, into serious trouble with the law. Moreover he has witnessed “many a poor boy” also have their lives ruined via ‘the house of the Rising Sun’.


So all things considered, the lyrics of this song can be understood as advising the audience, particularly young men, to be wary of falling victim to a gambling addiction and alcoholism.

lyrics of "The House of the Rising Sun"

Interpretation of “The House of the Rising Sun”: By Another Hand

“The House of the Rising Sun” reflects an unpleasant place which has a bad influence on the writer’s life as a boy. The song speaks about picking up bad habits from this house in New Orleans as a young man. The writer describes his mother as a diligent woman who probably wanted him to make the best out of life by working hard and leading a decent life.

The writer mentions her sewing ‘blue jeans’, which is an American symbol representing people in the working class. This young man’s father is a gambler and unfortunately, this is the example he follows. He gives a picture of his father’s life as that of a typical gambler who doesn’t have time to maintain relationships. He’s unable to settle at a place for too long and is constantly moving his suitcase in and out of his car trunk across several towns. His lifestyle doesn’t give him much to be glad about so he relieves his stress by becoming an alcoholic. This scenario also gives an image of what the young man has learned at the House of the Rising Sun.

The writer consequently pleads with other mothers, who in his own experience seem more responsible than fathers, to not allow their children follow in his footsteps. Although he admits and regrets that his life has become a mess, he seems to have no option than to return to New Orleans to continue his lifestyle. He uses the words ball and chain as a metaphor to describe the extent to which he has now become a prisoner to his addiction of gambling and alcoholism.


It is unclear if the House of the Rising Sun is a place which existed as the writer portrays in the song. However, the essence of this song is that children mostly pick up bad habits from the people and neighborhoods in which they grow. The song emphasizes on the need for parents to be more responsible.

“The House of the Rising Sun” makes History

If you recognize the genre of folk-rock music, then you have The Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun” being the first song to hit under this category.  The track was released by MGM Records on 19 June 1964 as the second single from the band’s eponymous album, which was also their first.

Slightly Different Lyrics

The lyrics of The Animals’ version are a different take than the character “The House of the Rising Sun” is traditionally based on. For example, older renditions of the ballad were relayed from the perspective of a female who was considered to be either imprisoned or a working girl.

Indeed the folk song itself dates back to at least the early 20th century and perhaps even a significant time before that. And the oldest recorded version dates back to the Roaring Twenties.

Moreover it is said that The Animals’ themselves picked up the song when they heard it being recited in a British club by a folk singer named Johnny Handle.

Nina Simone’s Version of “The House of the Rising Sun”

Despite the above, “The House of the Rising Sun” has been traditionally sung by African-American performers. As such, it is also theorized that it was actually Nina Simone’s 1962 take on the tune which caught The Animals’ attention.

The Animals recorded this song in a single take!

And when The Animals did record the song they did so expeditiously, in fact in one only take. This is due to them having already perfected singing it on the road while they were simultaneously touring alongside rock-and-roll innovator Chuck Berry.

The Animals’ Version of “The House of the Rising Sun” is the most Successful

The Animals’ version went on to become the most-renowned of perhaps innumerable renditions of “The House of the Rising Sun”. And amongst its accolades is being placed on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Furthermore, it was included in the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It has also made the RIAA’s list of “Songs of the Century” and has earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

The initial release of “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals topped the Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the Canada Top Singles and the UK Singles Chart in addition to charting in a handful of other countries.

It also charted in the UK in 1972 and 1982, the latter time also peaking at number five in Ireland.

Who wrote “The House of the Rising Sun”?

The Animals’ Alan Price is recognized as the writer of the song, along with untraceable traditional sources.

And the producer is an English musician by the name of Mickie Most who was behind many hits from back in the day.

1 Response

  1. Julie C says:

    Ha ha, the theme of my high school prom was “House of the Rising Sun.” The kids all thought we’d really gotten away with something–the school principal and the teachers apparently didn’t even know what the song was about!!

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