House of the Rising Son - Original Version

The song, House of the Rising Son, was written in 1860 to a French tune known in the 18th century in Liverpool. Does anyone know what the words were to the original version? Presumably they had nothing to do with New Orleans; that came later when the tune was taken from Liverpool to Louisiana.

From the references at hand (in a house full of musicians), the origin is murky and disputed. It certainly came from alehouse songs in England in the late 19th century, but beyond that there are several conjectures about its origin and influences. I don’t know that you can nail it down to any specific “French tune.” I will note, as a music aficionado with a good ear who is NOT a musician, that most performances of the developed song have a bit of a “Greensleeves” aura, as I’d expect from a song set to a traditional tune. Many tunes in the troubadour and pub-sing eras were used for many different sets of lyrics.

And, of course, although male vocal versions are the most widely known, the earlier versions are from a (fallen) woman’s viewpoint.

Rising SUN, of course. Way early in his career, Dylan did a cover in which he correctly sang it using lyrics like “it’s been the ruin of many a young GIRL, and I know because I’m one”. The popular male vocalist versions have always grated on me because the lyrics don’t fit. It’s permissable for male vocalists to sing first person female lyrics and vice-versa, although the gender can be changed sometimes without it being awkward. Another song that is a first person female, but you will hear sung by male vocalists is John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” (“I am an old woman, named after my mother …”). Nobody seems compelled to change the gender in that case - perhaps because we know that a guy wrote it in the first place.

Minor nitpick: It’s the Sun that’s rising, not the Son.

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Moving thread from General Questions to Cafe Society.

The sun also rises, but only once, for 20 minutes.

There is a whole book on the history of this song: Chasing the Rising Sun.

I started reading it, but it was a little too dense for me. It is a very scholarly book, and extremely thoroughly researched.

Perhaps the OP thinks it’s a religious song?

Translation: you need a third eye to read the footnotes that take up half of each page. :smiley:

Wiki artice:

Traditional lyrics from Alan Lomax, still in New Orleans:


I see it was a workman song for a while, sung while driving spikes into the railroad tracks.

Not in the book I read.

Dave Van Ronk discussed the song in his most excellent The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir

Unfortunately, Bob Dylan “stole” Van Ronk’s arrangement for his first album before he could record it. Leading to a feud that petered out, although Van Ronk stopped performing the song (for years). To his glee, Dylan later dropped it because people kept asking for “that Animals song.”

Well, it’s about a bordello. I’m sure there were plenty of sons “rising” there…

I’ll be here all week, folks. Try the waitresses and tip the veal.

I was trained as a musicologist. I’ll have to give it a try.