Not everybody who likes pop music may have heard of the Animals, an extremely popular British band in its day but not remembered or rated as well as they deserve to be; but almost everyone who is interested in pop music would have listened to or at least heard of the song House of the Rising Sun, also known as the Rising Sun Blues. The origins of this old American folk song is said to be found in the emigrants from Britain, who might have taken popular tunes from the English music halls to America with them. One of the possible sources that they changed in order to give it an American setting, specifically a New Orleans setting, is the ballad The Unfortunate Rake, which in turn originated from an 18th century broadside (also known as a broadsheet; a printed and illustrated page containing the news, popular ballad or poem of the day). The ballad’s more direct influences can be found in The Cowboy’s Lament, a variant of basically the same content, which is shared by The House of the Rising Sun as well. Then it is quite clear that The House of the Rising Sun was the most well-known American version of the 18th century (or older) ballad, among the emigrants to America. It became much better known in the 1960s, however, when it was recorded by the Animals. The song became number one in the charts of not only the U.K. and the U.S. but several other countries.
The lyrics are essentially about a degenerate young man from New Orleans, with an apparently unhappy background. The House of the Rising Sun as a location is variedly interpreted to be a brothel, a jailhouse or a specific building in New Orleans, such as a dancehall, a hotel or a salon of the name of or the name containing the Rising Sun. Because of its sad and dark lyrics, though the song is very closely linked with the city of New Orleans (probably the most famous one related to the city), it is not sung in its celebration, like When the Saints Go Marching In, a spiritual, jazz standard and the team anthem for the New Orleans Saints.
The song reflects, however, the very bluesy and somewhat laid back atmosphere of New Orleans as it was perceived, which in some parts of the city may still be felt. It captures less of the high spirits of the city’s fandom for its professional football team, the Saints, and even less of the saints that the team is named after. But the mixed culture of New Orleans make it quite feasible that such a sad folk song could be quite well harmonized with the present upbeat culture of the city, the very best of which can be witnessed by attending one of the city’s home matches. If you had been of the supposition that New Orleans must be an old and somewhat gloomy city with lyrical blues melodies being played in the background, you would do well to check out the new orleans saints schedule and have a seat among the lively spectators. Then maybe the name of the House of the Rising Sun may come to have quite different a meaning for you.