Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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House of the Rising Sun

First recorded (as “Rising Sun Blues”) by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster (1933).
Also recorded by Woody Guthrie (1941), Lead Belly (1944 |1948), Josh White (1947), Glenn Yarbrough (1957), Pete Seeger (1958), Andy Griffith (1959), Miriam Makeba (1960).
Hit versions by The Animals (US #1/UK #1 1964), Frijid Pink (US #7/UK #4 1970).

From the wiki: “Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ is uncertain. Musicologists say that it is based on the tradition of broadside ballads such as The Unfortunate Rake of the 18th century and that English emigrants took the song to America where it was adapted to its later New Orleans setting. Alan Price of The Animals has even claimed that the song was originally a sixteenth-century English folk song about a Soho brothel.

“The oldest known existing recording is by Appalachian artists Clarence ‘Tom’ Ashley and Gwen Foster, who recorded it for Vocalion Records on Sept. 6, 1933. Ashley said he had learned it from his grandfather, Enoch Ashley.

“In 1941, Woody Guthrie recorded a version. A recording made in 1947 by Josh White, who is also credited with having written new words and music that have subsequently been popularized in the versions made by many other later artists, was released by Mercury Records in 1950. Lead Belly recorded two versions of the song in February 1944 and in October 1948, called ‘In New Orleans’ and ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ respectively.

“In 1957 Glenn Yarbrough recorded the song for Elektra Records. The song is also credited to Ronnie Gilbert on one of The Weavers albums released in the late 1940s or early 1950s. Pete Seeger released a version on Folkways Records in 1958. Actor and comedian Andy Griffith recorded the song on his 1959 album Andy Griffith Shouts The Blues And Old Timey Songs. Joan Baez recorded it in 1960 on her debut album. In 1960 Miriam Makeba recorded the song on her eponymous RCA album.

“In late 1961, Bob Dylan recorded the song for his debut album, released in March 1962. That release had no songwriting credit, but the liner notes indicate that Dylan learned this version of the song from Dave Van Ronk. Van Ronk said that he was intending to record the song and that Dylan copied his version. Nina Simone recorded her first version on Nina at the Village Gate in 1962.

“An interview with Eric Burdon remembers first hearing the song in a club in Newcastle, England, where it was sung by the Northumbrian folk singer Johnny Handle. The Animals were on tour with Chuck Berry at the time and chose it because they wanted something distinctive to sing and Burdon, in the interview, refutes assertions that the inspiration for their arrangement came from Bob Dylan. The band instead enjoyed a huge hit with the song, much to Dylan’s chagrin when his version began to be referred to as a cover. The irony of this was not lost on Dave Van Ronk.”

Woody Guthrie, “House of the Rising Sun” (1941):

Lead Belly, “In New Orleans” (1944):

Josh White, “House of the Rising Sun” (1947):

Lead Belly, “House of the Rising Sun” (1948):

Glenn Yarbrough, “House of the Rising Sun” (1957):

Pete Seger, “House of the Rising Sun” (1958):

Andy Griffith, “House of the Rising Sun” (1959):

Miriam Makeba, “House of the Rising Sun” (1960):

The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun” (1964):

Frijid Pink, “House of the Rising Sun” (1970):

Dave Van Ronk talks about what happened between him and Bob Dylan and “House of the Rising Sun,” from No Direction Home:

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