Like many classic folk ballads, the authorship of House of the Rising Sun, sometimes called "Rising Sun Blues", is dubious. Folklorist Alan Lomax, author of the seminal 1941 songbook Our Singing Country, wrote that the melody was taken from a traditional English ballad and the lyrics written by a pair of Kentuckians named Georgia Turner and Bert Martin. Other scholars have proposed different explanations, although Lomax's is generally considered most plausible.
In the early 20th century, the phrase "Rising Sun" may have been used as a euphemism for a brothel or house of prostitution, and it is not known whether or not the house described in the lyrics is an actual or fictitious place.
Various places in New Orleans, Louisiana have been proposed as the inspiration for the song, with varying plausibility. City directories of the late 19th century record a "Rising Sun Hall" in the riverfront of the uptown Carrollton neighborhood, which seems to have been a building owned and used for meetings of a Social Aid & Pleasure Club, commonly rented out for dances and functions. Links to gambling or prostitution, if any, are undoccumented for this building.
The traditional lyrics, as recorded by Lomax, are as follows:
There is a house in New Orleans They call the Rising Sun. It's been the ruin of many a poor girl, and me, O God, for one.A popular version from the 1930s was recorded by Leadbelly. The best-known cover of the song is the 1960s version by The Animals, who added ambiguity to the lyrics by changing the gender of the singer. Other artists to cover the song include Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, Peter, Paul and Mary, Dolly Parton and Johnny Hallyday.
If I had listened what Mamma said, I'd 'a' been at home today. Being so young and foolish, poor boy, let a rambler lead me astray.
Go tell my baby sister never do like I have done to shun that house in New Orleans they call the Rising Sun.
My mother she's a tailor; she sold those new blue jeans. My sweetheart, he's a drunkard, Lord, Lord, drinks down in New Orleans.
The only thing a drunkard needs is a suitcase and a trunk. The only time he's satisfied is when he's on a drunk.
Fills his glasses to the brim, passes them around only pleasure he gets out of life is hoboin' from town to town.
One foot is on the platform and the other one on the train. I'm going back to New Orleans to wear that ball and chain.
Going back to New Orleans, my race is almost run. Going back to spend the rest of my days beneath that Rising Sun.