Let the arpeggiated A minor chord sound! We have arrived at the most recognizable iteration of the song in question. British pop-rock outfit The Animals sent “House of the Rising Sun,” our meager folk tune, to the top of the UK singles chart in 1964 with an arrangement that, in keeping with the folk idiom, was not their own handiwork.
By the mid-1940’s, “House of the Rising Sun” had existed for decades as a folk standard, but when Huddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Leadbelly), a giant of the Mississippi Delta Blues and 12-stringed guitar virtuoso, picked up the track, the song’s acclaim began to approach echelons beyond the merits of canonization.
The Beatles, Nina Simone, Tangerine Dream, Leadbelly, The Supremes, Tracy Chapman, Dolly Parton, Kult, Sinead O’Conner, Jimi Hendrix, Toto and Muse all have one thing in common: they’ve released a cover of the folk-blues tune “The House of the Rising Sun.” As one of the most covered songs of all time, the track serves as an exemplar of the folk tradition—music that is passed down through hearing and playing, not formal tablature.