The House of the Rising Sun for Ukulele

The House Of The Rising Sun is a folk song that was covered by the British Invasion group, The Animals, with lead singer Eric Burdon (It’s pronounced Bur-don). This R&B band from Newcastle-on-Tyne, England formed in 1958 as the Alan Price Combo. Their cover of The House of The Rising Sun was, at the time (1964), the longest recording ever released on a 45 rpm single and because of that fact was given the “kiss of death” by the record industry. To their surprise, the record made No.1 in England and the U.S.A. and is still popular throughout the world. The song was first recorded in 1932, and it may have been based on an earlier folk song that came over from England or Ireland. The Animals version is the most well known, in spite of the fact that it has been recorded numerous times by Blues, Folk, Country, and Pop artists.

I did an Internet search to see if there was an actual House of The Rising Sun down in New Orleans, but found that there are numerous theories but no actual proof that such a place existed. Though there were many gambling dens and brothels in New Orleans that could have been the place described in the song, if they were actually named The House of the Rising Sun remains a mystery. Guess it doesn’t really matter, because listening to the song, you can picture it, almost feel like you’re there, more vividly than if you had been there in actual fact. Just like Steve Goodman’s ‘perfect Country song’ penned for David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” this song has all the elements needed for a good country, or blues, or folk song: A brothel, a drunk, gambling, prison, and a train. And yes, it also mentions Mama. No pick up truck, but those were not invented at the time, one would assume.

The meter is 6/4, which is kind of like a slow walk with each step split into three beats. 1, 2, 3; 4, 5, 6. This is how you walk on your way to prison: not in a hurry to get there and trying to maintain a little dignity. The title says Rising Sun, but the bass line provides a nice counterpoint, going down. The C can be played with a G in the bass, and the D with an F# in the bass: A, G, F#, F as the bass line to the first 4 chords. The ukulele version I am going to show ignores this, but bass lines are below the range of the ukulele, so unless you have other instruments, as with all ukulele music, the bass line is purely imaginary. This song is in A minor, which is the Relative Minor of C Major. In C, E and D would be minor chords, but in A Major they would be the IV and V chords. The E or E7 is the Dominant chord of A, so an E7 to A minor is the final chord cadence. An F to an E chord change is also very characteristic of Spanish guitar music. Don’t get bogged down in the theory but just revel in the ancient minor chord feel that tells you that this song has been around the block and spent time in many a house of ill repute and you are carrying on a grand tradition, celebrating the world’s oldest profession, as it were. I am reminded here of another old folk song that was recorded by the English group, Traffic, “John Barleycorn Must Die,” that also takes you back to another era, another time and place.  

All of the chords but 1 are really easy to play on the ukulele, and that chord, the E, is used in virtually every guitar song, so it behooves you to learn it. The chords for ukulele:

Am = 2000

C  = 0003

D  = 2220

F  = 2010

E  = 444X

E7 = 4445

The X means to mute that string or avoid strumming it. It doubles the exact same note as one of the other strings, so it isn’t necessary. Other ways to play E and E7 on ukulele:

E  = 4442

This one is kind of a stretch. Try making a barre with your thumb.

E  = 4447

This one has a very high E on top. Play the note on the 7th fret with your pinkie.

E7 = 424X, or 4242

You can try out all of these different ways of playing E but you can also just use the first one, the easiest one, for where ever it says E or E7:

E  = 444X

The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun

    House of the Rising Sun

      Am   C        D          F
There is a house in New Orleans,
      Am       C      E7
They call the Rising Sun,
     Am       C       D           F
It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
    Am     E         Am    E7
And God, I know, I’m one.

All of the verses follow this pattern. If you want to play it on guitar it sounds good to play the C with a G in the bass, like this:

C = 332010

When you play the D use your thumb to get the F# in the bass:

D  = 200232

The House of the Rising Sun

There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one

My mother was a tailor
Sewed my new blue jeans
My father was a gamblin’ man
Down in New Orleans

Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and the trunk
And the only time he’s satisfied
Is when he’s on a drunk

Oh, mother, tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the house of the Rising Sun

Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I’m goin’ back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain

Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one

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