Those of you who follow the contemporary rock scene might have heard that Alt-J released a new album a few days ago. I still can’t really connect with “RELAXER,” but one their tracks prompted a lot of questions: is this good, is this bad, is this genius, or is this straight disrespect? Classic Alt-J. The third song in the album, “House of the Rising Sun,” is an experimental take on the iconic piece. Although I am still working my way around understanding the album—all Alt-J releases take time to grow on me—I decided to dig up some other interesting renditions while I decide what to think about Alt-J’s.
#1 Alt-J (2017)
In case you did not know that Alt-J’s song is not an original, “House of the Rising Sun” is a famous American folk song that tells a story of sin and regret in New Orleans, Louisiana. The song was popularized by The Animals back in 1964 when they decided to channel the spirit of the folk tune using hypnotizing arpeggios and heartbreaking vocals. Their recording was a huge international success, as well a true work of art. If you’ve never heard it before now, it’s time for a long, hard look in the mirror.
#2 The Animals (1964)
Now, we are probably on the same page—if you’re reading this article, you likely have heard that last version already. What you might not know is that the song was covered many times before Eric Burdon and his band hit the jackpot with their rendition. One of the earliest recordings, a pure blues, belongs to Clarence Ashley.
#3 Clarence Ashley (1932)
After the Animals, the next commercially successful rendition of the track belonged to the band Frijid Pink, who switched the track’s time signature from a bluesy 6/8 to an early 70’s psychedelic 4/4. All the sadness has been replaced by some crunchy guitars and wah-wah sounds that frolic around the verse.
#4 Frijid Pink (1970)
Now is when it gets crazy. if you have time to check out only one of these versions, THIS IS THE ONE. Santa Esmeralda wins the prize with her disco-flamenco approach. You thought Alt-J was edgy? I am not even going to try and describe this. Just listen to it. As a matter of fact, there are . . . like . . . seven different mixes in Spotify, all based on this one. I am linking you to the full 15+ minute version—you’re welcome—but you can look up the other ones if you yearn to hear just the vocals.
#5 Santa Esmeralda (1977)
If the Spanish guitars were not enough for you, luckily there’s also a full Spanish version of the track, played by the Mexican guitar god Javier Bátiz. Besides being one of the founding fathers of Mexican rock, Bátiz taught Carlos Santana how to play guitar. This version does not provide anything new musically speaking, but it is the leading track of his album “La Casa del Sol Naciente” (2010)—The House of the Rising Sun in Spanish—which has some other tracks that are worthy of his name, like “El Vuelo Del Angel” in which you can hear the secrets he taught to Santana.
#6 Javier Batiz (2016)
If you prefer French to Spanish, you might be interested in “Maison Soleil Levant” (House of the Rising Sun) by Charlelie Couture. Again, this track mimics the Animals version, but it adds a lot more musically speaking. There are some lush slide guitar parts, upbeat drums, violin, and accordion. Overall, it’s a great rendition to listen to if you want to dance. De plus, tout est plus sexy si vous le dites en français.
#7 Charlelie Couture (2016)
Another European take on the American folk song comes from Muse. The band used the intro of the version popularized by the Animals as a transition in several of the shows during their 2010-2013 world tours. Nonetheless, audio exists of Muse playing the entire song as early as 2008. Though a cover has never been officially released, this rendition is a must listen. It is noisy. VERY NOISY.
#8 Muse (circa 2008)
If you like the heavier side of things, allow me to offer you a little Five Finger Death Punch. Solid drums, raging guitars, and heavy metal attitude, combined with the usual heartbreaking vocals and lyrics. This is the closing track in their album “The Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell (Volume 2),” and provides a relatively soothing, though melancholic, ending when compared to all the emotions in the other tracks.
#9 Five Finger Death Punch (2013)
Lastly, if you found those last ones a little heavy, Dolly Parton is here for you. Her version of “House of the Rising Sun” is the perfect one to listen to if you want to time-travel back to the 80s. Seriously, it has everything you will need. Her singing is magnificent as usual, but also features the classic 80s vibes that always make me grin. Just listen to those backing vocals.
#10 Dolly Parton (1980)
Let us know in the comments which ones you liked, which ones you hated, or which we missed!