For all the glories of the Beatles, Stones and the Kinks in 1964, there is more than half an argument for saying that the greatest music of 1964 came from elsewhere. One candidate, perhaps the candidate, might be what is surely the greatest record ever to come out of Newcastle.
Part of what was going on in these years was not just the discovery of r’n’b, blues and soul, but was also the discovery of he American folk tradition. This song was an old American folk song, sometimes known as Rising Sun Blues. It had been recorded by many, such as the great Leadbelly.
When the young Bob Dylan first came to New York, he learned the song from a far more established folk artist Dave van Ronk. The story is well told here.
It was often thought The Animals got ghe song via Dyan’s eponymous debut album. In fact, Eric Burdon heard it in a Newcastle folk club and the band adopted the song and worked up on tour with Chuck Berry, believing it would help them stand out from the crowd. Boy, were they right. In all sorts of ways it broke the mould. It wasn’t a straight rocker or blues song, for a start. It was a sombre song, and Burdon’s vocal is part wail, part rasp. Then, there is the minor chord and Alan Price’s Vox Continental organ. And, rather than the three minute single, it clocked in at over four minutes.
The single got to number one in the UK, and then made The Animals the first British band other than The Beatles to get to the top of the US charts. According to Dylan, when he first heard it he jumped out his car seat. By the following year Dylan would break the mould anew with the six minute plus Like a Rolling Stone, owing no small amount in sound to that version of The House of the Rising Sun.