"House of the Rising Sun" - The Animals - Ed Sullivan Show - 1964
Back in the day before MTV when most TV's were black and white and there were maybe three channels to pick from if you were lucky, punks and punkettes did not have the luxury of tuning in Rock n Roll 24/7. We got our fix in between plate spinners, acrobats, crooners, mooners, and dancing ballerinas on the Ed Sullivan Show.
If Ed gave a group the nod, they had made it to the Big Time. Every Sunday I was there sitting ansty suffering the 45 minutes until the hot Rock group of the week came on to play a 3 minute song. The Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Mommas and Papas. More groups than I can remember.
But the one appearance that came back crystal clear tonight was when I saw a re-run of the Animals singing "The House of the Rising Sun". Me and the parents were parked around the small Black and White Philco catching all the variety Ed Sullivan had going that night. Eric Burdon and the Animals came on. They played and I remember asking my dad what he thought. I was all of twelve maybe. I liked the tune. Had it on a 45 and it was about worn out already. What I didn't have, was a clue about what the song was about. My father knew right away.
"It's a song about a whore house", was all he said.
At age twelve or so, I did have a clue what a whore was and his comment shocked me. I remember some very candid conversation that night. Turns out the song was not created by the Animals. It had been kicking around for years. My dad remembered it from his days of partying in Texas honky tonks while he learned to fly open cockpit planes for the Army in the 1930s. Mom threw in her two cents and said many a bar singer had this song on their play list.
When pressed about how the Animals did, he mumbled something about Eric having a damn good voice. Or maybe it was Mom who said it. They both agreed though they hated the drums, guitar and organ. After all, they were a Rock n Roll group.
It was my first clue I guess that my parents had been hip at some point in their lives. Before then my parents were one dimensional. They were parents. Rule makers, ball breakers, and they kept the fridge full of food. Anything outside of their function as parents never dawned on me. My dad and mom hanging out in bars and clubs was a revelation. I knew they drank. By that time my dad was consuming the better part of a quart of Old Grand Dad a day. Mom was partial to a couple or three martini's in the evening. But hanging in bars? Wow! Bars were where really cool stuff happened.
I listen to the song now and I wonder if I was not a victim of some subtle sublimated messaging that night. In less than two years I was full tilt into drinking, experimenting with drugs and would have loved to visit a House of the Rising Sun. Sadly though that wouldn't happen for another 10 years or so when I laid over at some truck stop in North Carolina.