Nobody Knows Who Wrote This Classic Dolly Parton Hit

Dolly Parton has generated major press coverage, however, nobody knows who wrote one of her hits. Interestingly, this song also has connections to Bob Dylan and other famous musicians. Here’s a look at how a successful comedy movie inspired Parton to sing the song — and how she changed it from earlier versions.

Dolly Parton with a guiatr
Dolly Parton | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

One of the most mysterious hit songs ever

Most pop hits are copyrighted songs with a clear history. There are exceptions. Parton once sang a song whose country of origin is in question.

According to Stereogum, “The House of the Rising Sun” could be a version of an English folk song from the 1600s. The earliest known printing of the song’s lyrics was in a 1925 magazine article and the first known recording of the track is from 1933. According to the book Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song, the song’s writer is unknown.

“House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals

The song’s mysterious origin didn’t stop many famous musicians from performing it. In the 1960s, Bob Dylan released an understated cover version. His rendition was overshadowed by the dramatic blues-rock cover by The Animals. Stereogum reports their version topped the Billboard Hot 100. This cover is probably the most famous version of the track.

How Dolly Parton changed ‘The House of the Rising Sun’

According to Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song, Parton grew up with a version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” In fact, it was one of the first songs she learned to play on the guitar. Oddly enough, Parton decided to cover the song because of her role in the classic comedy movie 9 to 5

A trailer for 9 to 5

Parton worked with television music composer Mike Post on her album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, an album which includes the theme song for 9 to 5. That song deals with the hardships of working people. While working on the album, Parton started thinking of various jobs, including prostitution. This gave her the idea to cover “The House of the Rising Sun.”

In earlier versions of “The House of The Rising Sun,” it’s ambiguous whether the titular house is a brothel, a casino, or something else. Parton’s version of the track adds extra verses which make it clear the house is a brothel. Parton said her unique rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” was one of her favorite songs from her discography.

“The House of the Rising Sun” by Dolly Parton

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The legacy of ‘The House of The Rising Sun’

Parton’s “The House of the Rising Sun” was a hit as well. It reached No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart. Apparently, country music fans appreciated Parton breaking with tradition and making the song her own.

Even in the 2010s, this mysterious folk song still had some cultural relevance. After all, The Animals’ version of the track was used in a scene of the comic book movie Suicide Squad. The public seems to like “The House of the Rising Sun” — even if no one knows who wrote this classic tune.