View Full Version : What's the story behind "Sally, Go 'Round the Roses" ?

Ukulele Ike
12-07-1999, 11:53 AM
Recorded by The Jaynetts. Written by Zell Sanders. Produced by Abner Spector. Hit #2 on the charts for two weeks in the fall of 1963. One of the weirdest singles in pop music history.

NPR devoted a couple of hours to it a few years ago (I missed the show). Jeff Pike wrote a full chapter about it in 1993's THE DEATH OF ROCK AND ROLL:UNTIMELY DEMISES, MORBID PREOCCUPATIONS, AND PREMATURE FORECASTS OF DOOM IN POP MUSIC. But what's the straight dope?

The song itself seems simple: an uncomplicated melody and rhythm, a story seemingly about a girl who finds that her boyfriend is cheating on her and who gets upset about it.

But halfway through the song there are allusions to some "secret" of Sally's. And near the end the ghostly chorus urges her to "let her hair hang down."

Without actually ANSWERING any of his own damn questions, Pike offers hints of interpretations ranging from a suicide scenario, Sally's moment of truth about her own homosexuality, and a spiritual epiphany of some kind, maybe one powerful enough to bring about madness.

What's going on with this song? Who's been analyzing it? Is it another case of rock critics and undergrads wasting time?


12-07-1999, 12:40 PM
The song actually was written by two persons, Zell Sanders and Lona Stevens. Since both are dead, it's unlikely we will ever get a final answer.

Wayne Jancik, in his One Hit Wonders, gives a good summary:

"'Sally, Go 'Round the Roses' is a timeless wonder of a song, featuring an odd, hypnotic rhythm and soft voices seductively rising and falling. The lyrics seem to portray Sally in an alluring field of roses, catching an eyeful of her lover with another. But differing interpretations abound. Some listeners read the roses and the hushed throbbing of the music as expressions of a young woman's troubled acceptance of homosexuality. Others think the song is about a religious experience, or possibly a mental breakdown. Still others remember 'Sally' as nothing more than a silly nursery rhyme."

The Jaynetts (http://cybergrrlz.com/gg-jaynetts.htm) page at cybergrrlz.com (http://cybergrrlz.com) has a nice review of the group and the song, including the lyrics.

Great song--I have no idea what it means. Independent record companies like Tuff records have pretty much disappeared, so great songs like this have also pretty much disappeared.

The roses, they can't hurt you. (No, the roses, they can't hurt you.)

12-07-1999, 02:59 PM

Don't mind me, just updating my "kindred spirit" list.
Leader of the Pack? pu-leeze...

Ukulele Ike
12-07-1999, 03:23 PM
Heck, Flora, dontcha like it any better when you realize it could actually be about a staring mad teenage girl LOCKED IN A PADDED CELL...?

"Sally baby cry, let your hair hang down
Sit and cry with the door closed
Sit and cry so no one knows"

Is that Gothic or what?

PS: I have the same disc...aside from the Insane/Lesbian/Suicide/Religious VIsionary cuts, the highlights are definitely "Party Lights" by Claudine Clark and "I Can't Stay Mad at You" by Skeeter Davis.


12-07-1999, 03:39 PM
Ukulele Ike wrote: "Party Lights" by Claudine Clark

Yup, another great one, plus,

Sit and cry with the door closed
Sit and cry so no one knows

Umm, what song are these lyrics from?

Sit and cry where the roses grow, you can sit and cry, not a soul will know.

Note to self: need to watch Ukulele Ike more carefully...

12-07-1999, 04:13 PM
Pentangle did the best version of "Sally Go Round the Roses."

"East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does." -- Marx

Read "Sundials" in the new issue of Aboriginal Science Fiction. sff.net/people/rothman (http://sff.net/people/rothman)

12-07-1999, 08:02 PM
Well, thanks a lot. I had never heard this song so I went to the site and listened - then it was stuck in my head the rest of the day!

Sorry, Uke - I think it's just about Sally tellin' her troubles to the roses. They won't tell anyone about her humiliation - her guy with another girl - and she can let her hair down and have a good cry. The spookiness comes mainly from the arrangement - was Abner related to Phil do you know?

I've got to get this out of my head somehow.

Wish I was in Tiju-an-a
Eatin' barbecued ig-ua-na

Ah - much better.

mr john
12-07-1999, 10:40 PM
Ah, what sheltered lives you have led. "Open a rose", "Open the rose","Opening the rose"are phrases I have heard some of my lesbian friends use for uhm digital manipulation and cunnilingus "going around the rose" refers more specifically to cunnilingus. I once heard a musician say the best way to get a song out of your head is to play it backwards, the only things I can play are the Jew's harp and the nose flute so it don't help me. Nice quote, chuck, who did you say said it?


"Pardon me while I have a strange interlude."-Marx

12-08-1999, 01:11 AM
Girl Groups of the 50's and 60's (http://rockinwoman.com/girl.html) at rockinwoman.com (http://rockinwoman.com) has a copy of the entire original song by the Jaynetts, in Real Audio-format. (About 350K)

Sit and cry where the roses grow, you can sit and cry, not a soul will know.

12-08-1999, 01:53 AM
I can't STAND that song. Droning, repetitive, unmelodic. I have a cassette of Girl Group hits, and I always have to fast-forward through that one, right from 'Leader of the Pack' to 'Chapel of Love.'

Ukulele Ike
12-08-1999, 10:06 AM

Abner and Phil Spectors were not related, according to Pike's book. Good point about the arrangement...it's damned eerie, and very different from the typical "girl group" sound. The instruments are overdubbed, several pianos, guitars, bass and drums added last, not to mention the funhouse organ that wheezes in and out between choruses. Over twenty singers were used, too. And then echo was overlaid. They couldn't do it again that was if they tried.

The lines about Sally's betrayal are neatly vague as to gender: "The saddest thing in the whole wide world/Is to see your baby with another girl."

Whitetho: According to the lyrics site I checked, the line about the closed door (imprisonment in a state asylum? Bwahhhh-ha-hahhh!) IS in the song.


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