Let me assure you, Stephen King isn’t the only one who’s ever asked this:
"Sally Go Round the Roses," by the Jaynetts: What makes that song so goddam creepy?
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 4, 2014
The usual two-track stereo mix that’s been sitting in the Chess Records vault for the last half-century lacks the organ riff that makes your hair stand on end: this version attempts to synchronize that recording with a proper 45, and works pretty well.
Nursery rhymes in general, if you believe certain interpreters, have been sanitized by time itself; “Sally,” which sounds like it should have been a nursery rhyme (perhaps this one), can be seen as similarly sinister in its intent. Producer Abner Spector no relation to Phil reportedly ran up $50,000 in studio bills for endless overdubs; arranger Artie Butler played all the instruments except guitar and (maybe) the drums.
The song is presumably metaphorical, but what the heck does it mean? “They won’t tell your secret” suggests Forbidden Love could Sally’s “baby,” presumably downtown to meet some other girl, be a girl herself? No one’s telling at this late date. And it’s not all in the mysterious sound of the single, either; the British folk-rock outfit Pentangle cut a version for their 1969 album Basket of Light, and its comparative acoustical clarity doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference.
The B-side of the Jaynetts’ “Sally” was the instrumental track, minus the vocals though not entirely minus the vocals, which can still be heard buried in the murk. And that same track was reused once again, with the addition of pennywhistle, Jew’s harp, and sleigh bell, for “Snowman, Snowman, Sweet Potato Nose,” a title so preposterous that it almost makes you forget how scary that original track was.