Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Jaynetts—
Sally Go 'Round The Roses/ Instrumental Background To...

Released 1963 on Tuff
The Seth Man, May 2006ce
By no means your typical girl group lament of the early sixties, “Sally Go ‘Round The Roses” is a subtle and transcendental epic in 45rpm form.

Addressing hurt with a stately and graceful bearing, the backing music’s construction feels more like a three minute edit from a larger, continuous body than a top 10 hit from 1963. Soft exchanges between the lead female vocalist and her assembled background sisters emanate serenely as though still waters to the agitated pools of rippling heartbreak, the spaces in-between the verses are long enough for the voices to trail off and be carried off downstream. A gradual increase in the voices’ volume creates a subliminal accenting to said verses of ‘response and call’ that reiterate as though in reverse echo. In an infinite cycle, the constant re-echoing of the opening line creates an ovoid/discoid/cycloid/every-other-kinda-oid which is emphasised by ever-repeating, tinkling piano clusters while understated organ fills operate as soothing, wordless emotional redress as well as linking the verses and prompting emotional shift in delivery. Altogether, the effect creates a circular pattern around a sanctuary where the perfume of soft beauty hangs blossoming from stalks of pricks in solitude, where no one need know and where no one can hear the pain throbbing in your head or feel the sobbing in your heart.

In a cleverly inverted arrangement, the lead vocal of innocence follows in response to the backing voices’ opening exhortations of experience. Legend has it that producer Abner Spector (no relation to Phil) recorded and pieced together over twenty different vocalists for the tracks and with exacting reverb, sounds as full as though most if not all of womanhood were right there on the session. Infidelity and sorrow are at the root of the lyrical content, with roses are the only promise of relief although oddly: the line “Roses, they can’t hurt you” offers not a hint of thorns anywhere. The oblique angles in the lyrics -- a total of eleven lines -- are repeated, harmonised with and called-and-responded-to like the tides surging in and retreating slowly out and the music complements it by filling in the rest of the meaning with emotional colourations. Tracing a single circumference is Sally, her story only one of many circuiting orbits in the song as it nudges along consistently swaying gently as the drums are resigned to gentle brushstrokes and the loping guitars played an accompanying, unchanging locked groove. The overall treatments are gentle and precise, overlaid within a distant voodoo rhythm that keeps the piece quietly buoyant within a large interior world of simultaneous orbits and simple layers.

Theories on the origins and meaning of this track abound, and they usually project the interests of their authors: whether as a children’s sing-along, Celtic ballad or whether the true meaning of “Sally Go ‘Round The Roses” is really a series of coded references to menstruation, lesbianism, the Cuban Missile Crisis or even a guarded commentary on Salvador Dali’s break with surrealism doesn’t matter in the least... for the only true meaning of this song is ultimately the one you think and feel it is (Just as I feel it deals with the far less ambiguous theme of heartbreak, and nothing less.) But the main success of this single is with its lyrical and musical open-endedness, the very thing that makes it so mysterious yet familiar and compelling.

As the chorus returns for the final time, the organ finally extends in length as if fulfilling the promise at the beginning when it was but a small, smattering outgrowth of notes. Here it has now grown into a riff, one that would reemerge in the future to underscore “Gloria” (in just about the ‘just about midnight’ line), “When The Music’s Over” and “900 Million People Daily”, to name three. From mighty oaks, “Sally Go ‘Round The Roses” is psychedelia at its very root three years before it exploded, although it might as well have been three thousand for its timeless theme is matched by an equally eternal arrangement that allures one into another place entirely for the duration of its slow rolling thrall.

The backing track of “Sally” is presented alone on the B-side, credited perversely to ‘Sing Along Without The Jaynetts.’ A trace of the reverbed vocals bleed through audibly enough in the distance, so you can whisper along to the lyrics as you weep yourself to sleep with the Dansette’s arm flipped off to the side to play this slice of infinity over and over as your pillow absorbs tears while the words resound in your head. Forever.

By no means your typical girl group lament of the early sixties, “Sally Go ‘Round The Roses” is a subtle and transcendental epic in 45rpm form.