Chances are you’ve heard the song Mustang Sally, and you know that all she wants to do is ride around town.
But who is Sally? Does she really exist?
We’re taking a drive down the rock and roll highway to find out.
Who Is Mustang Sally?
The origin story of Mustang Sally is two-pronged. Singer and songwriter Mack Rice wrote the tune after visiting his friend and fellow singer Della Reese. Reese was going to buy her drummer, Calvin Shields, a brand new car.
When Rice saw the size of car Shields wanted, he laughed. According to Rice, it was so small – too small for a man! He’d never seen these new Ford Mustangs before, as the enormous Lincolns were much more common. If he only knew how popular those Fords would be in coming years!
The jovial vibe of the occasion inspired the story of a woman who just wants to ride around in her new car all day.
Aretha Franklin heard Rice’s new song before it was released and suggested calling it Mustang Sally instead of Mustang Mama.
The other side to the origin story of Mustang Sally stems from a traditional African American folk song called Little Sally Walker. Around the turn of the 20th century, kids would sing this play song in groups.
Like most traditional folk songs, the words and verses can change with time. Nothing is written down, and the folklore is passed on via group tradition.
One child would play Sally, with the others singing and forming a circle around them. The role would pass along to another youngster after finishing the rhyme. The chorus of Ride Sally Ride came from the playsong’s verse Rise Sally Rise.
So Mustang Sally is an amalgamation of a traditional African American folk song and a playful nod to Mack Rice’s fellow musician Calvin Shields.
Who First Sang the Hit?
R&B singer Mack Rice released Mustang Sally as a single in 1965. During the 50s and early 60s, many artists released singles only instead of entire albums. It was cheaper to produce and extremely popular with younger people.
Rice’s discography was mainly single records. But that didn’t mean he was any less popular.
Mack Rice was Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, the home of the blues, in 1933. In his early teens, his family moved to Detroit, another music hub. He became a significant player in the Detroit rock and soul scene, singing with The Five Scalders in 1955 and The Falcons in 1957.
Rice began writing for other artists while he was in The Falcons and broke off as a solo vocalist in 1963. Mustang Sally was his most famous hit, reaching #15 on The Billboard R&B chart in 1965.
Although he continued to perform live for many years, the bulk of his success came from writing for other artists.
Another of Mack Rice’s most well-known compositions was Respect Yourself, performed by The Staple Singers. His work has been recorded and performed by artists such as Joe Cocker, Etta James, Otis Clay, and Lynyrd Skynryd.
Who Else Recorded Mustang Sally?
According to secondhandsongs.com, there are over 100 covers of Mustang Sally! But the most popular cover was recorded by Wilson Pickett in 1966. It reached #6 on the R&B charts and #23 on the pop charts that year.
Wilson Pickett was a pioneer of soul music. With over 20 albums and 50 charting singles, Pickett was the ultimate soul screamer of the mid-60s. He was raised in Detroit, idolized Little Richard, and learned his craft in the gospel choirs of his youth.
While Rice’s version has a Motown bop and sway feel, Pickett’s is much more produced and polished. It’s a little funkier and spunkier, showing Pickett’s gospel upbringing.
The Coasters recorded another popular cover in 1972 for their album, On Broadway. The Coasters had a string of hits in the 1950s, taking the Doo Wop scene by storm.
In addition, Chicago blues singer Buddy Guy recorded a cover of Mustang Sally in 1991, featuring Jeff Beck on guitar.
Other notable artists who covered Mustang Sally include The Kingsman, Ronnie Milsap, and Silver Apples.
Did Eric Clapton Record a Cover?
No, Eric Clapton never recorded a cover of Mustang Sally. Though, there’s always the chance that Clapton fans have a sacred secret show recording of him covering the tune live. But aside from that possibility, we think some listeners might be a little confused.
Clapton does have a popular single called Lay Down Sally. This song’s beats per minute are much faster. It’s got a country shuffle and a sweet harmony chorus with co-writer Marcella Detroit.
The lyrics describe wanting this Sally to stay in bed with the singer. The other Sally wants to ride around in a Mustang car.
Clapton released Lay Down Sally was in 1977, on his fifth album, Slowhand. Aside from both titles having three words and the name Sally, it shares little in common with Mustang Sally.
Was Mustang Sally in a Movie?
In the 1991 film, The Commitments, the Irish working-class band performs the song in a bar. Upon its release, the soundtrack did very well, giving Pickett’s music much more exposure.
The movies Road House and Bandits also included the hit in their soundtracks.
Los Lobos recorded a cover of Mustang Sally for the 2001 film Miss Congeniality. The movie, based in Texas, was an excellent fit for this grittier-sounding cover.
Mustang Sally has also been used in several TV shows, playing for a few seconds here and there in the background. The television series Glee featured it in season six, episode two. Roderick, a recurring character in the series, sings Mustang Sally as part of his audition for Glee.
Mustang Sally’s Roots Go Way Back
The story behind Mustang Sally is pretty cool. It brings us into the world of two prominent R&B singers, Mack Rice and Wilson Pickett. It also reminds us that we can drill down the roots of rock and roll can to the folk history of African Americans.
Before it was rock, it was R&B. And before that, it was jazz, then traditional folk songs. Taking that journey back to the roots of a piece is kind of awesome.
Which is your favorite version of Mustang Sally? Let us know!
Tuesday 25th of January 2022
Love hearing the inspiration behind these songs!
Tuesday 25th of January 2022
Excellent research. Most important and most fun, Mustang Sally is a great tune to listen while on the road. Wilson Pickett’s version is my favorite. But a big nod to Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love/Pink Cadillac” mix is a cool feel to any road trip! Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Tuesday 25th of January 2022
Thank you! Much respect for Aretha!