“Mustang Sally” is a rhythm and blues (R&B) song written and first recorded by Mack Rice in 1965. It was released on the Blue Rock label (4014) in May 1965 with “Sir Mack Rice” as the artist. The song uses an AAB layout with a 24-bar structure.
It gained greater popularity when Wilson Pickett covered it the following year on a single, a version that was also released on the 1966 album, The Wicked Pickett. Also in 1966, John Lee Hooker recorded an entirely different song with a similar title — “Mustang Sally & GTO”.
According to music historian Tom Shannon, the song started as a joke when singer Della Reese wanted a new Ford Mustang. Rice called the early version “Mustang Mama” but changed the title after Aretha Franklin suggested “Mustang Sally”.
The song is influenced by the children’s game song (recorded by various artists) “Little Sally Walker”, versions of which include the lyrics “Rise Sally rise, wipe your weepin’ eyes”, with variations.
In the liner notes for The Rascals Anthology, Felix Cavaliere states that The Young Rascals recorded “Mustang Sally” and “Land of a Thousand Dances” before Pickett and that Atlantic Records “copped those two songs from them and gave them to Pickett” to record. When Cavaliere does his flashback concerts, he also recounts how Rice thanked him for having been the B-side of the Young Rascals’ hit, “Good Lovin'”, explaining that the royalties were paid by records sold — thus, the B-side writer was paid for an equal number of sales as the A-side.
Rice’s version made it to #15 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1965. Pickett’s version climbed to #6 on the R&B charts and #23 on the Pop charts in 1966, #4 in Canada on the (RPM) charts, and #28 in the UK Singles Chart on its original release and #62, when it was released again in 1987.
In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Wilson Pickett’s recording of the song at #434 on a list of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The song dropped seven spots to #441 when the magazine published its 2010 update of the list.
The song featured prominently in the 1991 film The Commitments and appears on the film’s soundtrack album, sung by Andrew Strong. It was released as a single from the album and reached #63 in the UK Singles Chart, #43 on the Australian charts and #17 on the New Zealand charts.
The character Sally from the Cars series was originally going to be a Mustang in reference to the song, but Pixar animators found that the grille too closely resembled a mustache.
In high school, King of the Hill’s Boomhauer drove a Mustang nicknamed “Ms. Sally” until the car was accidentally driven into the Arlen quarry by Dale, Hank, and Bill while playing a prank on him.