19
May 05

NANCY SINATRA – “These Boots Were Made For Walking”

Popular49 comments • 9,895 views

#210, 19th February 1966

Somewhere on my hard drive there’s a track which mashes this song into Girls Aloud’s “Sound Of The Underground”. Like a lot of bootlegs it works as an act of criticism as well as a song: “These Boots” is indeed the knowing mid-00s pop aesthetic, almost forty years ahead of schedule. Take one celebrity starlet and one cynical songwriter, add sass and venom and a lucky bag of tricks, twists and gaps in the arrangement, and release. The opening bassline is heels down a spiral staircase, the final horn kicks are a nervous rush to obey, but really what’s being fetishised here is the single. Like “Good Vibrations” nine months later, “Boots” feels conceived and crafted not as a record of an ideal performance, but as a pop event, something unforgettable that sounds only like itself.

The ingredients might just about be familiar – a cruel but funny showtune sensibility (“truthin'”!); the dangerous bassy glamour of Kim Fowley’s teen dramas; the Brit girls’ amused detachment – but they haven’t been combined like this before, and no shopping list can capture the impact of “Boots”. That’s mostly down to Nancy Sinatra, who hardly has to sing the song, just act it. The band, and producer Lee Hazlewood, are canny enough to make the record move, so it doesn’t just become an icy exercise in snark. But still, half of what I love about pop seems to spring from her curled-lip “you” or her single, world-ending “Hah.” So here’s (yet) another definition of a great record: one that you can’t listen to without wanting to live it.

10

Comments

1 2 All
  1. 26
    Mr. Snrub on 2 Jul 2005 #

    Umm, isn’t it “These Boots ARE Made For Walking”?

    Never thought this song was all that great. I’m more of a “Some Velvet Morning” kinda guy.

  2. 27
    Joe Williams on 22 Sep 2005 #

    I’m with you Tom, although I would have probably put a few 10s in before now as well ;-)

    It has become campy over the years because we’ve come to associate this subject matter (girls on top, basically) with campiness. Just picking another couple of Number Ones, see also ‘I Will Survive’ or ‘Survivor’. All three, when sung by a woman, are strong statements of empowerment. When sung by a man they become ‘ooh, hark at you, you big queen’.

    Alan Connor may be interested to note, for his Resurrection Watch, a cover version by Alan Connor, which you can download here:

    http://www.alanconnor.co.uk

  3. 28
    Alan Connor on 12 Mar 2006 #


    Alan Connor may be interested to note, for his Resurrection Watch, a cover version by Alan Connor, which you can download here:

    Good Gravy!

    I must make sure I’m Google’s #1 for that name!

  4. 29
    Matthew on 13 Jan 2009 #

    Meh, it’s alright, I suppose. Doesn’t get me excited in any important way, even after a few re-listens to try and work out what I’m missing.

  5. 30
    Matthew on 15 Jan 2009 #

    I’ve been feeling guilty about my knee-jerk negative response to this being Popular’s first 10, and being a conscientious sort I came back to redress the balance.

    I can see how it’s a bit historic, in that it’s far and away the SASSIEST thing ever to top the charts. Not that it exactly opens the floodgates for sass in the same way that the Beatles opened the floodgates for Scousers with guitars and silly haircuts, but later on pop will be a lot more about sassiness and girl power so I can see how this does represent some kind of landmark.

    Also, that boingy descending bassline thing is awesome, and clearly the makers of Futurama thought so too, seeing as they built their theme music around it many years later.

  6. 31
    Pete on 15 Jan 2009 #

    I always felt the Futurama theme tune leant much more heavily on Jean Jacques Perry’s EVA myself (hear it here:)
    http://www.myspace.com/jjperrey

  7. 32
    Tooncgull on 25 Sep 2009 #

    Ok – admission time here. Hopefully none of my cool music loving friends will ever know who I am, but I must confess that this is one of my all time favourite songs for a variety of reasons.

    Firstly, its one of my earliest memories – certainly my first ever Top of The Pops memory, watching TOTP to see the gimmick of Nancy Sinatra being followed around the set by a clump of empty boots (on puppet strings) once she uttered the immortal lines – “are ya ready boots? Start walkin…”.
    Secondly, its a really funky, sneering song with a descending bass that walks all over you in the opening bars, and – well – its kinda kinky with it too. I love it – for me its a 10. It has feminist “attitude” to burn.. (“I just got me a brand new box o’ matches”… ho ho ) – its one of my “guilty secret” favourite songs.

  8. 33
    thefatgit on 10 Dec 2009 #

    I know exactly 2 Lee and Nancy songs…this one and “Some Velvet Morning”.

    “These Boots…” is a big chunk of fun. It’s like an S&M party hosted by Walt Disney. You just know you should be grooving to it, simply because it’s such a groovy song. Something you can get down and twist to on the dancefloor and do that funny eye thing Travolta and Thurman did in Pulp Fiction. Quite the crowd pleaser and guaranteed to put a smile on my face as well as many others. In the context of the year it was released, was it one of the best #1’s? Well, I would have given it an upper 9.

    “Some Velvet Morning” is a properly schizophrenic track. Drifting from Lee Hazlewood’s sleazy listening drawl, to Nancy’s airy-fairy ring-around the roses psychedelic waltz. It’s probably one of the weirdest things I have heard from the 60’s. And I love its bi-polar charm.

  9. 34
    Jungman Jansson on 11 Dec 2009 #

    You’ve got some catching up to do then!

    I wouldn’t say I’m a Nancy/Lee connoisseur exactly, I just have one of them “The Very Best of…” Nancy Sinatra compilations. It mainly features songs written/produced (and occasionally performed together with) Hazlewood. Almost all of them are good, with “Some Velvet Morning” being my personal favourite. I think I should dig deeper into Nancy’s discography myself, actually.

  10. 35
    Lena on 12 Aug 2011 #

    And in second place – http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/here-they-come-rolling-stones-19th.html Thanks for reading folks!

  11. 36
    Lena on 15 Aug 2011 #

    And yet another in second place – http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/08/hip-aristocrats-mindbenders-groovy-kind.html Thanks for reading as always!

  12. 37
    lonepilgrim on 21 Jun 2012 #

    it’s tempting to think of TBWMFW as a response to the celebration of male double standards that hit number 1 in the USA at the same time, as celebrated here:
    http://nohardchords.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/154-lou-christie-lightnin-strikes/

  13. 38
    Elsa on 24 Jun 2012 #

    “These Boots” was originally written as a song for a male singer, though it’s interesting that the two songs were number ones just one week apart.

  14. 39
    lonepilgrim on 10 Jul 2012 #

    Those boots also walked up to Number 1 in the USA, as noted here:

    http://nohardchords.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/155-nancy-sinatra-these-boots-are-made-for-walkin/

  15. 40
    speedwell54 on 15 Jul 2012 #

    It’s not quite “You’re a Pink Toothbrush”, “The Laughing Policeman”, or “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back”, but for me, it really nearly is. It’s a bit novelty. I can appreciate the the feminist message delivered in a non threatening way, and musically it is a cut above most in the genre. However, in my opinion, it gives everything on the first hearing and nothing to the second. I don’t ever need to hear this song again. I don’t mind hearing it though. 6

    I came here via ‘no hard chords’ and was looking for the ’10′ from Tom. I do love the general courtesy of the disagreement here. The FT top 100 singles seem to be littered with abuse (not opinion) I think the chart is great, loads off stuff you don’t see elsewhere, and no one has picked over it to remove choices that might damage someone’s credibility because they are too popular. (I think that might say more about me than you, but I hope you get my point) The next Top 100 albums from Q, will probably feature 95 critically acclaimed ones from the last list, plus 5 new ones from the last 2-5 years. Which is fine, but no surprises, no debate. Anyway I shall wait to be hoisted.

  16. 41
    wichitalineman on 17 Jul 2012 #

    The arrangement is tremendously inventive, from its cartoon cat of a bassline on the intro to the boot-stomping brass on the outro. Lyrically super-sharp too. I don’t hear it is a ‘come on’ myself – it sounds pretty threatening, even before you reach the “are you ready, boots?” pay-off.

    Very 1966, very Diana Rigg/Julie Newmar, which puts it more than a notch or two above My Boomerang Won’t Come Back for me.

    One question – how ‘country’ does everyone think it is? It’s certainly always struck me that way. More urban than Harper Valley PTA, but cut from the same cloth.

  17. 42
    lonepilgrim on 17 Jul 2012 #

    Towards the end of Nancy’s UK Number 1 reign, a different set of boots went marching in at Number 1 in the USA, as noted here.

  18. 43
    swanstep on 17 Jul 2012 #

    @41, wichita. It’s never registered as especially country to me. Rather, perhaps because I’ve always thought of the song in connection with its video (and related imagery), TBWMFW’s strongest typing for me is “self-aware tv and movie confections of the ’60s” – Bye Bye Birdie w/ Ann Margret, Jane Fonda as Cat Ballou, Suzanne Charny as The Aloof in Sweet Charity as well as the Rigg/Newmar stuff you mention. ‘Inverted commas’ culture I suppose.

  19. 44
    Jimmy the Swede on 19 Jul 2012 #

    # 41 – Harper Valley PTA is fabulous, especially with the twist at the end revealing that the narrator is the protagonist’s daughter. Back of the net, love!

    Also re 1966, Rigg and Newmar and all that, I still maintain that an equal male fantasy must be Janet Leigh’s character from an “UNCLE” episode of that year, Miss Diketon, a panting, shuddering secretary who doubles as an assassin, housing as she does a throwing dagger on a holster high up on her bare thigh. Her deadly work clearly arouses her sexually and there is another scene where she is torturing Kuryakin with an electrified prod. She has promised to “love him to death”. Not even Catwoman went that far. The censorers must have been slumbering to let this go back in the day. Simply glorious.

  20. 45
    Auntie Beryl on 27 Apr 2013 #

    I amazed that this was a 10.

    Working backwards as I am, I have commented on almost nothing (thank the lord I hear you cry) but this isn’t a ten. It’s a seven at best. It’s a novelty single, an “I’m Too Sexy”, a “Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)”, a “Sound Of The Underground”.

    It isn’t a ten.

  21. 46
    Mark G on 27 Apr 2013 #

    It’s a ten

  22. 47
    mapman132 on 14 Feb 2014 #

    Popular’s historic first 10!

    The video is noteworthy for being one of the first music videos in the sense that we would recognize today (as opposed to just a straight performance clip). One time back in the 90’s I was watching some alternative music video show on MTV-2 when apparently someone decided to put this on the air as a lark. The thing that struck me at the time is that it really didn’t seem out of place. “Retro” sound and imagery obviously, but who would’ve guessed that a US/UK #1 from 30 years prior would seem so hip/alternative? Anyway, I don’t think I’d quite go 10 here, but at least an 8 or 9.

  23. 48
    hectorthebat on 21 Apr 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010)
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Pitchfork (USA) – Top 200 Songs of the 60s (2006) 114
    Women Who Rock (USA) – Top 25 Girl-Power Anthems (2003) 9
    New Musical Express (UK) – NME Rock Years, Single of the Year 1963-99 (2000)
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Les Inrockuptibles (France) – 1000 Indispensable Songs (2006)
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – The Top 150 Songs from the 20th Century (1998) 150
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

  24. 49
    lonepilgrim on 4 Sep 2015 #

    I’m sure that I can remember hearing this as a child – possibly on Junior Showtime – at which point I associated it with the playground taunt of ‘bossy boots’ that was applied to girls who dared stand up for themselves. I liked it then and I liked it still for its big beat, booming bass and superior attitude. While it does embrace ‘inverted commas’ pop I also think it contains a grain of truthfulness that means its meaning is always unsettled. Saying something serious wrapped up in a joke.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page