May 05

NANCY SINATRA – “These Boots Were Made For Walking”

Popular52 comments • 12,232 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.



1 2 All
  1. 1
    p^nk s on 19 May 2005 #

    in my dreams they all get 10

  2. 2
    Rosie on 19 May 2005 #

    The tension’s been killing me – I thought you never would!

  3. 3
    Tom on 19 May 2005 #

    (I’ve pretty much known for ages that the first 10 would be around 1966 cos there are so many amazing songs, but I wanted to let instinct tell me which record it would actually be.)

  4. 4
    bza on 19 May 2005 #

    I definitely agree that this is a ten, but do you really think it is better than “Satisfaction”?

    Anyway, good site, great idea, I’ll be a regular here, so hello.

  5. 5
    Vicus Scurra on 19 May 2005 #

    And you were doing so well.
    Nancy Pigging Sinatra.
    I just hope this is a result of hallucinogens and not your real assessment.

  6. 6
    Alan Connor on 20 May 2005 #

    Okay, fine. Not “Telstar” — but then it’s not my football, posts or garden. :)

    Resurrection Watch: Covers include good ol’ Janis Ian and Barry Adamson & Anita Lane; bad ol’ Billy Ray Cyrus and Boy George and various randoms like The Fixx and Megadeth.

    Oh, and let us never forget Heaven 17’s choice of vocalist for the Music Of Quality And Distinction BEF reworking?.

    Films must be a gazillion, but include Full Metal Jacket, The Mexican, about a millisecond in Fargo, and of course (sigh) Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery — oh, and if you haven’t heard The Crazy Frog’s version… can I swap lives with you? Please?

    ? [Paula Yates]

  7. 7
    Marcello on 20 May 2005 #

    Very far from a 10 in my book, alas; I hold this record responsible for inventing inverted commas pop, which on balance has done far more harm than good; in fact pretty much everything I detest about pop has its roots here. All I can hear in “These Boots Are Made For Walking” is a sneer and a spreadsheet.

    Like Kane’s Xanadu, even if it’s the most obvious facade in the universe, I still want to believe in it (now there’s a thing – Citizen Kane, the progenitor of inverted commas cinema, and yet the meme works in cinema but not in pop).

  8. 8
    Tom on 20 May 2005 #

    It was probably because I was thinking about ‘inverted commas pop’ and its implications that I responded so well to it, Marcello!

    I do believe in the facade in this case: or rather, the song makes me want to assume the same facade, which isn’t quite the same thing as ‘believing’ it but is just as powerful. This is very obviously somebody sitting down and thinking, right, let’s make an amazing pop record – it had to be or Nancy’s ‘career’ would have gone down the dumper. I don’t think the obviousness of that lessens the, uh, use-value of the record.

    Hello bza! Better than Satisfaction? Not always, no, but on the days I reviewed the two records, yes.

  9. 9
    Marcello on 20 May 2005 #

    I’m not quite sure that the career of Frankie’s daughter with the laughing face would have been allowed to go down the dumper…this I think indicates the critical divergence between us; “Telstar,” for instance, was Joe Meek watching the news one night and thinking wouldn’t it be nice to write a song about that. Cynicism of any stripe I can’t identify with in pop, except maybe the Leonard Cohen variety.

    That having been said, the less Hazlewood and Sinatra strove to make A Hit Record, the better records they made, I think (Sand, Velvet, et al).

    “You Only Live Twice” is, mind you, immortal – either in the original lush John Barry-produced form or the fuzzed-up, harsher take on the single version (which Hazlewood produced).

  10. 10
    Anonymous on 20 May 2005 #

    Well, Tom…..

    I suppose Morrissey might agree with you–which doesn’t mean that all that many of us will.

    This might well be your biggest controversy since–I dread to write the title–“King of the Road.” (Groan)

    In my peculiar way I do appreciate that your rating system depends on how you feel on the day you write your critique. I daresay it’s probably true about most forms of criticism, even if we pretend otherwise. (For example, have I, a specialist in British Modernism, always and forever thought that *Ulysses* is the greatest novel of the 20th century? No! But polls of reputedly great literary minds almost always come to that conclusion.

    I know I was b^tchy with you about Sandie Shaw’s “Long Live Love.” I know I said, with considerable irritation, that girls just aren’t taken seriously. Today I have reversed myself–this girl is being taken WAY too seriously. But if I were to rely on my feelings today, I’d give Sandie an 8 and Ms. Snotra a 2. Today, yesterday, tomorrow, forty years ago, forty years from now…..

    Or maybe it’s because she’s Frank Sinatra’s daughter and I could never endure her father’s vocal mannerisms.

    By the way, I once read that during the Branch Davidian siege, the US government forces played this recording full blast and constantly to drive cult members into surrendering. I would surrender just to make it stop. But then, if they had to hear this 24/7, I could even understand why some of them got violent and committed suicide.

    It might be apocryphal, but I like to believe it’s true.

    Doctor Mod

  11. 11
    mark sinker on 20 May 2005 #

    This post has been removed by the author.

  12. 12
    p^nk s on 20 May 2005 #

    oops sorry yes that wz me! it left my FULL NAKED NAME but not my comment – hence i actually deleted nothin!!

    the comment i meant to leave wz:
    “my boots” is also better than “ulysses”!1

    but it seems less komikal now

  13. 13
    Marcello on 20 May 2005 #

    Ulysses is not as good as that episode of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum where Sergeant Major Shutup has a go at La-Di-Da Gunner Graham for wasting time reading books “like that Useless by James Joyce.”

  14. 14
    Lena on 20 May 2005 #

    I don’t think this merits a 10 – unless it’s a karaoke 10 or a camp classic 10 (here in Toronto there was an all-lesbian group called The Nancy Sinatras who did, yup, mostly Nancy covers). To me it’s a song Bridget Jones would do in a karaoke bar with her best friends cheering along, which is fine, for what it is.

    “Good Vibrations” isn’t in the same league – this is a lot closer to The Monkees, I think, though oddly enough, I find it easier to take a manufactured group than a manufactured song.

  15. 15
    Tom on 20 May 2005 #

    When the final list of 10s stands revealed, in 2010 or whenever, I suspect most will have a touch of the karaoke bar about them.

    Marcello – agreed on “You Only Live Twice”, amazing record, I’m not sure I’ve been aware of two different versions and must track them down.

    I’ve more to say about pop and cynicism but will try and save it for an entry sometime.

    I think if her singles had kept on flopping Ms S’ career wd have been diverted discreetly away from pop.

  16. 16
    Robin on 22 May 2005 #

    The problem I have with giving this 10 is: what do you have left for “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”?

  17. 17
    Anonymous on 24 May 2005 #

    Maybe just a place to stick it !


  18. 18
    Anonymous on 25 May 2005 #

    You could call it great camp, but for me “Boots” is so-so pop. Call it pop run through the machine, the same one that Britney uses (just a much older model).

    Nice to see “Secret Love” up there. It’s one hell of an under-appreciated ballad.

  19. 19
    Anthony on 25 May 2005 #

    i dont think its camp, i think its a really great, and complicated anthem of emncipation,

  20. 20
    Mark Gamon on 27 May 2005 #

    Crikey. I go away for a week or so, and along comes a 10. Hurrah for Tom!!!

    PS Please take no notice of Vicus Scurra. The poor lad means well but he clearly has the bass turned down on his stereo…

  21. 21
    Anonymous on 30 May 2005 #

    Mmmm – I don’t see the problem with the image of boots walkin’ all over you at all. Even this though shouldn’t have elevated this record to a ten – it doesn’t sound well crafted but a bit tossed off if you’ll excuse the expression. You Only Live Twice is though, glorious.

  22. 22
    Anonymous on 7 Jun 2005 #

    You are spot on about the knowing, inverted commas element to this.

    One cover version that hasn’t been mentioned is Hazlewood’s own, also recorded in ’66, which adds spoken commentary about the making of the record and the fact that it sold a million. (he doesn’t quite say “Suckers!” but comes close).

    And yes, bothe the Nancy and Lee versions would get a 10 from me.

    Jeff W

  23. 23
    Lena on 10 Jun 2005 #

    I agree with you Anthony that it’s a song of emancipation (I mentioned it to my mom and she compared it to “I Am Woman”), but it’s still campy and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an early film/video of it – it’s so dramatic in a near-Vegas way.

    (Of course a song can be both campy and be a song of emancipation.)

  24. 24
    bza on 15 Jun 2005 #

    I just realized no one mentioned my favorite cover of this song: Crispin Glover on his lone record. Creepy…

  25. 25
    Alan Connor on 16 Jun 2005 #

    Ooh, Resurrection Watch update:

    Jessica Simpson & Willie Nelson

  26. 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.

  27. 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:


  28. 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!

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

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 (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page