Tuesday, October 25, 2011

October 25: The Bobby Fuller Four, "I Fought The Law"

Artist: The Bobby Fuller Four
Song: "I Fought The Law"
Album: I Fought The Law (single)
Year: 1965

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Though it is not as blatantly clear in some genres, the reality is that the basis for most musical styles can be found well over a decade before it becomes part of the mainstream.  It is during these early years that it is often disguised as another form of music, and yet once one gives the sound a new inspection, the seeds for later styles can be found.  While many might wish to believe that the punk rock sound was a new idea in the 1970's, the truth of the matter is that one can find the roots of this style throughout a majority of the previous three decades.  A number of artists were clearly playing in the punk style in different ways during these years, and few can be more directly tied than what can be heard within the music of The Bobby Fuller Four.  Though their name may not be instantly recognizable, a number of the songs the band recorded stand today as vital to the progression of popular music, and they remain one of the most important links between rockabilly and rock and roll.  Pulling heavily from the style and sound of Buddy Holly, it would be one of their greatest tributes to their heroes that would cement The Bobby Fuller Four as true music legends; though the same track would also prove to be their final musical gift to the world.  In terms of style, sound, and lasting impact, there is no other song that carries the same weight as what can be experienced on The Bobby Fuller Four's 1965 recording of the classic song, "I Fought The Law."

The moment that "I Fought The Law" begins, a number of the bands' influences become quite clear, and one can hear everything from "surf rock" to punk rock within the arrangement and tone of the song.  Perhaps the most iconic aspect of the music is the guitar work of Bobby Fuller himself, as there is a slight tinge and heavy attitude within his playing that sets it far apart from almost anything else being recorded at the time.  While it is not distorted by more modern standards, the reality is that there is a force and slight hostility within this performance that is more aggressive and defiant than the approach being taken by his peers.  This in itself is where one can hear one of the keys to the later punk sound, and yet at the same time, Fuller is able to keep the classic rockabilly swing present within these same notes.  His sound is complimented by the second guitar from Jim Reese, and it is this doubled, yet almost softer sound that remains the defining element of "I Fought The Law." It is also the way that bassist Randy Fuller is able to give the song a bit of a swing that made it a massive hit during its time, and there are few other recordings in history that blend a musical pop appeal with a lyrical defiance as perfectly as one can find here.  Drummer DeWayne Quirico rounds out the band, and his playing gives an almost jazzy feel to the song, and the fact that one can hear so many influences blended so perfectly is the key to making the music on "I Fought The Law" remain absolutely unforgettable more than four decades after it was first released.

Along with his brilliant performance on guitar, the vocals that Bobby Fuller brings to "I Fought The Law" stand today as some of the most iconic and influential in the entire history of music.  Though the content is certainly something which one cannot look past, it is the voice and the style of Bobby Fuller that push the words to such greatness, and it is Fuller's performance that keeps the song so far above the myriad of covers that have emerged over the years.  There is a power and purity within his singing all across the song that makes "I Fought The Law" completely captivating, as one can hear Fuller give himself completely to the song, and it is this unique authenticity that enabled the track to crack the top ten on the charts in an era when so diversions from the "standard" pop formula were almost destined to fail.  Again, the clear influence from the rockabilly sound can be heard as the core of Bobby Fuller's vocal approach, and yet he gives it more attitude and power, inadvertently creating the style that almost every punk singer would attempt to make their own.  Working in perfect harmony with Fuller's vocal style, the lyrics to "I Fought The Law" can be interpreted on a number of levels, and there is no question that they remain some of the most iconic ever written.  Though in their time, they were able to live the "double life" of defiant and defeated, as the decades have passed the words have taken on far more of the defiant tone, and one can hear how both play perfectly within the flawless vocal work found here by Bobby Fuller.

Strangely enough, "I Fought The Law" is a cover song, and the original was recorded by one of the main influences on The Bobby Fuller Four.  All across their music, one can easily hear the heavy use of the sound of Buddy Holly, as the "edge" within their rockabilly sound is a clear nod to their fellow music icons.  Truth be told, "I Fought The Law" was actually penned by Crickets guitarist, Sonny Curtis, and they are recorded the original version of this song a few years after the death of Buddy Holly.  In many ways, one can see this link as the reason that the song seems to fit so perfectly within the style of The Bobby Fuller Four, and one can easily make the case that their cover version is far superior to the original recording.  Furthermore, it is almost impossible to cite all of the covers that emerged in the following decades, but one can easily argue that this version was never matched on any level.  Later covers of "I Fought The Law" each took a clear direction away from the version recorded by The Bobby Fuller Four, and this can be see in much the same way as what Fuller and his band did in comparison to the Crickets' original.  Though it may not have the venom or volume that has come to define the song in more recent years, there is no question that it has all the attitude one can want, and one can easily make the case that the later rock style, especially punk rock, would have never formed without the phenomenal 1965 recording by The Bobby Fuller Four, "I Fought The Law."

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