Sunday, April 22, 2012

April 22: Nancy Sinatra, "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"

Artist: Nancy Sinatra
Song: "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"
Album: Boots
Year: 1966

While many may see it as an advantage of sorts, the case can easily be made that being the child of a famous musician can actually make it even more difficult for a person to become a well-known performer.  Though these children clearly have a different easy of access than “normal” people, the fact remains that there can be a massive shadow over their efforts, constantly being referred to as “the son of…” or “the daughter of…”  This reality has been seen all across music history, as it is an extremely rare occasion that the offspring of any famous musician has been able to find legitimate success on their own, and those few that have can be counted on a single hand.  More to the point, one can see that the larger in fame that the parent was, the more difficult it is for the child to succeed, so one can understand that being the child of Frank Sinatra might make any sort of solitary musical success almost completely impossible.  Yet even though she struggled for many years to breakthrough in the United States, when Nancy Sinatra did finally find chart success, it was due to her providing the vocals and spirit for what remains one of the most iconic singles ever recorded.  Whether it is due to the almost dead-pan delivery style, or the lyrics that are more aggressive and in-your-face than had been widely heard to that point, there is not another song in history quite like Nancy Sinatra’s unforgettable 1966 single, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

Truth be told, when it comes to memorable opening musical phrases, few come close to the deep, almost unsettling bass descent that opens These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”  Played by Chuck Berghofer, it instantly sets the tone for the song, and the slight sway that it brings manages to occupy a space somewhere between pop, funk, r&b, and soul.  The overall power of the orchestration on “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” is somewhat less surprising once one understands that the backing musicians where the iconic studio team known as The Wrecking Crew, and one can hear the second bass, being played by the legendary Carol Kaye.  Yet it is the way that the guitars from Al Casey, Tommy Tedesco, and Billy Strange that gives the track much of its movement, and it is also within this aspect of the music that the overall tone and spirit of the era can be felt.  However, the element which sets this apart from almost every other song of the time period lives within the horns found across the track.  Ollie Mitchell, Roy Caton and Lew McCreary bring a punch and spin that is completely unique, and while they are somewhat understated in the overall mix, their presence is vital to the appeal and impact of the song.  It is the way that all of these sounds come together, creating an irresistibly catchy dance groove, yet never backing off of the overall intensity and attitude which makes the track so unique, an even more than four decades later, the impact has not diminished in the least.

Strangely enough, one can easily make the case that Nancy Sinatra still fails to receive all of the credit she deserves for this song, as on many levels, it changed culture in general.  The way that she sings, as well as the actual words, as ahead of their time, as the empowerment of women within the world of music had yet to really begin, and one can see this song as one of the most important factors in that eventual reality.  Yet it is the fact that all across the song, Sinatra’s voice is uniquely coy, and yet strong and confident at the same time that makes her sound so unique, and while some may see her delivery as a bit flat, as there is little fluctuation in her pitch, there is no question that this happens to be the perfect way to perform such lyrics.  Legend says that the songs’ writer and producer, Lee Hazelwood, instructed Sinatra to sing the words as if, “she were a sixteen year old girl giving the brush-off to a forty year old man.”  This attitude was perfectly deployed by Sinatra, and in many ways, the song is more than an idle warning, as the words are far more aggressive and confrontational than anything that had been previously released.  Sinatra manages to perfectly capture the tone of a woman scorned, and the lines, “…and you keep thinking that you'll never get burnt, well, I've just found me a brand new box of matches…” sum up everything in the force behind the song.

In a way unlike any other song in history, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” has taken on a life of its own in almost every area of popular culture.  Not only was it a massive hit upon first release, but as the decades have passed, the recording has managed to stay relevant, and it is just as powerful and intriguing today as it was more than four decades ago.  In fact, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” has been used in some of the most iconic movies of all time, from the dark and gritty Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket, to one of the most memorable scenes from the 1997 comedy, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery.  Along with this, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” has been covered countless times over the years, with artists ranging from Jewel to Megadeth to The Residents to a wide range of other acts all recording their own take on the song.  Yet even with all of these other interpretations, none have been able to capture the angst and attitude that one finds on the Nancy Sinatra original, and one can argue that it is due to the time period and perhaps a bit of the innocence of her persona that allows her take to remain so far beyond later covers.  In fact, Nancy Sinatra’s recording is so exceptional, that one can make the case that with this single, she was able to briefly step out from her father’s shadow, proving that she could make a hit on her own with her 1966 clasic, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.”

No comments: