One of the coolest intros ever – a twangy guitar that slides and droops like a wilting sunflower on a southern summer’s day – leads us into one of the coolest number one hits you’re ever likely to hear.
These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, by Nancy Sinatra (her 1st of two #1s)
4 weeks, from 17th February – 17th March 1966
The sixties are truly swinging. There’s been attitude and swagger, even drug references (!) at the top of the charts. And now here’s Nancy, bringing the sass. The way she pauses between the lines, the way she delivers them like she can’t be bothered, as if the man she’s singing about is barely worth the oxygen.
You keep sayin’, You’ve got something’ for me… Her man’s been taking her for a ride; but Nancy ain’t no fool. You’ve been a-messin’, Where you shouldn’t’ve been messin’… He’s in for it. These boots are made for walkin’, And that’s just what they’ll do… One of these days these boots … cut the beat, leave it all to the vocals… are gonna walk all over you…
It’s a fairly minimalist record – sparse instrumentation and a lot of room for the echoey vocals to do their job. Which means there’s lots of time for all the gorgeous little details that make this such a great song to shine through. The whispered ‘yeah!’ between verses one and two, the sarcastic ‘Ha!’ after the You keep thinkin’, That you’ll never get burned… line. The way the horns come in halfway through, the same horns that will go wild for the fade-out (a very mid-sixties touch.) Then there’s the made up words – the ‘samin’ and the ‘truthin’. Nancy’s too cool to bother with proper English.
‘These Boots…’ is a big development in terms of female-recorded #1s. In every photo-shoot from the time, Nancy Sinatra appears as a very sensual character: big, just-woken up hair, mascara-ed eyes, lots of cleavage. She’s sexy. A siren. In a way that Cilla (the girl next door) and Sandie Shaw (kooky and cute) weren’t. Helen Shapiro was still a kid, Doris Day was basically your aunt. The closest female star I can think of, from previous #1 hits, is Connie Francis, who was bringing the girl power on ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ seven years ago. But even she pales in comparison with Nancy Sinatra’s mini-skirts and thigh-high boots.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t her first attempt at a singing career. I had imagined that she simply appeared, fully-formed, as the superstar daughter of Frank Sinatra. But she had been releasing singles since 1961, to little interest on either side of the Atlantic. By 1965, she was about to get dropped by her label. It wasn’t until she paired up with Lee Hazelwood (the man with hands down the coolest voice ever committed to vinyl) that success came her way. He wrote ‘These Boots…’, and several other songs before she became his full-on muse and they recorded three albums together.
Though, I wonder … While being daughter of one of the most famous male singers of all time clearly didn’t bring her instant success, did it perhaps help mould her image? She had to distance herself from her fuddy-duddy dad, whose hit single career had stalled of late, hence the sexy looks; while her family name perhaps also gave her a safety net that meant she didn’t need to fit the ‘girl next door’ image adopted by most other female stars of the time. Was she in a constant state of teenage rebellion?
For a star who has become so synonymous with The Swingin’ Sixties TM, Nancy Sinatra wasn’t all that big a deal on the UK singles charts. But the impact left by this record alone is more noteworthy than the careers of many, more ‘successful’ stars. And she does still have one further chart-topper coming up – one of the sweetest (or should that read creepiest) #1 singles ever.