These Perfect Boots

It must be hard to be the child of a star. The expectations of following in your famous parents’ footsteps must be suffocating, and if you decide to pursue the career they pursued, then a decision needs to be be made. Do you try to develop a career completely on your own (risking potential failure and public humiliation), or do you let your parents’ fame guide you to that career you so desperately want? A career that you can call your own. A career that maybe even eclipses the career of your famous parent.

When Nancy Sinatra was born in 1940, her father Frank Sinatra was a big band singer, working tirelessly to succeed on his own terms. By the time Nancy was a young teenager, dad was a chart topping singer and movie actor, and one of the most famous people in the world. In her 20’s Nancy tried to develop a career of her own. She appeared on her father’s variety television show and recorded a few albums, never achieving much success she could call her own. Her music was pretty straightforward. Maybe she was trying to appeal to her father’s audience. Maybe she was trying to appeal to her father.

Country performer and writer Lee Hazelwood had been writing songs for 10 years when Frank approached him in 1965, and suggested he write songs for Nancy. I guess if Frank Sinatra asks you to do something, you do it.

Hazelwood had been been working on “These Boots are Made for Walkin'” for himself, but realized that it would be a great song for Nancy to sing, but only if she could sing it the right way. Nancy had been singing standards and covers for so long that her sound had become stale. Formal. She was trying too hard to sound like her father.

“You can’t sing like ‘Nancy Nice Lady’ anymore.” Hazelwood admonished her after a couple of takes in the studio. “You have to sing for the truckers.” In other words, it was time for Nancy to find her own voice, and to stop chasing something she would never find. She found her voice.

We first hear a continually descending bass line, sounding almost like someone drowning in despair and shame. An acoustic guitar slides in behind playing a light rhythm, soon joined by a jangly tambourine keeping the beat. Nancy’s voice comes in. Wise. Sultry.

You keep sayin’ you’ve got somethin’ for me
Somethin’ you call love but confess
You’ve been a’messin’ where you shouldn’t’ve been a’messin’
And now someone else is getting all your best

Good thing Hazelwood didn’t try to sing this song himself, because Nancy Sinatra perfectly captures a spirit of dominance and sex, all while having a great time teasing out Hazelwood’s playful lyrics. She sings the great line about “a messin’ where he shouldn’t have been a messin” without raising her voice. She knows she is in charge, and she knows she can walk out at any time. She’s toying with us all.

These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

The bass descends again, loudly. Almost sounding like a muted drum, like someone hammering home a message while they walk away from a bad situation. A point is being made. Nancy knows she is being cheated on, and is threatening to leave. But she ain’t done yet. She is talking to him in terms only he’ll understand. The horns slowly come in, adding a sense of confidence and strength.

You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
And you keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’
Now what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet

This is songwriting at its best, literally making up words that make total sense to fit the story. This song is a wink and a nod, it’s an inside joke. These are not words being bent and shaped to fit into a particular melody, this is taking ownership of the language, and it making it work to the benefit of the story being told. A songwriting master class.

You keep playin’ where you shouldn’t be playin’
And you keep thinkin’ that you’ll never get burnt (ha)
I just found me a brand new box of matches, yeah
And what he knows you ain’t had time to learn
These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

The song is sung with every bit of confidence one might have, having literally grown up at the feet at one of the finest singers in the history of recorded music. He may have been doing the cheating. He may have thought he was in charge. Not a chance. At the very end, the horns sound like a bright, energetic woman is walking away. I imagine she turns around with a sly grin to get the very last word in.

“Are you ready, boots? Start walkin'”

Had “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” been Nancy Sinatra’s only hit, she would have had an excellent career. She would indeed go on to have more number one songs, even a duet with her father hit the charts, but it was here that she found her voice. It was here that that she made a statement that would resonate. It was here that she really started walking.

“These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”
Written by Lee Hazelwood
Performed by Nancy Sinatra
Released December 16, 1965

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