Boots

 Posted by on March 7, 2012 at 6:29 am  Characters, Mad Men, Retro
Mar 072012
 

You’re not a sweet young thing. You’re not the virgin next door. You’ve been married and divorced. You’re a grown woman. I know there’s garbage in there somewhere.

- Lee Hazlewood, writer/producer of “These Boots Were Made For Walkin’” to Nancy Sinatra, circa 1965

Sometimes you can see a revolution when it starts; sometimes it becomes apparent only in retrospect. In February 1966, Nancy Sinatra’s virtually-unavoidable “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” (lyrics here) became the first number one hit by a solo female vocalist since Connie Francis’s “Stupid Cupid” in 1958. And boy, were we a long way from Connie Francisville here. This is a record that not only absolutely oozed sex like nothing else in the previous history of the pop charts this side of “Satisfaction” (check out that video; Betty Draper Francis would faint!), but also featured that rarest of rarities at the time: a woman singer telling a man to piss off, that he isn’t good enough for her. You had the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back” in 1960, but that was more “piss off, I’m spoken for” than “piss off, you aren’t fit to iron my underpants.” In R&B, going back a few years, you had Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” (1953) and Betty Everett’s “You’re No Good” (1963), but the former only hit the pop charts when what’s-his-nose sang it, and the latter needed 12 years and a Linda Ronstadt cover to become a pop smash. (Big Maybelle’s “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” from 1955, is close, but doesn’t address the man directly. And Lesley Gore’s 1964 smash “You Don’t Own Me” does protest the double standard, but stops short of “you’re toast now, baby.”). When it came to the big, bad Billboard monoculture, stuff 11-year-old suburban girls like Sally Draper could see on TV and hear on their AM transistor radios, Nancy (can’t really call her Sinatra, now can I?) was the first real sign that a woman could sell buckets of records by telling a guy she’s done with his bullshit for good — whether Nancy intended it or not.

And chances are, she didn’t. Nancy was no rabble-rouser; she was showbiz royalty, by all accounts at the time she did what she was told, even if it meant recording a duet with daddy Frank on “Somethin’ Stupid,” a candy-fluff romantic ballad lent a slightly creepy edge by the fact that it was a father and daughter singing. Underneath the long frosted hair, fetching boots, and micro-miniskirt, Nancy was, as she put it, “soft as they come.” She gave every impression that Hazlewood was her Svengali, that the new look, the sassy material, and the come-hither alto (she doesn’t sing the lyrics to “Boots” so much as meow and purr them) were all his idea. However, in a 1999 interview, Hazlewood told a different story, that in fact he didn’t want Nancy to record “Boots” because he thought the words were too gamy for her, but she was “adamant” about it. Nancy herself has corroborated this, telling Rolling Stone magazine in 2007, “Lee wrote ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin” for himself. But I told him, ‘It’s better for a girl to sing it, because when you sing it, it sounds mean. When I sing it, it will be sexy and cute.”

Sexy and cute. That it was. But you know what else it was? A harbinger. How else to explain that right around the time Loretta Lynn covered “Boots” on a 1966 album, she also changed her image from plaintive to downright forthright, starting to write songs like “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)”? And not only was that Lynn’s first number one on the Billboard country charts (anchoring the first gold album for a female country singer ever), but she meeeant it, maaaan, she wasn’t trying to be sexy or cute. This kicked the door open for other women country singers to cut don’t-mess-with-me numbers, like Dolly Parton’s “Dumb Blonde” (as in, “I’m not one”), and Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.” (The latter was co-written by the notoriously right-wing but commercially tuned-in Billy Sherrill, who would later bring the world “Stand by Your Man,” so even he knew don’t-mess-with-me-boy was a trend.) And then, right after that, Aretha Franklin unleashed the real first feminist shots heard ’round the world: “Respect,” “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” and “Think.” But would Loretta and Aretha (and Dolly and Tammy) have had to fight their record companies that much harder to not just release but heavily promote those songs, if Nancy hadn’t first shown the music industry bean counters that a woman giving backtalk to a man wasn’t instant death to record sales? I wouldn’t rule it out.

Sometimes the unthinkable has to be said tongue-in-cheek first, before people start thinking it for real. And sometimes the truth has to walk in on spike-heeled boots and sequined hot pants. Nancy showed us, even it if it was unwittingly. And I’ll bet Megan Calvet was (is?) listening.

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  15 Responses to “Boots”

  1. [...] Nancy and…"Mad Men" A Mad Men fan site is gearing up for the season 5 premiere on March 25. The blog owners and a few key 'fans' they've authorized to write for them focus on the show, the actors, their characters – and the 'mood' as things are moving along. This was just posted – interesting how they're tying Miss Nancy's leadership in the music of the mid-60s to how things *may* change in the business and personal lives of the Mad Men characters: http://www.lippsisters.com/2012/03/07/boots/#more-24068 [...]

  2. You Don’t Own Me didn’t stop short of Boots, it surpassed it. “I just found me a brand new pack of matches, and what he knows, you ain’t had time to learn,” strikes me as a somewhat creepy reference to hooking up with an older gentleman, not liberation.

    “I’m young, and I want to be young; I’m free, and I want to be free,” sounds more like it.

  3. Thanks for sharing the song. In my head, I would have guessed this song came out a little later than it did. I also would have guessed “You don’t own me” was a little later, too. Things are percolating, aren’t they?

    Totally, different style of music, but I had just posted a link to “Without You” from “My Fair Lady” in the discussion about the poster.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3mC4485Ue0

    The musical was older than the movie, but the movie won Academy Awards in 1964. Anyway, it certainly wasn’t a sexy, popular chart-topper that Sally would notice, but the lyrics carry a very similar message to “Boots,” without all the glamor and sex appeal.

    It seems the ideas were bubbling up, though contextualizing the song into a story where the man was so clearly full of himself mutes the daringness.

    “They can still rule with land without you.
    Windsor Castle will stand without you.
    And without much ado we can all muddle through without you…

    …Without your pulling it, the tide comes in
    Without your twirling it, the earth can spin
    Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by,
    If they can do without you, ducky, so can I
    I shall not feel alone without you
    I can stand on my own without you
    So go back in your shell
    I can do bloody well
    Without… (and then Higgins rudely interrupts).

    My favorite part is when Henry goes whining to his mother about Eliza leaving, and his mom’s reaction is “Bravo, Eliza!”

    • That song’s so cute. and the ‘grown accustomed to your face’ one after — which is like a proper how humans really act love song.

      I also love how when Higgins interrupts with more of his bravado she just shakes his hand and walks off like ‘bitch, you don’t hear a word of anything do you.’

      I like to imagine the end of that film was ‘oh, sorry, I’ve just come back to pick up the rest of my things, i’m not staying. Lol, bye now!’

  4. woww.. those boots still look hot after 47 years later!

  5. Corresponded with Nancy Sinatra yesterday – while she overall likes the article, she’s concerned that the ‘same old internet rumors’ of her ‘doing what she was told’ kind of upset her, as they’re totally untrue. And she herself provided information about the song 15 years prior to the quote attributed to Mr Greenwood, her friend.

    • What I said was that at the time, that was the image of her that went out to the media, that she was basically following instructions. Obviously, as we found out later, the truth was much more complex than that. And if you have a citation for NS telling the story prior to the Hazlewood interview, I’ll be happy to update the post. The 2007 link was the earliest I could dig up.

      • She likes people to visit her site for information. :-) She’s happy to share.

      • Just a quick thank you for the nice story. I appreciate it even if some of the facts are a little off. It’s nice to be part of music history. :)

      • FYI… Nancy tells the story about “Boots” in her book Frank Sinatra My Father, published in 1985.

  6. Holy smokes, is that Nancy S. posting here for reals?? (I’m told we do have corroboration that it’s her.) You know, when I write stuff like this, it never occurs to me that the person I’m writing about could actually be reading it. It’s an honor. Really.

    And I will check out that book, Richard, thanks.

  7. Wow if it really is her it is awesome that she would comment on a blog written about her. Songs have been very influential in culture and it is great when dynamic songs help people realise that they don’t have to put up with nonsense.

  8. Yes, it’s really her. She’s got her own blog/website (NancySinatra.com), plus is very involved in the Sinatra Family Forum. She’s *very* in tune with so many things. :-)

  9. I’m a big fan of Lee Hazlewood and it always disappoints me that he is, to the vast majority of people who think they know his music, the guy who wrote ”These Boots Are Made For Walking.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad tune, but the man wrote some seriously great music that is by and large lost. Just try finding most of his catalog in any format without resorting to file sharing. I’ll grant you, there’s some real double-flushers in his musical CV but there is a lot of quality tunes, too.

  10. Gotta say compared with the grinding that’s so common today, Nancy’s dancing is downright demure. That said, for its time it was electrifying, and the song another heads-up that the times really were a-changing. No wonder so many establishment types went bonkers over rock n roll

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