Two years ago I posted a mini-song swarm of 11 versions of These Boots Are Made For Walking. I have long planned to revise that post with a proper song swarm. A request by a reader to re-post the link prompted me to spent my Sunday afternoon putting that plan into action, with now 31 versions. I keep the original post’s comments for some of the tracks intact, and added a couple more.
The melody of These Boots Are Made For Walking does not really lend itself to great radical reinterpretation in the way previous song-swarmed songs — such as Light My Fire, Georgia On My Mind, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Over The Rainbow and Blue Moon — do. Instead of allowing itself to be remoulded, These Boots invites idiosyncratic deliveries, partly because the song is something of a novelty number (and, of course, a great pop song with fantastic lyrics). Many versions retain the quite bizarre saxophone outro, the brainwave of the original arranger, Billy Strange, who died in February 2010 at the age of 84.
So many of the covers here are rather (or very) unusual. Some are fantastic (Ella!). Not all of them are good, and a few might make your ears bleed (step foward Crispin Glover, David Hasselhoff and especially Darrell & Teddy). But all are, I think, worth hearing at least once.
Lee Hazlewood – These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (1966)
The great song by the guy who wrote it. Hazlewood introduces it as “a little song bout boots and a darlin’ named Nancy”, and as he sings it he ad libs a few lines about the production of Nancy Sinatra’s version (“and here is the part of the record where everybody said ‘oh it can’t be number one’”).
Crispin Hellion Glover – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1989)
In 1989 George McFly released one of the most demented albums I have ever heard. Bizarre spoken bits intersperse some of the worst singing (more like whining) ever committed to record. And all that performed with apparent seriousness. Ironists have ordained the unsnappily-titled The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let It Be. a cult album, but the real question is how anybody thought it would be a good idea to release it in the first place. Glover’s vocals of These Boots are delivered through the medium of crying. The arrangement is quite good though, and the trumpet riff at the end is brilliant. An appalling version which nonetheless every music collection should include.
British Electric Foundation – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1982)
Paula Yates, the former Mrs Bob Geldof and mother of whichever strange-named daughters of theirs are celebrities now, was a British TV presenter. But in 1982 she appeared on the British Electric Foundation’s modestly titled album Music of Quality and Distinction Volume One, which also featured a pre-comeback-in-fishnets Tina Turner. BEF was a project of future Heaven 17 members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, and on evidence of their version of These Boots, the BEF’s claim of quality and distinction might have been exaggerated. The arrangement is sparse, dominated by a funk guitar, occasional backing interjections which Duran Duran possibly borrowed for Wild Boys, and some fun with the synth. And then there are the vocals by Yates, who died in 2000 at 41. Let’s just say that there were good reasons why she did not pursue a career in singing.
Teddy and Darrel – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1966)
Teddy and Darrell are believed to be Theodore Charach, a film scriptwriter and producer, and Mike Curb. The latter is the ultra-conservative producer and record company executive on the MGM label who once fired a roster of artists whom he knew, or suspected, to be drug users, including Frank Zappa (who himself used to dismiss people for using, or even singing about, drugs) and the Velvet Underground. Whoever Teddy and Darrell were, they made an album of intentionally horrible spoof of pop hits. Regardless of your level of irony, their version of These Boots is one of the worst records ever, with one, presumably Teddy, half-singing in a camp voice and the other fool groaning in way that suggests he had listened to too many Peter Sellers records, and not learnt a trace of comedy from them.
Symarip – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1969)
Their name might sound like a piece of computer Shareware that is advertised as free but once installed reveals itself to contain all sorts of limitations that render it useless for your purpose unless you buy the full version. But Symarip was in fact a ska-reggae group from Jamaica recorded in Britain and released an LP titled Skinhead Moonstomp before decamping under a different name to West Germany. Symarip, an anagram of their alternative moniker, The Pyramids, were one of the earliest bands to serve the skinhead market, long before shaved heads became associated with neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, the adapted lyrics hint at a culture in which recreational violence was not entirely condemned: “These boots are made for stamping” indeed.
Eileen - Ces Bottes sont faites pour marcher (1966)
Eileen – Die stiefel sind zum wandern (1966)
The French and German versions of These Boots, delivered by French singer Eileen. The lyrics and arrangement are faithful to the original. “Stiefel, seit bereit? Wandert!”
Loretta Lynn – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1966)
Think about it: the lyrics of These Boots are totally country, if sung by sassy women who won’t submissively stand by their shitty men. And Loretta, as you’ll now from the movie, takes no crap from anyone, least of all men who are lying when they ought to be truthing. Her version of These Boots is really good, in a honky tonk kinda way.
Marianne Ascher – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1980)
For the new wave fix of These Boots, Canadian songstress Marianne Asher is your woman. To the backing of a dreamy synth of the kind you’d hear on records by Ultravox and a hardworking drum machine, Ascher channels such vocal innovators as Toyah and Hazel O’Connor, with the unnecessary squeals and lack of discernible charm. The thing is topped off by a tinny saxophone solo.
Amanda Lear – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1977)
French-born Amanda Lear is probably best known for being an alleged transsexual (she once published nude photos of herself to prove that she was all woman), but her life story transcends speculation about her sex. A former girlfriend of Salvadore Dali, Bryan Ferry (it is her on the cover of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure LP) and David Bowie, the deep-voiced vamp became an Euro-disco singer with hits such as Queen Of Chinatown, Blood And Honey and Follow Me. It was high camp for the masses – much as These Boots is a song of high camp. One might debate the merits of Lear’s voice and the arrangement, but this is a very entertaining version.
Adriano Celentano – Bisogna far qualcosa (1984)
He might not be a man of attractive political ideology, but Adriano Celentano was Italy’s original rock ’n’ roller. Taking the Elvis route, he proceeded to become a crooner of banalities, dotting that artistic decline with the occasional gem. In the late 1960s he recorded the quintessential San Remo-type hit, Azzuro. In 1972 he released the strangest record of his career, the quasi rap number Prisencolinensinainciusol (a title which sounds like a heavy duty drug to control a rare form pancreatic leakage, but was really an appeal for universal love which anticipated Malcolm McLaren 1980s hits and indeed hip hop). And in 1984 he finally got around to covering, in Italian, These Boots. Italian is one of the most beautiful and romantic languages in the world. You can read Mein Kampf in Italian and it would sound like a florid love letter. But Adriano Celentano proves one thing: Italiant was not intended to give words to These Boots Are Made For Walking.
Mrs Miller – These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ (1966)
Of all the songs on her optimistically titled Greatest Hits album, it’s on These Boots that dear Mrs Miller manages to hold the tune, for the most part. Having mastered to more or less sing in tune, Mrs Miller decides to inject some personality into this not very difficult-to-sing number. And that personality is, as you’d want from Mrs Miller, of sultry character. Oh yes, Mrs Miller – though at this point you might want to call her Elva, unless you wish to sound like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate – gets her sexy on with some throaty purring. When she encourages those boots to start walking – and to keep walking – I don’t think she is talking about podriatic motion any longer… A year later, another granny, 71-year-old Dora Hall, who in her younger days used to sing for WW1 troops, recorded the song, to rather less camp effect.
Boys Next Door – These Boots Are Made For Walking (1978)
Boys Next Door were the Australian punk band which became The Birthday Party, whose most famous member was the young Nick Cave. His bandmates went on to make a name for themselves, such as fellow Bad Seed Mick Harvey, the late guitarist Rowland S. Howard and drummer Phill Calvert. The neighbourhood boys were mostly doing covers, These Boots being one of them. It’s not very good, though it probably was great fun live. The typical Cave delivery is already in evidence.
Megadeth – These Boots (1978)
The lovely folks of Megadeth have recorded the Hazlewood song, with is express non-approval, twice: once in 1985 on their charmingly titled Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! LP, as These Boots, and again seven years later under the song’s full title. Here the boots don’t just walk all over you, but they stomp. They’re not kidding…
All featured versions:
Nancy Sinatra (1966), Mrs Miller (1966), The Artwoods (1966), The Ventures (1966), The Supremes (1966), Loretta Lynn (1966), Dora Hall (1966), Teddy and Darrel (1966), Eileen (as Ces Bottes sont faites pour marcher, 1966), Eileen (as Die Stiefel sind zum wander, 1966), Lee Hazlewood (1966), The New Christy Minstrels (1967), Dalida (as Stivaletti rossi, 1967), Ella Fitzgerald (1967), Symarip (1969), Amanda Lear (1977), Boys Next Door (1978), Marianne Ascher (1980), British Electric Foundation feat. Paula Yates (1982), Adriano Celentano (as Bisogna far qualcosa, 1984), Megadeth (as These Boots, 1985), Crispin Hellion Glover (1989), Barry Adamson & Anita Lane (1991), Velvet 99 (2000), The Meteors (2002), Robert Gordon (2004), Barcode Brothers (2004), David Hasselhoff (2004), Chiwetel Ejiofor (in drag as part of a medley in the film Kinky Boots, 2005), Jessica Simpson (2006), Lenny Clerwall and his Guitar (2009), Planet Funk (2012)
(PW in comments)
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