Saturday, June 7, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 158): "THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING" (1966) Nancy Sinatra

Tomorrow, the 8th, is the birthday of Nancy Sinatra, glamorous daughter of Frankie. Not something I would think would make a bit of difference to me, but not long ago I picked up a compilation of her hits. The inspiration for that was a passing remark a friend made on facebook, invoking Lee Hazlewood, a name I hadn’t heard in some time, at the time. Hazlewood wrote and produced some of Nancy’s hits and the two were a flamboyantly fun duo in those mod days of the late Sixties. And today’s song, written by Hazlewood, was the hit that made her a name (even though she was born with a very famous one).

“Boots” is everything you’d want in a sultry, fun, sexy song. It’s a song that I remember making me a little uneasy, as a kid. I loved that weird guitar slide that Hazlewood insisted on, played on guitar by Billy Strange, it was so immediately recognizable and sounded so cool. But the song’s implications? This pair of self-propelled boots are going to start walking all over someone? Is the wearer of the boots even responsible for what such boots do?

And the way Nancy sings it, with a kind of high and mighty air, winking at her victim, is almost depraved. It’s been said that Hazlewood coached her to sing it like a sixteen year old who has sex with grown men. The key isn’t underaged sex as a depraved act, so much, as the cool, man-handling outlook of a little minx who doesn’t take it at all seriously. Her boots, then, are sex appeal itself, the power of the female—or rather the power of desire for the female—over a grown man.

The speaker of the song is telling off a man who has tried to use her, “You keep lyin’ where you oughta be truthin’.” Messing around with other women means she's going to mess him up, so that the very notion of such a woman as a plaything is what is being dealt with. Nancy with her unflappable sangfroid would seem to be striking a blow for a certain kind of sexual politics.

What kind? The liberated enough to choose my own sex object kind. The part that might give one pause—“You keep thinking that you’ll never get burned—ha! / I just found me a brand new box of matches / And what he knows you ain’t had time to learn.” I guess as a kid one hears in this the challenge of the “maturing faster than boys” female of popular lit who can easily have a sugar daddy if she wants one, and it’s not for his money or things but for his sexual prowess, his knowledge, so to speak, of what little girls are made of. Cool, daddy-o.

About the video: it’s the kind of thing you would see on pop music TV in those days, and I know I did. It’s not that Nancy can dance really well or anything and by the terms of the sexier-than-thou divas of today she seems to find the whole shaking and wiggling bit kind of silly, plus she’s sort of wholesome, but, as everyone knows, wholesome in sexy boots and tights is hot. Whether this is hot or silly or something else is up to you. But boots are sexy.

Are you ready, boots? Start walking!

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