These Boots Are Made for Walkin’: The Story Behind Nancy Sinatra’s Enduring #1 Hit (1966)

You put on your boots
And I’ll put on mine
And we’ll sell a million records
Any old time
- Lee Hazlewood


Looking to increase your chances of a hit song, one that will worm its way into the public’s hearts and ears, earning fat royalty checks for half a century or more?

Try starting with a killer bass line.

According to singer Nancy Sinatra, songwriter Lee Hazlewood and arranger Billy Strange swung by her parents’ living room to preview a selection of tunes they thought she might want to record.

The moment she heard "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'"s memorable lick, she knew it was a winner.

(As did her famous father, who looked up from his newspaper after Hazlewood and Strange departed, to remark, “The song about the boots is best.”)

Originally conceived of as a song from the male POV, the 25-year-old, just-divorced Sinatra felt its message would be less “harsh and abusive” delivered by a “little girl.”

Hazlewood agreed, but hedged his bets by directing engineer Eddie Brackett to beef up Sinatra’s vocals with some light reverb.

As biographer James Kaplan describes in Sinatra: The ChairmanHazlewood also offered some discreet direction, insinuating that the vibe to strive for was that of “a 14-year-old girl in love with a 40-year-old man.”

When Sinatra failed to receive his meaning, he shucked all pretense of delicacy. Nancy shared his marching orders in her 1985 biography Frank Sinatra, My Father:

…I was still singing like Nancy NiceLady. Lee hit the talk-back switch in the booth and his deep voice blew my ears off. ‘For chrissake, you were a married woman, Nasty, you’re not a virgin anymore. Let’s do one for the truck drivers. Say something tough at the end of this one... Bite the words.’

Or something to that effect…

Kaplan includes how several sources claim that Hazlewood’s actual instruction was to sing it like “a sixteen-year-old girl who f**ks truck drivers.”

(Editor’s note: instructing a young woman to do that in 2020 is far likelier to result in a law suit than a hit record.… and given that most of the sources who abide by this version of Boots’ creation myth preface their statements with the word “apparently,” it may not have flown in 1966 either.)

The song’s immense popularity was given an assist by the 1966 Color-Sonics film, above, shot in 16mm for the public’s enjoyment on 26-inch Scopitone jukebox screens.

It also put a match to the American tinder where go-go boots were concerned. Young women in Britain had already adopted them as the perfect footwear to accompany Youthquake designer Mary Quant’s miniskirts and hot pants. Sinatra and her maxi sweater-wearing back up dancers get the bulk of the credit on this side of the pond.

While "These Boots Are Made for Walkin’" has been covered by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington to Billy Ray Cyrus and Megadeth, the sweetest cover remains songwriter Hazlewood’s, below, in which he namechecks the collaborators of his most famous hit with nary a mention of truckers or teenaged girls.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC TONIGHT, Monday, February 3, as her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York, The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Crowd Breaks into Singing Bon Jovi in the Park: The Power of Music in 46 Seconds

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via Twisted Sifter

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How the Psychedelic Mellotron Works: An In-Depth Demonstration

Recorded music history is filled with instruments that appeared for a brief time, then were never heard from again—relegated to the dustbin of too-quirky, heavy, awkward, tonally-unpleasant, or impossible-to-tune-and-maintain. Then there are instruments—once they assumed their basic shape and form—that have persisted largely unchanged for centuries. The Mellotron falls into neither of these categories. But it may in time transcend them both in a strange way.

“Of all of the strange instruments that've worked the edges of popular music,” writes Gareth Branwyn at Boing Boing, “the Mellotron is probably the oddest. Basically an upright organ cabinet filled the tape heads and recorded tape strips that you trigger through the keyboard, the Mellotron is like some crazy one-off contraption that caught on and actually got manufactured.”

First made in England in 1963, it appeared in various models throughout the seventies and eighties. It has reappeared in the nineties and 2000s in improved and upgraded versions, all leading up to what Sound on Sound called “the most technologically sophisticated Mellotron ever,” the 2007 M4000. In the video above Allison Stout from Bell Tone Synth Works, a music shop in Philadelphia, PA, demonstrates a much earlier, far less advanced M400 from 1976.

Not only did the Mellotron beat the odds of remaining an unworkable prototype; the proto-sampler became a psychedelic signature: from “Strawberry Fields Forever” to the Moody Blues and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” It populated early prog rock, thanks to Yes’s Rick Wakeman, who played on Bowie’s space rock classic in 1969, and to Ian McDonald, who fell for the instrument that same year as a founding member of King Crimson. (See enthusiastic YouTuber “Doctor Mix” play Mellotron parts from well-known songs above.)

The instrument’s slightly cheesy, Lawrence-Welk-orchestra-like sounds somehow fit perfectly with the loose, spacious instrumentation of prog and psych rock; its sound will live as long as the music of The Beatles, Bowie, and everyone else who put a microphone in front of a Mellotron. Yet in most of its iterations, the Mellotron has lacked the characteristics of a melodic instrument that survives the test of time. It is finicky and prone to frequent breakdowns. It is limited in its tonal range to a series of tape recordings of a limited number of instruments.

In the case of the Mellotron M400 at the top, those instruments are violin, flute, and cello. Do the sounds coming from the Mellotron in any way improve upon or even approximate the qualities of their originals? Of course not. Why would musicians choose to record with a Mellotron at a time when analogue synthesizers were becoming affordable, portable, and capable of an expressive range of tones? The answer is simple. Nothing else makes the weird, warm, warbly, whirring, and entirely otherworldly sound of a Mellotron, and nothing ever will.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Iconic Songs Played by Musicians Around the World: “Stand by Me,” “Redemption Song,” “Ripple” & More

We here at Open Culture love to see how well known and well loved songs pop up all over the globe in new and interesting forms. These covers could be played on very un-rock instruments, or on ones we’ve never heard of. We’ve seen schoolkids sing songs that their grandparents loved, and we’ve heard senior citizens singing death metal. Music unites us in troubling times, and we need more of it.

The above video from Playing for Change imagines a world where people from all four corners of the earth play and sing a song together, and makes it real through the power of technology and interconnectivity.

It started in 2005 when Mark Johnson heard street musician Roger Ridley singing Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” in Santa Monica. Struck by Ridley’s emotive voice, he returned with recording equipment and began a process of bringing the world to join in. Johnson recorded Grandpa Elliott in New Orleans sharing a verse, Washboard Chaz providing washboard rhythm, then Clarence Bekker in Amsterdam taking a verse, the Twin Eagle Drum Group providing a Native American rhythm, and so on. By the end of the video, Johnson had racked up frequent flier miles and stitched together a cohesive track.

Years later, the Playing for Change non-profit has accumulated an impressive back catalog of cover songs and has helped fund 15 music programs worldwide.

One takeaway is this: the world agrees on Bob Marley. Whether he’s being political or spiritual, everybody seems to get it. Here’s “War” featuring Bono. Also see "Redemption Song" here:

Other stars have done guest spots to bring awareness to the project. Bunny Wailer, Manu Chao and Bushman singing “Soul Rebel”:

Most recently, they recorded “The Weight” with Robbie Robertson and Ringo Starr:

And we always enjoy this version of the Dead's "Ripple."

The videos are heartwarming, but the music stands by itself without the globetrotting. For those who need a good vibe injection to start 2020, start here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

The Flute of Shame: Discover the Instrument/Device Used to Publicly Humiliate Bad Musicians During the Medieval Period

Since humanity has had music, we've also had bad music. And bad music can come from only one source: bad musicians. Despite such personal technologies of relatively recent invention as noise-canceling headphones, bad music remains nigh unavoidable in the modern world, issuing as it constantly does from the sound systems installed in grocery stores, gyms, passing automobiles, and so on. And against the bad musicians responsible we have less recourse than ever, or at least less than medieval Europeans did, as shown by the Ripley's Believe It or Not video above on the "shame flute," a non-musical instrument used to punish crimes against the art.

"The contraption, which is essentially a heavy iron flute – although you probably wouldn’t want play it – was shackled to the musician’s neck," writes Maddy Shaw Roberts at Classic FM. "The musician’s fingers were then clamped to the keys, to give the impression they were playing the instrument. Finally, just to further their humiliation, they were forced to wear the flute while being paraded around town, so the public could throw rotten food and vegetables at them." Surely the mere prospect of such a fate made many music-minded children of the olden days think twice about slacking on their practice sessions.

The sight of this flute of shame, which you can take in at either the equally stimulating-sounding Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg or the Torture Museum in Amsterdam, would get any of us moderns thinking about considering which musicians of our own day deserve to be shackled to it. The Guardian's Dave Simpson suggests, among others, "all bands with silly names," "any musician called Sir who is over 60," and "anyone who has ever appeared on The X Factor, ever." In this day and age they would all probably complain of cruel and unusual punishment, but as music-related torture devices go, the shame flute certainly seems preferable to ancient Greece's "brazen bull."

Though still a little-known historical artifact, the shame flute has regained some cultural currency in recent years. It even inspired the name of a Finnish rock group, Flute of Shame. As the band members put it in an interview with Vice's Josh Schneider, "We were having a night out in Amsterdam and found ourselves in a torture museum whilst looking for the Banana Bar," a well-known spot in the city's red-light district. "We saw the device and the rest is history." Of course, any rock group that names itself after a torture device will draw comparisons to Iron Maiden, and journalistic diligence compels Schneider to ask Flute of Shame which band would win in a shredding contest. "Probably Iron Maiden," the Finns respond, "but are they happy?"

via Classic FM

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Introducing The Radiohead Public Library: Radiohead Makes Their Full Catalogue Available via a Free Online Web Site

Radiohead remained relevant longer than any of their peers not only because they adapted to technological change but because they’ve just as often been a force behind it, whether musically or otherwise. Yet when it comes to their release strategies, we might call them increasingly conservative--they have embraced one of the oldest traditional features of the internet: the ability to give away free content to huge numbers of people all at once, and to archive that content in freely accessible repositories.

At least since In Rainbows, Radiohead has seen the internet as an opportunity to give away their work or sell it at a low-cost sliding scale, often with profits benefitting charities. Last year, when hackers stole demos from 1997’s OK Computer, Radiohead countered by releasing 18 hours of the material free to stream or buy for a limited time, with all proceeds going to climate action. Then they released every single studio album, including dozens of rarities, live sessions, and more, on YouTube, making everything free to stream for anyone with the bandwidth.

Now, concerned with the integrity of Radiohead collections online, they’ve gone full Internet Archive and started a “public library” (complete with a printable library card). And for any fan of the band—from the most casual to the most terminally dedicated—it’s an experience. “The band has brought nearly the entirety of their catalog to one place,” writes Rob Arcand at Spin, “which doesn’t contain ads and doesn’t use algorithms or obtrusive design gestures that could encourage myopic listening.” Dive in and you never know what you’ll find.

I stumbled upon OK Computer’s “Paranoid Android” and was reminded of how inexplicably weird the video is; crossed paths with 1992’s Drill, the band’s surprising power-pop-punk first EP (hear “Thinking About You” at the top); found a recent live performance of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and a drum machine—the two demonstrating with electric guitars and voice why even the band’s most abstract and foreboding songs still have at their heart the delicate melodies that made up the entirety of their achingly earnest second album, The Bends.

Other rarities include the King of Limbs remix EP TKOL RMX 8 (“not to be confused with their King of Limbs remix album TKOL RMX 1234567”) and a 2005 track titled “I Want None of This” made for war relief compilation Help!: A Day in the Life. The “stress” here in this archive “is on ‘Public,’” notes Daniel Kreps at Rolling Stone. “The library is free to enter and audio and video files are accessible even to those without premium streaming services.” Each member of the band served as a “librarian” for the first week of the archive’s existence, curating their favorite selections of material for posting on social media from January 20th to the 24th.

Check out the Radiohead Public Library here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Neuroscience of Drumming: Researchers Discover the Secrets of Drumming & The Human Brain

An old musician’s joke goes “there are three kinds of drummers in the world—those who can count and those who can’t.” But perhaps there is an even more global divide. Perhaps there are three kinds of people in the world—those who can drum and those who can’t. Perhaps, as the promotional video above from GE suggests, drummers have fundamentally different brains than the rest of us. Today we highlight the scientific research into drummers' brains, an expanding area of neuroscience and psychology that disproves a host of dumb drummer jokes.

"Drummers," writes Jordan Taylor Sloan at Mic, "can actually be smarter than their less rhythmically-focused bandmates." This according to the findings of a Swedish study (Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm) which shows "a link between intelligence, good timing and the part of the brain used for problem-solving." As Gary Cleland puts it in The Telegraph, drummers "might actually be natural intellectuals."

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, a renaissance researcher The New Yorker calls “a man obsessed with time," found this out in an experiment he conducted with various professional drummers at Brian Eno's studio. It was Eno who theorized that drummers have a unique mental makeup, and it turns out "Eno was right: drummers do have different brains from the rest." Eagleman's test showed "a huge statistical difference between the drummers' timing and that of test subjects." Says Eagleman, "Now we know that there is something anatomically different about them." Their ability to keep time gives them an intuitive understanding of the rhythmic patterns they perceive all around them.

That difference can be annoying—like the pain of having perfect pitch in a perpetually off-key world. But drumming ultimately has therapeutic value, providing the emotional and physical benefits collectively known as "drummer's high," an endorphin rush that can only be stimulated by playing music, not simply listening to it. In addition to increasing people's pain thresholds, Oxford psychologists found, the endorphin-filled act of drumming increases positive emotions and leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.

Clash drummer Topper Headon discusses the therapeutic aspect of drumming in a short BBC interview above. He also calls drumming a "primeval" and distinctly, universally human activity. Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley have high hopes for the science of rhythm. Hart, who has powered a light show with his brainwaves in concerts with his own band, discusses the "power" of rhythm to move crowds and bring Alzheimer's patients back into the present moment.

Whether we can train ourselves to think and feel like drummers may be debatable. But as for whether drummers really do think in ways non-drummers can't, consider the neuroscience of Stewart Copeland's polyrhythmic beats, and the work of Terry Bozzio (below) playing the largest drumkit you've ever seen.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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