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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet Car­ol Kaye, the Unsung Bassist Behind Your Favorite 60s Hits

How the Viet­nam War Shaped Clas­sic Rock–And How Clas­sic Rock Shaped the War

The Sex Pis­tols’ Sid Vicious Sings Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”: Is Noth­ing Sacred?

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.

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