Nancy is Frank Sinatra's daughter. She is best known for this song, but is far from a one-hit-wonder: she charted 10 times on the US Top-40 from 1966-1968, with six solo hits, three duets with Lee Hazlewood and one with her dad - the #1 "Somethin' Stupid
." She also appeared in several movies, including Speedway
with Elvis Presley.
Nancy was on the same record label as her famous father, but they were going to drop her because her first few singles flopped. Things changed when they teamed her with producer Lee Hazlewood, who wrote this for her and had her lower her delivery. The first attempt was "So Long Babe," which was a minor hit and the second was "These Boots are Made For Walkin'." Nancy regretted the song, saying in 1971, "The image created by 'Boots' isn't the real me. 'Boots' was hard and I'm as soft as they come."
But then Lee had written the song for himself: "It was a party song I had written 2 or 3 years before that. It was a joke to begin with. I had written a beautiful song for her, 'The City Never Sleeps At Night,' and she wondered if it would sell. I replied, 'Three times more than 'So Long Babe,' and that did 60,000. We're building up your career.' I changed my mind and put it on the back of 'Boots' and that sold 6 million."
Lee Hazlewood said of this song: "When 'Boots' was #1 in half the countries in the world, Nancy came over to my house, and she was crying. She said, 'They didn't pick up on my option at Reprise and they said I owed them $12,000.' I said, 'You're kidding, we've got the biggest record in the world.' I rang my lawyer in New York and I rang Nancy the next day and said, 'How would you like $1 million? I've got 3 labels that are offering that for you right now and I can get something pretty good for myself as well.' She talked to her father and he said she could write her own contract with Reprise - after all she was selling more records than him at the time." (Quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits
Nancy Sinatra recalled in the documentary The Wrecking Crew that Lee Hazlewood was going to record the song himself, but she talked him out of it. Said Sinatra, "When a guy sings it, the song sounds harsh and abusive, but it's perfect for a little girl."
Hazlewood had a long and distinctive career as a songwriter, producer and performer. He did a series of duets with Nancy Sinatra in the mid-'60s where he often had her play up the sexuality of the songs. Hazlewood also worked with Duane Eddy, and enjoyed a resurgence in the '90s when a younger generation discovered his earlier solo efforts.
Hazlewood often drew inspiration for his songs from regular people. In a Blender magazine interview, he said he was in a Texas bar when some patrons started razzing an older guy about his younger girlfriend and how she controlled him. The man responded by putting his feet on a barstool and saying, "I know what you think - that she might be the boss. But I am the boss of my house, and these boots will walk all over her the day that I'm not."
Talk about a "walking" bass line - to accompany the image of boots walking all over a man, Chuck Berghofer was brought in to play the string bass (Carol Kaye
played the electric). Hazelwood had him play short sliding notes to get the sound.
This was covered by country singer Billy Ray Cyrus on the same album as "Achy Breaky Heart
" entitled Some Gave All
. Other artist to cover the song include LaToya Jackson and Crispin Hellion Glover.
In the 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket
, this was used in a scene where a prostitute solicits business in Vietnam. Another popular movie appearance of the song was in the 1994 film Prêt-à-Porter
. This version was sung by Sam Phillips
, who was always a big fan of the song. She told us that she would like to someday do a drastically different take on the song, as she feels the definitive version - Sinatra's - has already been done.
Megadeth did a cover of this for Killing is my Business... and Business is Good
. The original edition included the uncensored version, but subsequent pressings include a censored, heavily bleeped version, due to songwriter Lee Hazlewood's refusal to grant the group the rights to re-release the version with its altered lyrics intact.
Jessica Simpson and Willie Nelson did a duet on this song for the soundtrack of the 2005 movie The Dukes Of Hazzard
. Their version was produced by Jimmy Jam
and Terry Lewis with some additional lyrics written by Simpson. Nelson played Uncle Jessie in the movie and Simpson played Daisy Duke. In the video, a brawl breaks out at The Boar's Nest but it turns into a hoedown when a bunch of girls come in wearing daisy duke shorts. Their version was used in a TV ad campaign for Pizza Hut starring Simpson.
The Fixx recorded this for the 2002 album When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear
. Cevin Soling, who was the album's executive producer, explains how this came together: "The way I first became aware of that song was through a very, very strange cover that I don't think has ever been released, of that song. I used to listen to the Dr. Demento Show, and there was this band, Barnes And Barnes, who were known for having done the song 'Fish Heads.' They did this cover of 'These Boots Are Made For Walkin',' only they called it 'These Newts Are Made For Crawling.' I was pretty little, but that was essentially how I got to learn the song. And yeah, it was a great track, and the strange parody cover was sort of responsible for that.
(The Fixx) took a long time on that track, because they were kind of going back and forth, because they really were kind of perfectionist about things, and they weren't just going to do something if they didn't think they could do it well. They made, I think, 3 attempts at it before they finally were happy. But they took it all very seriously." (Check out our interview with Cevin Soling
In 1996, Nancy Sinatra gave the famous white go-go boots she wore to promote this song to the Hard Rock Cafe in Beverly Hills.
Stan Cornyn, music executive and celebrated writer of liner notes, waxed poetic about Nancy Sinatra in the notes for this song:
"'How should I sing this?'
'Like a 16-year-old girl who's been dating a 40-year-old man, but it's all over now.'
She looks good, dresses good, lives good, eats, drinks, loves, breathes, dances, sings, cries good. Five-foot-three and tiger eyes. A mouth made for lollipops or kisses, stingers or melting smiles. Ninety-five pounds of affection. She's been there already. Barely in her twenties, she looks younger. That look, like Lolita Humbert, like Daisy Clover. The power to exalt, or to destroy, wanting only the former, but unafraid to invoke the latter if the time comes. The eyes that see through, know more, look longer. Unafraid to pull on the boots again, toss off a burnt out thing with a casual 'So long, babe,' and get.
A young, fragile, living thing, on its own in a wondrous-wicked-woundup-wasted-wild-worried-wisedup-warmbodied world. On her own. Earning her daily crepes and Cokes by singing the facts of love. Her voice tells as much as her songs. No faked up grandeur, her voice is like it is: a little tired, little put down, a lot loving.
No one is born sophisticated. It's a place you have to crawl to, crawling out of hayseed country, over miles of unsanded pavement, past Trouble, past corners and forks with no auto club signs to point you, till you get there and you wake up wiser.
She's arrived. She sings you about the long crawl. And makes you have to listen."
Eileen Goldsen recorded versions in French, Italian, and German in 1966. The German version ("Die Stiefel sind zum wandern") was prominently featured in the 2013 Orphan Black episode "Instinct."
A kinky interpretation envisions a miniskirt-wearing Nancy Sinatra inflicting both pleasure and pain with her go-go boots, but Nancy assures the Boston Globe that she was oblivious at the time of any S&M overtones: "No, I think I was too naive to have known anything about that."