It’s the anthem of feminine power. It’s the song that says, “Not only will I triumph over you, but I’ll look good while doing it, too.” It’s a song about fashion and not giving any f*cks. That’s right, it’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra.
Let’s dive into the history and meaning of the song.
Right as the foreboding acoustic and chromatic bass begin, you know you’re in trouble. The mood of the song, even as it just begins, puts you on your heels.
Written by country star Lee Hazelwood, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” was first made into a hit by Nancy Sinatra (daughter of singer, Frank Sinatra). It hit the charts on January 22, 1966 after a release in December of 1965, and peaked at No. 1 in the U.S. and U.K. Since the song’s release it has been covered by others, from Billy Ray Cyrus and Megadeth to Jessica Simpson.
While the song was made famous by Nancy, Hazlewood said the writing of the tune was inspired by a line Frank said in the comedy western, 4 for Texas, in 1963. The line was, “They tell me them boots ain’t built for walkin’.”
In the song, the boots are made for walking. They’re made for walking out on no good, cheating men and they’re good, furthermore, for walking on their hearts before the head out the door. The track appeared on Nancy’s 1966 album, Boots. It was a follow-up to her popular tune, “So Long, Babe.”
Writing the song, Hazlewood wanted to record it himself. He even said that “it’s not really a girl’s song.” But Nancy talked him out of it, saying, “Coming from a guy, it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a little girl to sing.” Hazlewood, perhaps receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse, eventually agreed.
Sings Nancy to her no-good cheating boyfriend:
You keep sayin’ you’ve got somethin’ for me
Somethin’ you call love but confess
You’ve been a’messin’ where you shouldn’t ‘ve been a’messin’
And now someone else is getting all your best
These boots are made for walkin’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you
The music for the song is just as impactful as the substance and performance from Nancy.
It was good largely because it was performed by the Los Angeles corps known as the Wrecking Crew. Chuck Berghofer played double bass and that now famous chromatic descent.
In a bit of controversy, Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine says he played drums on the song but the contract shows he was not present in the session. Donald “Richie” Frost is credited with playing the drum kit.
The recording session took place on November 19, 1965 at United Western Recorders in Hollywood, California. It also produced the songs, “Foursome” and “The City Never Sleeps at Night.”
The Music Video
Today, the music video—known then as a “promotional film”—is iconic.
In the ’60s, it was available on video jukeboxes. Directed by Robert Sidney, it was produced at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. For its 20th anniversary, the video was played in celebration on the cable channel VH1, in 1986.
In Popular Culture
Since its release, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” has appeared in many pop culture properties.
In 1987, it appeared in the movie Full Metal Jacket during a scene where a South Vietnamese prostitute in a miniskirt propositions some American soldiers. Ten years later, the song was used for the spy parody movie, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).
It’s also been used in an episode of the cartoon Family Guy, in the movie Ocean’s 8; the 2001 movie, The Mexican; the 2021 movie, Cruella, and more.
Along with Nancy’s original, the song has been covered by artists, including Billy Ray Cyrus for his debut LP, Some Gave All, in 1992.
In 2005, Jessica Simpson recorded a more up-tempo version that included a sultry music video for the soundtrack to the film that same year, The Dukes of Hazzard, in which she played the character Daisy Duke. The song later appeared on her 2006 LP, A Public Affair.
Simpson’s version included alternate lyrics. The new version included new lyrics written by Simpson, including a risqué spoken-word breakdown after a new bridge.
Megadeth also released an intense metal version of the song.