“Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!”
In early 1966 Nancy Sinatra found herself on a soundstage at Paramount Studios to shoot a short promotional video for her latest single, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.” Dressed in a short black sweater dress, dark tights and a pair of black high heel boots, the debutant daughter of the “Chairman of the Board” who spent the majority of the decade trying to get noticed was long gone, and in her place was a new Nancy Sinatra – hipper, fresher, cooler and blonde! Gone was the awkward girl singer who was about to be dropped from Capitol Records. In her place was a sex kitten in fashionable footwear. A literal “puss in boots” if you will. With choreographer Robert Sidney directing and accompanied by a cast of six similarly dressed fresh faced go-go dancers, the video was being filmed for use in Scopitone jukeboxes, a special video jukebox that was primarily popular in central Europe. With videos that were often more daring and sexier than those that would show up on American television, there was no fear of the censors putting a damper on the video, and Nancy and her dancers bumped, grinded, stomped and wiggled their way across the sets and created what was, at that time, one of the sexiest and most provocative music videos ever filmed. Although it might seem rather tame by today’s standards, the video would ignite the flames of desire for not only those who saw it when it was released, but multiple generations thereafter. I don’t remember the first time I saw the video (my best guess is I was a tween, and it was on Much Music), but I know that when I did that it ushered a new sort of sexual awakening for me, and over the years I’ve bonded with people from multiple generations who had their own similar awakening from this video as well.
But men weren’t the only ones who were digging Nancy’s new vibe. Women were into it too. Suddenly a fashion icon, girls were doing their hair like her, doing their makeup like her and adopting the boots and short skirts to dress like her. “These Boots Were Made for Walkin’” wasn’t just a fun and sexy pop song. With a liberation movement about to rise from the trenches of a dominant patriarchal society left over from the 1950’s, it became an unintentional early women’s liberation anthem sung by a touch woman who had enough guts to stand up to her man and tell him that she wasn’t going to put up with his shit anymore:
“You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
And you keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’
Now what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet.
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.”
Wow. That was some heavy stuff!
A year earlier, after Capitol Records told Frank Sinatra that unless Nan got a hit record, they were dropping her from the label, Frank brought in superstar producer Lee Hazelwood in a last-ditch attempt to save her music career. A talented songwriter, Hazelwood brought in a batch of unproduced songs he had written, and they settled on “So Long, Babe,” which went to #85 on the Billboard Charts, and saved Nancy from being dropped. But, amongst the songs Nancy found a composition that she really liked which was, of course, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” Well, Lee had another plan for that song. Having never scored a hit of his own, Lee was planning on recording that song on an upcoming solo project for himself.
But, when your dad is the boss of Reprise Records, you can usually get what you want. Nan brought the song to Frank and told him that she wanted to record it and suddenly Lee was called for a meeting in his office. Frank reasoned with Lee that the song was pretty harsh, and if a man sang it, it would come off as being mean spirited and nasty. However, if a woman sang it the song would be fun. Well, Lee saw Frank’s point (Frank always had a way of getting his point across, if you know what I mean) and “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” was now Nancy’s.
With the success of “So Long, Babe,” once again Nancy was given the best that Capitol had. Produced by Lee, arranged by Billy Strange and being backed by the infamous Wrecking Crew, Nancy went into the studio knowing she had something a lot edgier than anything she had recorded before. But when she sang it, Lee wasn’t satisfied. Nancy’s delivery, which was sweet and saccharine, wasn’t the tone he had wrote for the song. It’s been often reported that Lee said to her “Stop being a good girl and sing this one for the truckers.” Well, Nancy shed her inhibition’s and put some sex and grit into the recording and, in the process, recorded the biggest hit of her career and one of the most important pop songs of the 1960’s.
Released in December 1965, it didn’t take long for the song to get noticed, but not everybody liked it. In a January 1966 episode of “American Bandstand,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” was featured on the always popular but often disastrous “Rate a Record” segment. In the segment, Dick Clark would play two brand new releases never featured on “American Bandstand” and get two kids from the studio audience to listen to it and then say what they think of it and give it a rating. Meanwhile, the kids on the dancefloor would be forced to dance to these songs, which often led to some really awkward moments, especially when the track is terrible. Finally, at the end of the segment, the record with the higher rating would be declared the winner.
Well, when “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” got played, the dance floor exploded. The kids really seemed to dig it and, as they’d say on “Bandstand,” “It had a good beat, and you could dance to it.” However, the two kids chosen to judge the record felt otherwise, giving it a score of 77 ½ and it lost to a forgotten flop called “A Slice of Pie” by some guy called Jewell Akens. Well, in this case “Bandstand” did not have their thumb on the pulse of what people were listening to because, by February 1966 “These Boots Are Made for Walkin;”” wasn’t just the number one song on America’s Billboard Top 100, but it was number one in pretty much every country in the world.
Now with two original hit records, both written by Lee Hazelwood, Nancy Sinatra and her team got the green light for the very first time to put out an entire LP. Released in March 1966, “Boots” donned an image of Nancy seductively spread out over the cover in red mini, striped sweater and matching tights and red leather boots. The album contains a high content of covers, including songs by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, but more importantly, included Nancy’s previous two hits and a third original penned by Lee Hazelwood titled “I Get Around.” As suspected, “Boots” was a massive success, selling 500,000 copies by November of that year, when it got its gold certification.
1966 would prove to be a massively successful year for Team Sinatra. Following “Boots” Nancy would release three additional albums, “How Does That Grab You,” “Nancy in London,” and “Sugar,” which reportedly had a cover so hot that it was banned from record stores in Boston. She’d have five additional singles on the Billboard Top 100 – “How Does That Grab You, Darlin;” “Sugar Town,” “In Our Time,” “Friday’s Child” and her first duet with Lee Hazelwood, “Summer Wine,” Meanwhile, she appeared in and sang the opening theme to the spy-farce “Last of the Secret Agents” and brought her brand new tough girl persona to AiP’s biker flick “The Wild Angels” where she stared opposite Peter Fonda. Even Frank was back on top when he defied the odds by having a number one hit on the rock dominated Billboard charts with “Strangers in the Night,” which would become one of his most recognized signature songs. But, despite Frank maintaining his hold as one of the most powerful music moguls in America, it was his daughter Nancy that was selling the most albums out of the two of them that year.
But Nancy wasn’t the only artist who would release versions of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” in 1966. In fact, two of her team would release their own versions of the song by the time the years was through.
As planned, Lee released his version in his solo project “The Very Special World of Lee Hazelwood.” However, in his version he started the song by adding the line “Here’s a little song about boots, and a darlin’ named Nancy” and followed it up with an added running commentary about recording the original version with her. It was as if he had made a pact with the Sinatras that if he was going to release it, he was going to make damn sure that everybody knew that it was Nan’s song, and that she’d still have her stamp all over it.
Meanwhile, arranger Billy Strange also released his own version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” in his album “In the Mexican Bag” with his “band” The Mexican Brass, which was actually, in fact, The Wrecking Crew. What this album was was an attempt by Capitol to cash in on the same formula that Herb Alpert was having a success with at A&M Records by doing the same type of high energy and fun type of instrumental albums which were phenomenally popular with the public. Featuring a lot of the same studio musicians from Nancy’s session, it is actually a pretty fun, albeit cheesy, dance record. But, like Lee Hazelwood’s version, Strange seemed to have a similar deal to ensure that Nancy was embedded somewhere in the track. During the track the band yells out various phrases in unison including “Look out Nancy, here we come!”
Finally, Capitol Records greenlit a third cover version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” for the most unlikely artist. Mrs Elva Miller, the 60-year-old wobbly voiced singer who had a novelty hit with her ear-splitting cover of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” earlier that year, did her own take on “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” on her debut album “Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits.” Somehow Mrs. Miller managed to take one of the most provocative pop songs of all time and mangle the sexy right out of it. The irony was probably not lost on anybody involved with the session, for perhaps the exception of Mrs. Miller herself. Nancy was not mentioned at all in the recording, but that was probably the best for everyone involved.
In 1966 Nancy Sinatra was everywhere, and 1967 would prove even busier with more hit singles, more movie appearances, the release of her landmark album with Lee Hazelwood “Nancy and Lee,” and even a series of USO dates in Viet Nam. Nancy Sinatra was everywhere, and her successes seemed endless.