Covered: “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

I’m not sure if you can call Nancy Sinatra’s classic hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” a good song per se, but it is definitely a memorable and fun one.   To its credit, “Boots” does an excellent job of evoking in present-day listeners the sound of the Swinging 60’s; filmmakers have relied on it as a retro touchstone for years, including in memorable scenes that range from Full Metal Jacket to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.  It’s a fun piece of trashy pop, with a versatile pseudo-female empowerment message that can be interpreted either sincerely or ironically.  Musically, the most memorable thing about “Boots” is its hypnotic descending bass line, though I’ve always had a particular fondness for the particular tone of the cheap-sounding guitars as well.  However, the song fails to do anything with the fact that the legendary Hal Blaine behind the kit, and those ridiculous horns that end the song are best used as fodder for potential edits due to time restrictions.

The cover that inspired this edition of our regular feature was the version done by Parquet Courts for their second album of 2014, Content Nausea, recorded under the moniker of “Parkay Quarts”.  Their take on the song (titled on the album as “These Boots”) straddles the line between serious and mocking, sticking close to the original for the most part musically speaking while vocally alternating between not-giving-a-shit and caring-just-enough.  The group made sure to include that amazing bass riff as well as for doing a reasonable facsimile of the original’s guitar tone, and even did a better job with the horns by adding a nifty supporting part to the verse.  Courts/Quarts also improve upon the ending by ending everything in a giant haze of guitar squall and irritating feedback.

The Content Nausea version also reminded me of the ridiculous take done by Operation Ivy, where they transformed the pop number into a bouncy ska romp as “One of These Days” for their album Energy.  They didn’t really care to remember any of the lyrics besides the chorus, and it’s just as well, since beyond the initial inspiration to add guitar strokes on the upbeats they didn’t bother to do too much to it musically either.  It does however fit in perfectly with the rest of Energy in that regard, and it’s only when you pay attention to the fact that Jesse Michaels is shouting those famous words in particular that you realize that this is a “cover”.  As a song in and of itself, it’s not particularly good, but as an example of the kind of we-working of pop classics by early punk bands, it’s not half-bad.

Neither of these cover versions are essential, but at least they’re fun.  They’re also perfect set-fillers that keep the audience engaged without demanding too much of their attention.  And no one has to really worry about impinging on the reputation of the original: while it is fondly remembered, no one is going to fight for the sake of Nancy Sinatra’s classic bit of kitsch.

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