Monday 4 March 2024

I Fought The Law

Cover version of the month #96
The Clash cover The Bobby Fuller Four / The Crickets

As is often the case when delving into the history of songs, I have uncovered information I wasn't previously aware of when researching The Clash covering The Bobby Fuller Four's I Fought The Law.

It turns out that the song was originally written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis who then joined The Crickets in 1959, taking the place of the legendary Buddy Holly following his death in the tragic aeroplane crash in February of that year. In 1971, Don McLean released the classic American Pie where he repeatedly refers to the crash as the day the music died. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson (AKA The Big Bopper) all lost their lives alongside pilot Roger Peterson.

I Fought The Law was released on the 1960 album In Style With The Crickets, also appearing as the b-side to 1961 single A Sweet Love.

Coming in at 2-minutes 15 seconds, this is the classic 3 chord trick of G, C and D ... making it absolutely perfect for The Clash in 1979. Each verse is one line followed by the hook (the title), followed by a middle eight where the hook is hammered home again. As a result, the song really just feels like it's the chorus (with slightly different lines at the start) that is sung throughout.

Chiming guitar, (almost) primitive beats and a vocal that is front and centre singing of love lost - possibly as the result of a robbery, judging from lyrics spread throughout the song; breakin' rocks in the hot sun / robbin' people with a zip gun / I needed money 'cause I had none.

The Bobby Fuller Four reached the top 10 with their cover version which was released as a single in 1965. I always thought this was the original. The Fuller Four don't stray far from The Crickets original, the beat is maybe a little more prominent in the mix while there is, ironically, more than a little bit of Buddy Holly in the vocals.

Over a decade (1978) down the line, The Clash heard The Bobby Fuller Four version of the song on a jukebox in San Francisco. This prompted them to record the song for The Cost Of Living EP, released in May 1979. 

The Clash's eponymous debut album, released in 1977, never had an official release in America. It was only available as an import, until it was eventually released in 1979 with an extensively different tracklisting - including I Fought The Law. CBS deemed that the original album wasn't radio friendly enough, so they replaced a whopping 4 songs! 

Of course many punk bands had an ear for melody, hooks and pop and that shines through in The Clash's version of I Fought The Law. The song really does fit them like a glove. Strummer and co add on an extra 30-seconds, giving time for a big intro before Strummer comes in sounding super cool, backed up by his mates on the hook.

I left my baby and it feels so bad

I guess my race is run 

She's the best girl that I ever had

I fought the law and the law won

I fought the law and the law won

The Clash version has an extra (punk) zip to it. Despite the extended intro, they still hit the guitar solo before The Crickets and Fuller versions! Handclaps are added after that, there is time for another guitar solo and the band break things down for the outro. All in all it sounds like they are having glorious fun as they romp through the song.

All three versions of I Fought The Law are added to my Everything Flows Cool Cover Versions playlist on Spotify which also features all of the songs (originals and covers) below. Search for the title or CLICK HERE

Previous covers of the month blogs

13. Hurt
39. ABBA-esque
40. Jumpin' Jack Flash
64. Lola
82. Drop
87. Indian Rope Man + bonus Strawberry Fields Forever + This Wheels On Fire
92. Valerie

1 comment:

Swiss Adam said...

Such a great Clash moment, they pretty much owned the song after this. The live footage of them doing it is the definition of excitement