Start Walkin’

I’m not entirely sure why it happened, but yesterday I heard “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” and became utterly obsessed with the second verse. I’ve known the song for decades, and like all good people have long loved its casual cool in the amazing bass line, the sassy Nancy Sinatra delivery, and the ridiculous, overly enthusiastic horn section at the fade out, but this was something new — and, I suspect, something long overdue.

It’s not as if I was unaware of how good the lyrics to the song were; there’s no way you can hear the song and not notice lines like “you’ve been messin’ where you shouldn’t be messin’” or the amazing “I just found me a brand new box of matches/And what he knows, you ain’t had time to learn.” Even the verse that caught my ear yesterday starts with the iconic “you’ve been lyin’ when you oughtta be truthin’,” another memorable earworm.

There’s something about that line that sets up what struck me, though; the confidence about it — here’s how you should behave — and the wonder of “truthing,” a word that, if it did exist previously, certainly wasn’t commonly used. It’s so bold, so self-assured, that it’s utterly compelling in how quickly it communicates the attitude of the entire song: I’m not like everyone else, and you’re going to realize that when I’m gone.

The rest of the verse follows suit, with each new line a masterclass in both wordplay and attitude. “And you keep losing when you oughta not bet” is such a great put down of the song’s target — it’s not just that they’re losing, they’re dumb enough not to know when to quit — while “you keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’,” is more of “truthing” again; a word that doesn’t exist but should, creating something that just feels true and easily understandable in opposition to the norm. We know what changing is, so of course “saming” makes sense.

And then, of course, the killer kiss-off, to end the verse (and, likely, the heart of the song’s target): “Now what’s right is right, but you ain’t been right yet.” Good luck coming back from that.

Yes, Nancy Sinatra performs the shit out of the song, and, yes, the arrangement is a masterpiece. But what caught me yesterday was, to be blunt, sheer jealousy over how well-written these lyrics really are. If only I had even half the skill to be able to write like this. Good job, Lee Hazlewood, you talented fuck.

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