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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bobby Fuller: I Fought The Law

BOBBY FULLER: I FOUGHT THE LAW (1966)

1) Let Her Dance; 2) Julie; 3) A New Shade Of Blue; 4) Only When I Dream; 5) You Kiss Me; 6) Little Annie Lou; 7) I Fought The Law; 8) Another Sad And Lonely Night; 9) Saturday Night; 10) Take My Word; 11) Fool Of Love; 12) Never To Be Forgotten.

ʽI Fought The Lawʼ is quite a cool song, although it is a bit odd that the original version by the Crickets, with Sonny Curtis on lead vocals, never managed to have even one dozenth of the im­pact of the Bobby Fuller Four version, despite Bobby being quite reverential to the original: talk about the power of accidence! Or maybe there simply was something in the song that made it sound so much before its time in 1960, and so well in line with the garage spirit of 1966. Not that it formally sounds «garage-like»: the guitar sound is clean and jangly, reflecting the influence of the Crickets filtered through Merseybeat standards. The message — this is, after all, the unrepen­tant confession of a young derelict we're talking about — that's what mattered.

Honestly, I am not even sure if Bobby selected it for the message: this is pretty much the only song in his catalog that could be properly called «rebellious». Most likely, he just liked the vibe of the original and chose to cover it as one of those quirky, catchy, but little-known non-hits from the past that needed additional popularization. Who knew, back in 1966, that eventually The Clash would roll along a decade later to make it an integral, well-fitting part of their usual pedi­gree? Who could, in fact, have predicted that it would rise into the US Top Ten...? One of those amazing little mysteries of life that makes exploring musical history so worthwhile.

The record label decided to quickly capitalize on the success of the single by placing it on the band's second LP — the irony, of course, being that the band had almost no new material, and thus, about half of the record simply repeated the songs from the KRLA LP (I assume that the executives logically reasoned that, since nobody bought that LP in the first place, there'd be no harm in trying to introduce the population to those songs for a second time). Only four new songs have been recorded, of which ʽJulieʼ is another upbeat, friendly Buddy Holly imitation, while the others are rhythmic ballads more in the style of Roy Orbison — not awful or anything, but nothing to write home about.

Funny enough, the songs from KRLA that do get repeated are restricted to love-themed pop rockers and ballads — not a single car song is included, which, on the whole, makes I Fought The Law the ultimate Bobby Fuller LP: ʽAnother Sad And Lonely Nightʼ, ʽLet Her Danceʼ, and ʽI Fought The Lawʼ are all here, and those ridiculous variations on the theme of ʽLittle Deuce Coupeʼ are not. On the other hand, the selection does make ʽI Fought The Lawʼ stick out like a sore thumb — nothing even begins to come close to this song in terms of attitude, energy, «spi­ritual fire», if you will.

Since it would only take six months after the success of ʽI Fought The Lawʼ for Bobby Fuller to have been found asphyxiated in his mother's car (permanently cementing the legend, so to speak), we have no idea of what direction he would have chosen; something tells me that, most likely, he'd probably just fade away like so many others, but who needs guesswork? Other songs recorded around that time have been since then made available on various compilations, and none of the ones I have heard seem to yield any more clues.

Additionally, Bobby's legend has so uncomfortably outgrown his real importance that, among the faithful collectors, almost every shred of his recording legacy from the early days has been lovingly assembled and packaged on various archival releases (Bobby Fuller Tapes, El Paso Rock, etc.), with fans often claiming that his earliest work is rawer, grittier, and more «sincere» than his Mustang days. Perhaps so, but, judging by what little I have heard, there is no need to hope for a miracle: it's not as if Bobby Fuller was a genius songwriter or virtuoso guitar player in 1960. On the whole, his claim to fame can be measured out in two or three real good singles, a dozen or so reasonably clever facsimiles, and the most mysterious death of 1966. But then, it was all such a good time that even a minor footnote like this has its own bit of value. You just need to disentangle legend, hearsay, and false impression from facts — sometimes not easy at all, given the existence of scenes like this, where the Bobby Fuller Four were forced to lip-synch to a non-Bobby Fuller song next to Nancy Sinatra in a performance worthy of Austin Powers. Oh yes, no need to deny that the 1960s had their fair share of embarrassingly weird ways of earning a buck. 

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