“I Fought the Law” by The Clash
“I Fought the Law” comes to us via an era in music history when narratives tended to be a lot more literal than now. So for the most part, this song is considered to be pretty straight to the point. But this being a certified classic and all, some people have interpreted it in other colorful ways. And all lyrics of this classic considered, there may be an alternate meaning underneath the surface.
As for the surface narrative, honestly there’s a lot left to the imagination despite its simplicity. But how it logically reads is as the vocalist is an armed robber. Well that is he was, until he was arrested and imprisoned, under hard-labor conditions. Such is apparently what the primary line of this piece, “I fought the law, and the law won”, alludes to.
And amidst it all the vocalist expresses having ‘left his baby’, which we will presume is his girlfriend, and in the aftermath ‘feeling so bad’.
Now the thing is that such an expression kinda goes without being said – that he would miss his romantic interest while in prison. So the singer going out of his way to note that fact can be considered as stating the obvious, i.e. him being especially regretful via the implication that if he had remained more faithful to his love, he wouldn’t have fallen into this legal trouble.
But perhaps, going out on a limb, the allusion to being bested by the law is actually an elaborate metaphor for being heartbroken. After all, it’s not like Sonny Curtis was locked down or anything like that when he wrote this piece. And again, the vocalist’s reference to his girlfriend amidst it all is a bit out of place.
But who are we to say? After all, the overall implication is that the vocalist is not getting out of jail anytime soon. Under such a context, perhaps it would be normal to lament missing out on ‘the best girl you ever had’.
But viewed alternatively, it’s like if you’ve been hit with a major bid, you’re likely going to be missing all women in general. Yes, there may be that special someone. But if faced with a lengthy prison term, well then maybe the vocalist is getting out within such a timeframe that he’d really be kicking himself for missing out on this particular. That is to say that in this regard he doesn’t necessarily sound like someone who is looking forward to decades of being locked up.
Instead, in the chorus in particular, the vocalist reads like a fellow who did not appreciate his girlfriend and now, having lost her, realizes how special she was, i.e. “fought the law” of love and lost. But again that is just speculation, and in the end this song has rather been adopted as sort of an outlaw classic. So let’s just conclude by saying that in the grand scheme of things the vocalist has lost twice, legally and romantically.
Facts about “I Fought the Law”
This song was written by Sonny Curtis, a musician who was down with Buddy Holly (1936-1959) back in the day. In fact the first act to release a version of “I Fought the Law”, in 1960 (i.e. after Holly’s passing), were The Crickets, an outfit both he and Holly belonged to.
The Clash’s version came out as the second single from their EP “The Cost of Living” on 26 July 1979.
“I Fought the Law” concurrently served as the fourth single from The Clash’s debut full-length, 1977’s “The Clash”. Their version made it onto the UK Singles Chart when re-issued by CBS Records in 1988, also having achieved gold status in the band’s homeland of the United Kingdom.
The Clash produced their cover of this song alongside regular collaborator Bill Price (1944-2016).
According to Sonny Curtis’s recollection of writing this piece, he did so in just 20 minutes.
A number of other musical acts have covered this song throughout the years. And to note, it is actually a 1965 rendition by The Bob Fuller Four that is currently considered the most classic of the lot, that being the same version which inspired The Clash to cover this song.