"I Fought the Law" is a much-covered song originally recorded by Sonny Curtis and The Crickets (post Buddy Holly) in 1959. The song was famously covered by Bobby Fuller Four, who recorded a more successful version of the song in 1965, and The Clash, who recorded a punk rock version in 1978.
Just as the song became a top ten hit, Bobby Fuller was found dead in a parked automobile near his Los Angeles home. The police considered the death an apparent suicide; however, many people still believe Fuller was murdered.
The Dead Kennedys, in particular, wrote and recorded a different version as a comment on Dan White's 1978 murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, and White's subsequent use of the "Twinkie defense" to influence the court to convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter. The song, sung from White's perspective, replaced the line "I fought the law and the law won" with "I fought the law and I won".
In 1989 During Operation Just Cause, when the U.S. Army had Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega confined to the Papal Nunciature, the Vatican's Embassy, and were attempting to flush him out. US ARMY PSYOPS Units surrounded the compound and used several psychological tactics to include flood lights and loud speakers. They played music like "I Fought the Law" loudly and repeatedly from the loudspeakers. When presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater was asked about the appropriateness of this at a press conference, he replied to the effect that it was a refreshing illustration of Americans' sense of humor.
The Bobby Fuller Four version of this song is ranked #175 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
It was the existence of a 45 of the Bobby Fuller version in an American studio jukebox that inspired The Clash
to record a cover version of the song in 1978
. Their version first appeared on the EP The Cost of Living
in May 1979
in the UK, and then later in 1979
was made part of the American
edition of the Clash's eponymous album
. This cover version helped gain The Clash
their first taste of airplay in the States and is one of the best-known cover versions of the song. The live recording of the song, performed at the Lyceum Theatre
, West End
on December 28
, features as the last piece of the 1980
film Rude Boy
directed by Jack Hazan and David Mingay. The Clash were dressed all in black for that gig and the song, at that stage, was being considered as the film's title song. In 1988
, CBS Records
re-issued the single (catalog number) in 7" vinyl format, with "City of the Dead
" (2:24) and "1977
" (1:40) as its B-side. The song is featured as a downloadable track in the video game Rock Band
The song has also been performed, either in concert or on record, by the Dead Kennedys who did a version with different lyrics. Dave Courtney The London Gangster who sang alongside Scottish pop-punks Mute fronted by Jay Burnett who wrote an updated version complete with lyrics based on Dave's legendary court case. Both this and the Dead Kennedys' version are titled "I Fought the Law and I Won". Also, She Trinity, Bryan Adams, John Cougar Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Social Distortion, Stiff Little Fingers, Mike Ness, Hank Williams Jr, Waylon Jennings, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, The Ramones, Grateful Dead, Stray Cats, Mary's Danish, Claude François, Mano Negra, the Big Dirty Band, Nonstop Body/Lolita No. 18, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Sex Pistols, Attaque 77, Die Toten Hosen, Status Quo, Nanci Griffith, Anti-Flag and numerous other artists have covered this song live or in studio. For the 2003 film, Intermission, Colin Farrell recorded a version of the song, singing it in the guise of his character in the film.
The Green Day cover version of the song was used in a television ad for Apple Computer's iTunes Store when it was first opened.
An amended version of the song reached number 25 in the UK singles chart in January 2008. "I Fought the Lloyds" by Oystar was a comedy version in support of the campaign by Lloyds TSB customers mounting legal challenges to get their charges refunded. In this version the key line was changed to "I Fought the Lloyds and Lloyds lost".
Serbian punk rock band Goblini recorded a cover version of the song featuring lyrics in Serbian language entitled "Ne mogu više" on their 1995 live album Live KST and dedicated it to former president Slobodan Milošević.
In pop culture
- The opening instrumental of The Clash's version was used as the theme tune of The Dunphy Show.
- In the game True Crime: Streets of LA, the main character, Nick, has a quote that can be heard, when he arrests or defeats an enemy, he will sing: 'You fought the law and the law won.'
- Monday Night Football in the 1990's once produced a montage of player Ty Law with this song in the background.
- Canadian teen drama Instant Star named an episode after this song.
- In the video game The Simpsons Hit & Run, one of Bart's various quotes throughout the game is, "I fought the law and I won!"
- In the last episode of the canceled Dark Angel series, the character called Alec quotes "I fought the law and the law won."
- In the game Bully (also known as Canis Canem Edit), the prefects will occasionally say "You fought the law and the law won".
- The song is mentioned in "Lil' Cal's Big Mistake" by The Knack on their album Round Trip.
- It was sung briefly by Bruce McGill's character in the Miami Vice episode "Out Where the Buses Don't Run".
- The song is used for the trailer and commercials advertising Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.
- The song is found on the soundtrack of the PC game Battlefield: Vietnam.
- The second season Crime Story episode "Pauli Taglia's Dream" features Bobby Fuller's version of the song. In several parts of the titular dream, Pauli Taglia lip-synchs to the song.
- The song was prominently featured in an episode of Cheers.
- Seattle DJ Bob Rivers parodied the song as "I Fought the Lawn."
- When CNN announced in 2005 that they were canceling the show Crossfire for reasons similar to those expressed by Jon Stewart when he appeared on the show, Stewart said soon after on The Daily Show, "I fought the law, and the law lost!"
- In the Metric song Monster Hospital, there's a play on the line 'I fought the law and the law won' - instead, lead singer Emily Haines sings 'I fought the war and the war won'.
- In Bobby Fuller's famous version, the line goes "Robbing people with a six gun"; but in the original Cricket's version, the gun in question was a "Zip gun", a home-made pistol using a rubber band as a firing mechanism.
- Lou Reed mentions Fuller and quotes the song in his own song "Dirt" on the album Street Hassle.
- John Cougar Mellencamp, in "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.," sings "There was Frankie Lymon-Bobby Fuller-Mitch Ryder(They were Rockin')."
- The Clash's version of the song is available as downloadable content for the music video game Rock Band.
- The title is mentioned in the Beastie Boys song Rhymin' & Stealin', "I fought the law, and I cold won."
- The Clash version is played when Gene Hunt and Alex Drake are on their way to a crime scene in the BBC drama series Ashes to Ashes.
- The Quebec Band Les Dorothee is making a reference to I fought the Law in the song ' Reggae ' on the disk ' Danse et explose '
- On Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode The Marines Master Shake says after deserting his service "I fought the law and I won".
- The Clash version of the song is played extensively over a montage of The Doctor running from a large claw in the Doctor Who Confidential episode 'Oods and Ends' which accompanies the Doctor Who episode Planet of the Ood.
- In Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, this song is heard in a cover version of The Big Dirty Band. It is available as a soundtrack.
- In "My Mother the Carjacker", an episode of The Simpsons, Mona Simpson leads a sing-a-long of the song on a prison bus.
References and footnotes