I Fought the Law

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"I Fought the Law"
Single by the Crickets
from the album In Style With the Crickets
A-side"A Sweet Love"
ReleasedDecember 4, 1960 (1960-12-04)
RecordedMay 18, 1959[1]
GenreRock and roll
Songwriter(s)Sonny Curtis
Producer(s)Norman Petty

"I Fought the Law" is a song written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets and popularized by a cover by the Bobby Fuller Four, becoming a top-ten hit for the band in 1966. Their version of the song was ranked No. 175 on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004, and the same year was named one of the 500 "Songs that Shaped Rock" by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

A version by Sam Neely charted in 1975. The song was also recorded by the Clash in 1979. A version with different lyrics was recorded by the Dead Kennedys.

Original song[edit]

The song was written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis, and recorded in 1959 when he joined the Crickets, taking the place of Buddy Holly on guitar. Joe B. Mauldin and Jerry Allison continued their positions on the stand-up bass and drums, respectively, while Earl Sinks filled the role for vocals. The song was included on their 1960 album, In Style with the Crickets, and the following year appeared as the B-side of their single, "A Sweet Love". The song received very little airplay.[citation needed]

Milwaukee's Paul Stefen and the Royal Lancers covered the song in 1962; it provided them with a local hit, but it did not make the national charts.[2] In 1964, Sammy Masters recorded his cover of the song. That same year, the song was recorded by Bobby Fuller and his band on his own Exeter label in El Paso, which solidified the band's popularity in the West Texas area with one of his biggest local hits.

Bobby Fuller Four version[edit]

"I Fought the Law"
Mid-1960s US edition of Bobby Fuller Four recording
Single by the Bobby Fuller Four
from the album I Fought the Law
B-side"Little Annie Lou"
ReleasedOctober 1965 (1965-10)
Songwriter(s)Sonny Curtis
Producer(s)Bob Keane
The Bobby Fuller Four singles chronology
"Let Her Dance"
"I Fought the Law"
"Love's Made a Fool of You"

After enjoying regional success in Texas, Bobby Fuller and his band decided to switch to a major label—Del-Fi Records under Mustang Records—and they became known as The Bobby Fuller Four. While producing minor hits, the band broke the national top ten when they re-recorded "I Fought the Law" in 1965 with Bobby Fuller (vocals, guitar), Randy Fuller (backing vocals, bass guitar), Jim Reese (backing vocals, guitar), and DeWayne Quirico (drums).

Just six months after the song made its first appearance on the Billboard Top 100 chart, Fuller was found dead from asphyxiation in his mother's car in a parking lot near his Los Angeles apartment. The police declared the death an apparent suicide, but others believe that he was murdered.[5]

The mono and stereo mixes differ in both Fuller's vocals and the guitar riffs.[6]

In 2015, the Bobby Fuller Four version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[7]

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
Canadian RPM Top Singles[8] 11
US Billboard Hot 100[9] 9
UK Singles (OCC)[10] 33

The Clash version[edit]

"I Fought the Law"
CD edition of 1988 single release
Single by the Clash
from the EP The Cost of Living
B-side"(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais"
ReleasedJuly 26, 1979 (1979-07-26) (US)
GenrePunk rock[11][12]
Songwriter(s)Sonny Curtis
The Clash singles chronology
"English Civil War"
"I Fought the Law"
"Groovy Times"
The Clash reissued singles chronology
"London Calling"
"I Fought the Law"
"Return to Brixton"
The Cost of Living track listing
4 tracks
Side one
  1. "I Fought the Law"
  2. "Groovy Times"
Side two
  1. "Gates of the West"
  2. "Capital Radio"

In mid-1978, the Clash were working on their second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope. Singer Joe Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones flew to San Francisco to record overdubs in September–October at the Automatt studio. The owner of the Automatt kept his collection of classic jukeboxes distributed around the various rooms of the studio complex. Strummer and Jones heard the Bobby Fuller version of "I Fought the Law" for the first time on one of the jukeboxes.[13] Their version first appeared on the EP The Cost of Living in May 1979 in the UK, and later that year 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, London, on December 28, 1978, 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 considered the film's title song.[14][15][16][17] On July 26, 1979, "I Fought the Law" was the first single by the band to be released in the United States.

In 1988, CBS Records re-issued the single (catalog number) in CD, 12-inch and 7-inch vinyl formats, with "City of the Dead" (2:24) and "1977" (1:40) as its 7-inch B-side. The song is featured as a downloadable track in the music video game series Rock Band.[18]

In 1989, during Operation Just Cause, the U.S. military surrounded the Apostolic Nunciature in Panama while trying to capture Manuel Noriega, the strongman of Panama. U.S. forces blasted loud rock music—including "I Fought the Law" by the Clash—to put pressure on Noriega to give himself up.[19]

In 2012, the Clash's version of the song was featured in the video game Sleeping Dogs, as part of a karaoke mini-game.

The song appears during the end credits of the 2014 film RoboCop, the 2016 film War on Everyone and the 2018 video game Lego DC Super-Villains.


Some of the percussive noises on the record were made by hitting the pipes on a urinal. Jones told Uncut magazine in 2015, "Yeah, we went into the toilets and banged on the pipes with hammers to make it sound like a chain gang. Y'know, that "clang! clang!" at the end? And then at the very end you can hear a "sssszzhhh!" That's it flushing!"[20]



Rel. Year Chart Peak
1st 1979 Irish Singles Chart[21] 24
2nd 1988 New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[22] 17
1988 UK Singles (OCC)[23] 29


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[24] Silver 200,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Other versions[edit]

  • Hank Williams Jr. recorded a version of the song in 1978, which was released on Family Tradition (1979). Released as the album's first single, it was a moderate hit and peaked at number 15 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart,[25] giving Williams his first Top 15 single in four years.
  • Dead Kennedys adapted "I Fought the Law" shortly after San Francisco politician Dan White murdered city Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. Most of the lyrics were re-written so the song was from White's point of view; the chorus was changed to "I fought the law, and I won", with the final line in the final chorus changed to "I am the law, so I won." The song portrays White as someone who got away with first-degree premeditated murder and is unrepentant about it and specifically cites his use of the diminished responsibility defense. It also makes use of the reference "Twinkie defense", where lead singer Jello Biafra sings "Twinkies are the best friend I ever had".[26] During Biafra's campaign for the office of Mayor of San Francisco, he proposed erecting statues of Dan White around the city and allowing the parks department to sell eggs and tomatoes with which people could pelt the statues.
  • Sam Neely's version of the song went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop charts and no. 61 on the country charts in 1975.[citation needed] Another country version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band went to No. 66 in 1992.[27]
  • Green Day's version of the song was used in 2004 for a Pepsi/iTunes commercial that premiered during Super Bowl XXXVIII.[28]
  • "I Fought the Lloyds" was a comedy version released in 2008 by British band Oystar in support of the campaign by Lloyds TSB customers mounting legal challenges to get their charges refunded. In this version lyrics were changed; the key line became "I fought the Lloyds and Lloyds lost".[29] It reached No. 25 on the UK Singles Chart.[30]


  1. ^ "Original versions of I Fought the Law written by Sonny Curtis | SecondHandSongs". SecondHandSongs.
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles: 1955-2010. Record Research, 2011.
  3. ^ Stiernberg, Bonnie. "The 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time". Paste. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  4. ^ Pitchfork Staff (August 18, 2006). "The 200 Best Songs of the 1960s". Pitchfork. Retrieved October 12, 2022. As cool a killer as any in rockabilly, he makes the sing-along confession of the title iconic in a song that's fast, hostile and, doomed...
  5. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Bobby Fuller Four – Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved January 3, 2009.
  6. ^ "The Bobby Fuller Four: I Fought the Law – Song Info". AllMusic. Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  7. ^ https://www.grammy.com/awards/hall-of-fame-award#i
  8. ^ "I fought the law in Canadian Top Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Archived from the original on February 26, 2015. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  9. ^ "Bobby Fuller awards on Allmusic". AllMusic. Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  10. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  11. ^ Hodge, Will (July 10, 2017). "The 30 Best Punk Cover Songs". Paste. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  12. ^ Battoclette, Augusta (July 5, 2021). "11 re-imagined cover songs that became popular: Check out these songs that are actually covers!". Alternative Press. Retrieved November 13, 2021.
  13. ^ Salewicz, Chris (2006). Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. Macmillan. pp. 222–223. ISBN 0-571-21178-X.
  14. ^ Hazan, Jack; David Mingay, Ray Gange, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Nicky Headon, Buzzy Enterprises, Epic Music Video (2006). Rude Boy (Documentary, Rockumentary). New York, NY, United States: Epic Music Video. ISBN 0-7389-0082-6. OCLC 70850190. 2nd edition digitally restored and remastered sound.
  15. ^ Green, Johnny; Barker, Garry (2003) [1997]. A Riot of Our Own: Night and Day with The Clash (3rd ed.). London: Orion. pp. 149–150. ISBN 0-7528-5843-2. OCLC 52990890.
  16. ^ Salewicz, Chris (May 15, 2007) [2006]. Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (1st American ed.). New York City: Faber and Faber. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-571-21178-4. OCLC 76794852.
  17. ^ Whistance, Don J. "Rude Boy". theclash.org.uk. Archived from the original on April 5, 2015. Retrieved January 22, 2008. 10 I Fought the Law: The Lyceum, West End, London on the 28 December 1978 was where the last piece of filming took place which included Sonny Curtis's song: 'I Fought the Law'.
    The Clash dressed all in black for the gig and played 'I Fought The Law ', which at that stage was being considered as the film's title song.
  18. ^ Kuchera, Ben (December 11, 2007). "New punk songs come to Rock Band". Ars Technica. Retrieved January 3, 2008. 'I Fought the Law' - The Clash
  19. ^ Tran, Mark (April 27, 2010). "Manuel Noriega – from US Friend to Foe". The Guardian. London.
  20. ^ "The Clash's 30 best songs". Uncut. London. March 13, 2015. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
  21. ^ "The Irish Chartd". IRMA. Archived from the original on June 2, 2009. Enter "I FOUGHT THE LAW" in Search by Song Title and click search.
  22. ^ "The Clash – I Fought The Law". Top 40 Singles.
  23. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  24. ^ "British single certifications – Clash – I Fought the Law". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  25. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 389.
  26. ^ "Welcome To The Official Website For Dead Kennedys". Deadkennedys.com. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  27. ^ "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved July 19, 2016.
  28. ^ "Pepsi iTunes – "I Fought The Law"". aaplinvestors.net. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  29. ^ Jones, Rupert (January 12, 2008). "The Reporter". The Guardian. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  30. ^ "I Fought the Lloyds | Full Official Chart History". Official Charts. Retrieved February 10, 2019.