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
Format7-inch single
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, which went on to become a top-ten hit for the band in 1966 and was also recorded by the Clash in 1979. The Bobby Fuller Four version of this 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.


The song was written in 1958 by Sonny Curtis, and recorded in 1959 when he joined the Crickets, taking the place of the late Buddy Holly on guitar. Joe B. Mauldin and Jerry Allison continued their positions on the standup bass and drums, respectively, while Earl Sinks filled the role for vocals. The song was on their 1960 LP, In Style with the Crickets, and the following year appeared as the b-side of their single, "A Sweet Love". The song never received any airplay. Milwaukee's Paul Stefen and the Royal Lancers covered the song in 1962; it provided them with a local hit, but it never made the national charts.[1] 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"
Single by The Bobby Fuller Four
from the album I Fought the Law
B-side"Little Annie Lou"
ReleasedDecember 1965 (1965-12)
Format7-inch single
GenreGarage rock[2]
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"
Audio sample

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, California apartment. The Los Angeles Police Department declared the death an apparent suicide, but others believed him to have been murdered.[3] Fuller was 23 years old.

The mono and stereo mixes differ both Fuller's vocals and guitar riffs.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1966) Peak
Canadian RPM Top Singles[4] 11
US Billboard Hot 100[5] 9

The Clash version[edit]

"I Fought the Law"
I fought the law.jpg
Single by The Clash
B-side"(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais"
ReleasedJuly 26, 1979 (US)
Format7-inch single
GenrePunk rock
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"

In mid-1978, the Clash were working on their second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope. Singer Joe Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones flew out 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 listened to the Bobby Fuller version of "I Fought the Law" for the first time on one of the jukeboxes, and by the time they returned to England, they could perform the song.[6]

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, 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.[7][8][9][10] 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" and 7" vinyl formats, with "City of the Dead" (2:24) and "1977" (1:40) as its 7" B-side. The song is featured as a downloadable track in the music video game series Rock Band.[11]

In 1989 during Operation Just Cause, the US military surrounded the Apostolic Nunciature in Panama while trying to capture Manuel Noriega, the strongman of Panama. US forces blasted loud rock music—including "I Fought the Law" by the Clash—to put pressure on Noriega to give himself up.[12]

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 and the 2016 film War on Everyone.


Chart positions[edit]

Rel. Year Chart Peak
1st 1979 Irish Singles Chart[13] 24
2nd 1988 New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[14] 17
1988 UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[15] 29

Hank Williams Jr. version[edit]

In 1978 country artist Hank Williams Jr. recorded a version of the song that would appear on his 1979 album Family Tradition. Released as the album's first single, it was a moderate hit and peaked at #15 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, giving Williams his first Top 15 single in four years.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1978) Peak
Hot Country Singles & Tracks[16] 15

Dead Kennedys version[edit]

"I Fought the Law"
Song by Dead Kennedys
from the album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death[17]
ReleasedJune 1987
GenrePunk rock
LabelAlternative Tentacles

The punk band Dead Kennedys put together their own version of "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".[18]

Other versions[edit]

"I Fought the Law"
Single by Green Day
ReleasedFebruary 1, 2004
FormatDigital download
GenrePunk rock
Songwriter(s)Sonny Curtis
Green Day singles chronology
"I Fought the Law"
"American Idiot"
  • Dave Courtney recorded a version for the Scottish pop-punks Mute. Mute's frontman Jay Burnett wrote new lyrics based on Courtney's court case. Like the Dead Kennedys' version, the chorus is changed to "I fought the law and I won".
  • Green Day's version of the song was used in 2004 for a Pepsi/iTunes commercial that premiered during Super Bowl XXXVIII.[20] The single became a live favorite for the band throughout 2005, including television performances.
  • EBM artist Leæther Strip adapted the chorus in the song Law of Jante (Golem Mix) which is featured on his 2009 Yes, I'm Limited Vol. IV EP.

Metric released a song called "Monster Hospital" in 2005 that has chorus that largely references the song.


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles: 1955-2010. Record Research, 2011.
  2. ^ Stiernberg, Bonnie. "The 50 Best Garage Rock Songs of All Time". Paste. Retrieved 15 May 2016.
  3. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "AllMusic Biography: Bobby Fuller Four". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2009-01-03.
  4. ^ "I fought the law in Canadian Top Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  5. ^ "Bobby Fuller awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  6. ^ Salewicz, Chris (2006). Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. Macmillan. pp. 222–223. ISBN 0-571-21178-X.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Salewicz, Chris (2007-05-15) [2006]. Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (1st American ed.). New York: Faber and Faber. p. 246. ISBN 0-571-21178-X. OCLC 76794852.
  10. ^ Whistance, Don J. "Rude Boy". theclash.org.uk. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 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.
  11. ^ Kuchera, Ben (2007-12-11). "New punk songs come to Rock Band". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 'I Fought the Law' - The Clash
  12. ^ Tran, Mark (2010-04-27). "Manuel Noriega - from US friend to foe". The Guardian. London.
  13. ^ "The Irish Chartd". IRMA. Archived from the original on June 3, 2009. Enter "I FOUGHT THE LAW" in Search by Song Title and click search.
  14. ^ "Charts.nz – The Clash – I Fought The Law". Top 40 Singles.
  15. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  16. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine (1949-05-26). "Hank Williams Jr. – Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  17. ^ a b Raggett, Ned. "Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death review on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  18. ^ "Welcome To The Official Website For Dead Kennedys". Deadkennedys.com. Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  19. ^ "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - Chart history". Billboard. Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  20. ^ "Pepsi iTunes – "I Fought The Law"". aaplinvestors.net. Retrieved 2017-08-02.

External links[edit]