The Bobby Fuller Four

I Fought the Law

Song Review by

"I Fought the Law" was Bobby Fuller's only major hit, reaching the Top Ten in early 1966. Fuller had lots of good material besides this single, but even among listeners who only know this one record of his, it's often acknowledged as a rock'n'roll classic. It's also the archetypal rock'n'roll song of conflict between the outlaw and the law, not so much celebrating the outlaw outsider as acting as a cautionary tale of the consequences of living outside the law. "I Fought the Law" establishes an exciting, dramatic atmosphere right from the outset with low heavy drum rolls, settling into a hand-clapping rhythm and a galloping Tex-Mex guitar riff that might be the perfect combination of rock'n'roll and Western cowboy music. It's the first image of the song that stays with you the most indelibly: the picture of the singer breaking rocks in the hot sun, immediately followed by the chorus noting "I fought the law, and the law won." For such potentially downbeat subject matter, the tone of the record is actually pretty upbeat and celebratory: Fuller knows he's been beaten, but sounds like he wouldn't have changed a thing. Still, the finality of his sentence is emphasized by a neat bit where his lyric about robbing people with a six-gun is unexpectedly punctuated by a drop-out of all the instruments save an especially drawn-out drum roll. The core lyric of a caught bank robber gets a little tangled by passing references to regret over the woman he's left behind, but that doesn't diminish the power of the song, beefed up by full backup harmonies from rest of the Bobby Fuller Four. "I Fought the Law" has a much longer history than most fans are aware of, having first appeared as an obscure LP track on the 1960 album In Style with the Crickets. The Crickets at this point were operating without their former frontman Buddy Holly, and the song was written by Cricket Sonny Curtis. The track was discovered, however, by Bobby Fuller, who sounded a great deal like Buddy Holly at times. Actually Fuller didn't change the original arrangement a great deal, just adding some punch and making it a little less avowedly Hollyesque. Fuller first recorded it on a 1964 non-hit single, but redid it a little while later, the remake not differing a whole lot from Fuller's first attempt, but again sounding fuller and more AM-radio ready, particularly in the hard-hitting percussion sounds. "I Fought the Law" has been covered many times since Fuller made it a hit, the roster of cover artists including the Dead Kennedys, the Stray Cats, and Hank Williams, Jr. But undoubtedly the most well known post-Fuller cover version was the one by the Clash.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Oldies But Goodies: Legendary Hits 1979
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:16
Highs of the Sixties 1986
Various Artists
Warner Music / Warner Bros. 2:13
Classic Rock: 1966 1987
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:19
Battle of the Bands, Vol. 1 [K-Tel] 1988
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 2:17
Golden Oldies, Vol. 9 [Original Sound 1989] 1989
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment
The Bobby Fuller Four [Ace] 1990 Ace 2:19
No Image 1991
Various Artists
Rhino
Son of Frat Rock 1991
Various Artists
Rhino 2:17
Radio Gold [Ace] 1992
Various Artists
Ace 2:19
I Fought the Law/KRLA King of the Wheels 1994 Del-fi 2:19
Hot Rod: Hot Rod Rebels 1997
Various Artists
The Right Stuff 2:18
Chart Toppers: Rock Hits of the 60s 1998 Priority Records 2:19
Cruisin' [Crimson] 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions
Frat Rock! 3 Pac 1998
Various Artists
Rhino 2:17
Never to Be Forgotten: The Mustang Years 1998 Del-Fi Records, Inc. / Del-fi 2:18
Hot Rod Box Set 1999
Various Artists
The Right Stuff 2:21
Chartbusters USA, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Ace 2:05
Rockin' 60's, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:15
Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 7-9 2000
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:16
Oldies But Goodies, Vol. 8 & 9 2000
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:16
The Woodstock Generation: Everything Is Beautiful 2001
Various Artists
Woodstock Records 2:18
Beat Boom 2001
Various Artists
Disky / Disky Communications 2:15
American Bandstand 2001
Various Artists
Band Stand 2:16
One Hit Wonders: Hard Two Get Hits [Box Set] 2001
Various Artists
One Hit 2:15
A Year in Your Life: 1960's, Vol. 3 2001
Various Artists
Definitive 2:17
American Bandstand: CD 3 2001
Various Artists
Disky 2:16
Golden Oldies, Vol. 4 [Original Sound 2002] 2002
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:16
Rock On 1966 2004
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:19
The '60s Rock Experience 2005
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 2:17
The Sixties: Frat House Hits 2006
Various Artists
American Beat Records 2:19
The Greatest Groovy 60's Hits of All Time 2006
Various Artists
Rhino 2:18
Fender: The Golden Age 1950-1970 2012
Various Artists
Ace / Ace UK 2:19
Honey Honey: The Sound of Bubblegum Pop 2012
Various Artists
Sony Music / Sony Music Distribution 2:17
Magic Touch: The Complete Mustang Singles Collection 2018 Now Sounds 2:19
No Image
Various Artists
Audio Fidelity