Written by Texan musician Sonny Curtis, ‘I Fought The Law’ was first recorded in 1959 by The Crickets when Curtis was drafted into the band following Buddy Holly’s tragic early death in February that year. Telling the story of a regretful delinquent missing his “baby” after his incarceration for spree of armed robbery, the song’s potential as a hit record was considerably slow in its realisation; The Crickets only viewed it as an album track and b-side while delightfully obscure acts such as Paul Stefen & the Royal Lancers and Sammy Masters succeeded only in propelling it into the realm of regional chart hit modesty.
Five years after The Crickets’ original release, it was with a version by El Paso natives The Bobby Fuller Four that the song finally achieved national popularity. With an anticipatory drum intro, a less cumbersome rhythm track and a superior spirit of vocal performance, their version delivered a peppy dynamism that made The Crickets’ version look somewhat pedestrian. The Clash also had a crack at it of course but, despite the merits of their 1979 interpretation, the song suffered without the charming bounce of its strum along simplicity.
The Bobby Fuller Four version of ‘I Fought The Law’ peaked at number 9 in the US Billboard Hot 100 in March 1966. Tragically, just a few months after achieving his first Top 10 hit, and aged just 23, band leader Bobby Fuller was found dead from asphyxiation in a car parked outside his Hollywood apartment; a verdict of suicide was ruled by the Los Angeles Police Department but the nature of Fuller’s death remains steeped in rumours, speculation and mystery.
Far less nebulous in his band’s recording of ‘I Fought The Law’; the song’s most successful and definitive version.