"I Fought the Law" is a song written by Sonny Curtis of the Crickets and became 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.


 [hide*1 History


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.

The song contains a break in the line "Robbing people with a six gun", where the rhythm continues in regular time signature but plays two triplets (i.e., 6 beats in succession), in order to represent six shots of the "six gun" revolver in the song.[citation needed] This rhythmic device is found in the Crickets, Clash, and Bobby Fuller Four versions of the song.

Bobby Fuller Four version[edit]Edit

"I Fought the Law"

Single cover of the Bobby Fuller version of "I Fought the Law"

Single by The Bobby Fuller Four
from the album I Fought the Law
B-side "Little Annie Lou"
Released December 1965
Format Vinyl
Genre Rock
Length 2:14
Label Mustang
Writer(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
MENU  0:00 file info · help

After enjoying regional success in Texas, Bobby Fuller and 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.[2] Fuller was 23 years old.

Chart positions[edit]Edit

Chart (1966) Peak


Canadian RPM Top Singles[3] 11
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[4] 9

The Clash version[edit]Edit

"I Fought the Law"
Single by The Clash
from the album The Cost of Living
B-side "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais"
Released July 26, 1979 (U.S.)
Format Vinyl
Genre Punk rock
Length 2:38
Label CBS50738
Writer(s) Sonny Curtis
The Clash singles chronology
"English Civil War"


"I Fought the Law"


"Groovy Times"


The Clash reissued singles chronology
"London Calling"re-release


"I Fought the Law" re-release


"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.[5]

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 TheatreWest EndLondon 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.[6][7][8][9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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


Chart positions[edit]Edit

Rel. Year Chart Peak


1st 1979 Irish Singles Chart[12] 24
2nd 1988 New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[13] 17
1988 UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[14] 29

Dead Kennedys version[edit]Edit

"I Fought the Law"
Song by Dead Kennedys from the album Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death[15]
Released June 1987
Format Vinyl
Genre Punk rock
Length 2:18[15]
Label Alternative Tentacles
Writer Sonny Curtis / Jello Biafra /East Bay Ray

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, and the chorus was changed to "I fought the law, and 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".

Other versions[edit]Edit

"I Fought the Law"
Single by Green Day
Released February 1, 2004
Format Digital download
Genre Punk rock
Length 2:49
Label Reprise
Writer(s) Sonny Curtis
Green Day singles chronology


"I Fought the Law"


"American Idiot"


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. Hank Williams Jr. had a No. 15 country hit with the song in 1978 and another country version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band went to No. 66 in 1992.[16]

Dave Courtney, the London gangster, sang alongside Scottish pop-punks Mute, fronted by Jay Burnett, who wrote an updated version 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".

In 1999, Mike Ness of Social Distortion covered the tune on his second solo effort, Under the Influences, which peaked at No. 174 on the Billboard 200 (November 27, 1999).

In addition, Richard ClaptonDucks DeluxeShe TrinityBeatsteaksViperBryan AdamsJohn Cougar MellencampJohnny CashBruce SpringsteenRoy Orbison,Tom PettySocial DistortionStiff Little FingersMike NessWaylon JenningsGary AllanGreen DayAlvin and the ChipmunksSka-Pthe Jolly BoysGrateful Dead,Stray CatsMary's DanishClaude FrançoisMano Negra, the Big Dirty BandLolita No. 18the Brian Jonestown MassacreAttaque 77Die Toten HosenStatus Quo,Nanci GriffithLa Vida BohèmeAnti-FlagChumbawambaTsuyoshi Kawakami and His Moodmakersthe Airborne Toxic EventThe Bad ShepherdsJohnny Marr and numerous other artists have covered this song live or in studio. For the 2003 film IntermissionColin Farrell recorded a version of the song, singing it in the guise of his character in the film. The Mary's Danish recording is featured in the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), and the accompanying soundtrack release Buffy the Vampire Slayer Soundtrack.

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