The real reason The Clash covered I Fought the Law by Bobby Fuller Four

In 1979, The Clash broke America with the release of their 1977 debut The Clash which now boasted their newly recorded song "I Fought the Law," which became their first single to be released in the States. Today, it typically appears with "All Along the Watchtower" and "Hurt" on lists of song covers that usurped the original. In fact, this song falls into this category twice. First we know it as The Clash's cover of the 1965 recording by the short lived The Bobby Fuller Four, however, that version is a cover itself, reworking the original 1960 song by The Crickets.

A song about opposing the law makes for great material for a punk song and "I Fought the Law" delivered, not just by propelling The Clash to fame but by becoming an iconic punk rock song. Did The Clash cover it for this reason though? Or was it due to some kind of felt kinship with these early American rock groups?

Well, in The Clash: Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon, a collection of interviews about the history of the group, Mick Jones owns up that they found it on "a fantastic jukebox" in the studio where they recorded their sophomore album Give 'Em Enough Rope: "A lot of the tunes we did by other people were tunes we liked and were listening to and playing at the time." 

The real reason for The Clash's success

One of the reasons The Clash succeeded as much as they did was because they, unlike many other punk bands at the time, noticed the similarities between what they played and other genres of music. A New York Times review of their album Sandinista! credits them with being one the first bands to really play on the affinity between punk and reggae. Then, they continued to turn their gaze outwards, integrating, not imitating, soul, funk, disco, and anything else that pricked their interests with their rough edged punk roots.

In that spirit, The Clash takes The Bobby Fuller Four's song with its swaying rockabilly sensibilities and adds a frenetic punk energy to it while keeping the basic feel of its origins. The real reason The Clash covered "I Fought the Law" then, is that that's what they did, and the lessons they were willing to learn ensured their status as "The Only Band that Mattered."