As the hemlines rose, so did the footwear, the miniskirt exposing more thigh as its fashion first mate the go-go boot rose to conceal the calf. The effect was anything but modest, though.
The miniskirt and go-go boot create visual shorthand for a particular time and a particular sort of person – young, female, single, on the cusp between home and hearth traditions and the great unknowns of liberation.
The look signals 1960s, no doubt, but not the ’60s of Haight-Ashbury, riots and revolution. It’s the jet-setting, swinging London discotheque ’60s: more Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In than love-in, more “Green Tambourine” than Grateful Dead.
It’s all but impossible to think of go-go boots and not have Nancy Sinatra come to mind, and what’s wrong with that? Mad genius songwriter Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” fit Sinatra’s tough-gal persona as snugly as those boots fit her calves.
Nancy didn’t have Daddy’s pipes but she hardly needed them to make “Boots” her anthem. She sneers and scoffs her way through the lyrics with up-yours attitude, an all-too-rare show of female assertiveness on the pop charts.
Consider “Boots” as the antidote to another 1966 smash, Sandy Posey’s utterly masochistic “Born a Woman”: “Born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on and treated like dirt,” she sang before concluding that she’s “glad it happened that way.” Yuck. Somebody should have sent Sandy a pair of go-go boots. And a brand new book of matches.
Fortunately, Posey’s ode to doormats isn’t among the songs performed in Shout! The Mod Musical, which currently swings in the Straz Center’s Jaeb Theater. “Boots” is, though, and it’s the most assertive of the playlist, which features about two dozen tunes associated with female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Lulu and Petula Clark.
Costumes and dialogue set Shout solidly in the 1960s, but nothing creates the feel of that tumultuous decade better than the music. These aren’t the psychedelic extravaganzas or lyrically ponderous offerings beloved of the Woodstock crowd. These are tunes written, produced and arranged to be hits, intended to broadcast their emotions through tinny transistor radio speakers for a few weeks until the next single tagged in.
But a funny thing happened on the way to musical obscurity – these songs continued to resonate long after they slipped off the charts.
Lulu imbued schoolgirl-crush anthem “To Sir With Love” with an unguarded exuberance that still melts hearts. Petula Clark made the city sound like the dashing, romantic place to be on “Downtown.”
And then there’s Dusty.
Shout taps Dusty’s catalog for four of its tunes. “I Only Want to Be With You” and “Wishin’ and Hopin’” capture the giddy first flush of young love, while “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” is a very grown-up tale of heartache.
“Son of a Preacher Man,” though, is something very different. For this number, Dusty swapped orchestral pop for gritty American soul and found she was a natural at both. It’s a sexually assertive song lyrically, sung by a woman who knows what she wants.
Google Dusty’s images and you’ll see she favored elegant evening gowns over trendy fashions. Whatever she wore to record “Preacher Man,” though, the attitude is pure “Boots.” Probably paired with a faded denim miniskirt.
Nancy would be proud.