An album of duets is usually the province of dire musical Mills and Boon novels. Some ponderous trudge through pastures of platitudes and a turgid exhibition of nothing new under the sun, listening to which is the equivalent of a reverse enema. Nancy & Lee waltz right through the usual flowery fields where overblown cliches bloom wearing boots that were made for walking and in a defiant stroll through love’s less travelled nettlesome outskirts they produced a masterpiece that still ripples in the sonic waves today.
The origins of the album already boded well, foretelling profound originality and an understanding of the craft. Nancy Sinatra heard the Lee Hazelwood song ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’, and naturally she was very fond of it. Hazelwood had been singing it at live shows and intended to release it as a single himself. Nancy Sinatra thought that was a ridiculous idea and set about prising the song from his ill-thought grasp.
“He said, ‘It’s not really a girl’s song. I sing it myself on stage.’ I told him that coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive,” she told Los Angeles Magazine, “But it was perfect for a little girl to sing.” This clever pledge to progression set the duo aside from the ever-spinning boy meets girl wheelhouse of the era, and they landed a huge hit with the song when Nancy released it in 1966.
Two years later, the off-kilter duo strolled into a studio once more and set about crafting an album of covers and originals, with the help of Billy Strange from the renowned Wrecking Crew and a slew of other first-rate session musicians for an album that paired a blissfully symphonic scope with the nitty-gritty of love. With this juxtaposition of pompadour melodies and realist beatdown reverie’s, they perfectly painted a vignette that boldly declared love as an elusive dream. The soaring sound upheld the lofty aspiration of union, while the acerbic lyrics disavowed it.
Nancy & Lee propagates innovative songwriting in every which way and nowhere was that more apparent than on ‘Some Velvet Morning’ which straddles the boundary of brilliant and dementing quite beautifully. Hazelwood’s moody operatic section rumbles grandly in 4/4 time, only for Nancy to take the mic for a twinkling stringed chorus in 3/4 time. This mashup eviscerates any notions of sticking to convention and imparts something that simply cannot be listened to without interest.
Ultimately, what resides in the record is a poetic swirl of mercurial individualism. Like all the best collaborations this is a definite double-hander, whereby the voices and the creative forces behind them perfectly mingle but more in a tango than a hand-in-hand amble. The songs are not subsumed by having to succumb to a succinct idea, they remain a pitch-perfect dichotomy that proves you don’t have to be singing from the same songsheet to be on the same page. It might have reached number 13 in the album charts upon release, but in this Promethean regard its influence has been immense and the silken pop-perfect compositions simply go without saying.