The great thing about Sonny Curtis’ “I Fought the Law,” is that it takes the usual rock-n-roll bellicosity and turns it on its head. I’ve always had a problem with Bruce Springsteen’s early work because it was all about how we’re gonna drive this car out of town and conquer the world. It offends my sense of dramatic believability. I much prefer “The River,” where an older man looks back on his naive younger self. Anyway, “I Fought the Law,” is wonderfully perverse from the perspective of a traditional rock worldview.
What’s more, the wording is very important. It isn’t, “I fought the law, but the law won.” That would at least go somewhat along with rock bellicosity. I fought the system but fate was conspired against me! No, the wording is, “I fought the law, and the law won.” It is axiomatic. If you fight the law, the law will win. Things didn’t go badly for it. They went exactly as you expected them to go. In fact, maybe you should be glad that you are breaking rocks in the hot sun and not dead. Resignation in rock-n-rock is a great thing.
Here is The Clash’s iconic rendering of the song live at the Lyceum Theatre, London back in 1979.