From a song about robot prostitutes, to a song about a school shooter… Ladies and gentleman, the summer of ’79!
I Don’t Like Mondays, by The Boomtown Rats (their 2nd and final #1)
4 weeks, from 22nd July – 19th August 1979
It’s a dramatic intro: all piano cascades and flourishes, but twisted and taunting compared to, say, ‘I Will Survive’s famous flutter. They then gather speed, twined with ominous strings, and it all sounds like the start of a Jim Steinman rock opera, while sounding nothing like Boomtown Rats’ first chart-topper, ‘Rat Trap’.
Not only is there a memorable intro; the opening lyrics are also very ear-catching. The silicon chip inside her head, Gets switched to overload… A young girl – perhaps it’s Judy from ‘Rat Trap’? – has had enough. Nobody’s going to go to school today, She’s gonna make them stay at home… Bob Geldof doesn’t just look like a young Mick Jagger, he also sounds like an Irish version of the Stones’ frontman here…
Tell me why… I don’t like Monday’s! It’s a chorus that’s entered popular culture, one that you mighty mutter to yourself at the start of the week as you close the front door. And yet, I wasn’t exaggerating in my introduction. The song is based on true events from January 1979, when a sixteen-year-old girl opened fire on an elementary school playground in San Diego, killing two people and injuring eight children. When asked why she did it she replied: ‘I just don’t like Mondays…’ Think of that next time you whistle this in your driveway…
This is a great song, a brilliantly confident number one by a band flitting between genres, drunk on musical possibilities. Again it’s a ‘new wave’ band putting the old guard to shame with their inventiveness. It is a bit over the top at times, though – the strings and piano make it feel like a showtune – and Geldof does ham it up, especially when we get to the actual shooting: The lesson today is HOW TO DIE!! (OK, Bob. We get it…) But if the worst thing you can say about a song is that it’s a bit much, then you’re onto a good thing.
The more I listen to this, the more I wonder if there’s a knowing nod to last year’s big High School #1 hits (y’know, the ‘Grease’ ones) in the cutesy handclaps, the doo-wop backing vocals, and ironic lines like: Sweet sixteen, Ain’t that peachy keen… Maybe ‘Summer Nights’ would be even better if it had a line about blowing your classmates’ brains out? Anyway, Geldof later expressed regret at writing his band’s signature hit, as it gave the real-life shooter, Brenda Ann Spencer, further exposure. Allegedly Spencer even wrote to Geldof to thank him for making her even more famous…
A tawdry underbelly, then, to a very enjoyable song. Not your usual ‘summer anthem’ material, but another glittering jewel in what has been a largely superb run of number ones during the first half of 1979. The Boomtown Rats would go on to have another couple of Top 10 hits in the early eighties before slipping swiftly from view, though they recently reformed and released their first studio album since 1984. Bob Geldof, meanwhile, will still have a large part to play in one of the biggest ever number one hits…
From robotic hookers to murderous teenagers… And if you thought that normal service was going to resume then you’re in for a shock. The summer of ’79 is about to take an even more terrifying twist… Cliff is back! Next time, on the UK Number Ones Blog.
9 thoughts on “440. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, by The Boomtown Rats”
Another “Epic” record for me, melodramatic and chilling but also great pop. The shooter might have thought she was getting fame but nobody’s heard of her today, as it should be for all cold-blooded murderers, denying the attention they want is the second-best result after a jail sentence. I think I still love this more than I still love Rat Trap. The next single Diamond Smiles didn’t quite go as planned, suicide not a great topic for a pop song, but Someone’s Looking At You was decent, and Banana Republic fun. I went to see them when they were struggling to get arrested and the hits dried up, but I still liked the flop stuff like Dave. And of course Sir Bob morphed into a gobby icon around the same time as the Long Grass album.
We all know that Bob the Gob was famous from the word go for pushing the boundaries out, but although we were a bit less staid in 1979 than in the early 1960s when ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’ and ‘Terry’ were more or less banned somewhere because one of the main dramatis personae died on a motorbike, it was still something for a record about a real-life shooting incident to top the charts for a full month without being proscribed by Radio 1 or Top of the Pops. As for suicide…’Emma’ by Hot Chocolate was one that RAK initially hesitated to release as a single, but it became the band’s first top three single. “Well Billy rapped all night about his suicide…” (‘All the Young Dudes’) never shut any broadcasting gates for Mott The Hoople. Ditto ‘Theme From MASH (Suicide is Painless)’, a No. 1 in 1980 even with no artist to promote it.
Interesting. It’s almost as if there’s no rhyme or reason when it comes to deciding what’s offensive and what’s not…
I liked the song. They were “different”…very British. It got some rotation on MTV.
I’ve always liked this one a lot. It shows he did do more things than just host benefit concerts.
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