440. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, by The Boomtown Rats

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.

428. ‘Rat Trap’, by The Boomtown Rats

Well, here we go then. The last big musical movement of the 1970s claims its first number one single. Time to ride a new wave…

Rat Trap, by The Boomtown Rats (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 12th – 26th November 1978

New Wave is a genre I’d struggle to describe. I know what it is, when it was, who its stars were… But it’s such a mish-mash of sounds that it might not actually be a genre at all. Is it punk? Ska? Synth-pop? A little smidgen of all those? For such an eclectic movement, this next record might be the perfect introduction.

‘Rat Trap’ is a mini rock-opera, telling the story of Billy, a dissatisfied youth: Billy don’t like it living here in this town, He says the traps have been sprung long before he was born… He’s bored and wants a fight, for want of something better to do. Musically there’s a lot going on here, as we swing from glam throwback to funky disco synths, and at times that busyness hides a very articulate piece of songwriting.

I like the line about ‘pus and grime oozing from scab-crusted sores’… And the momentum behind You’re young and good-looking and you’re acting kinda tough… Then there’s a trippy mid-section where Billy seems to be taking life advice from some traffic lights: Walk, Don’t walk, Talk, Don’t talk… as a tight, funky riff takes us downtown.

I think the main thing that defines New Wave is a playfulness, a willingness to not follow the rules of ‘rock’ that were laid down twenty-odd years before. ‘Rat Trap’ is certainly that. It’s a busy song – it reminds me of Wizzard in a way – but one that doesn’t get tired quickly. It’s high-grade pop: instantly catchy, but still layered and intelligent. It may not sound very punk – though the guitars are very spiky and sparse – but it is definitely ‘punk’ in attitude and subject matter.

Towards the end, Judy is introduced: a girl whose parents are arguing while Top of the Pops is on. She leaves, 50p in her pocket, and finds a drunk Billy in the Italian café. And if you expected a happy ending, two lovebirds running off to the bright lights of the big city… well, nope. It’s a rat trap, Judy… Billy announces… And we’ve been… CAUGHT! Cue a rocking outro. Rat trap, You’ve been caught in a…

I’m not sure how I know this song, but it’s one I’ve had in rotation for years. When people nowadays think of the Boomtown Rats, and lead-singer Bob Geldof in particular, they think of their second number one single, or Band Aid, and him generally being quite outspoken (“Give us yer fuckin’ money!”) But ‘Rat Trap’ deserves better than to be overshadowed. Coming after a long run of easy-listening numbers, soundtrack hits and Boney M, it sounds very fresh and daring. On Top of the Pops (is this the 1st chart-topper to knowingly reference the show in its lyrics?) Geldof ripped a picture of John Travolta in two as the band were announced as the nation’s new number one single. Plus, if nothing else, the Boomtown Rats were the first Irish band to score a UK #1 single. They won’t be the last…