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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Even the muggers are off the streets by eight

Once upon a time, Bob Geldof was an asshole, and infinitely more interesting.

I’m using the term “asshole” in the most complimentary, and admittedly, inflammatory fashion here. Geldof, alongside the sadly neglected Johnnie Fingers (keys), Garry Roberts (guitar), Gerry Cott (more guitar), Pete Briquette (bass), and Simon Crowe (drums) formed the Boomtown Rats, spitting out Springsteenish observations with just enough wit and bile to tag them as “post-punk” or “new wave,” although those genres limited what they were actually doing. Geldof and the band were not afraid to hold a sardonic, snappish and sometimes sad mirror up to what was going down in Ireland as well as the world, and as a result, came off as brash, bratty, good ol’ assholes.

At first.


After scoring quite a few hits in the UK, including a number one with “Rat Trap” (a song I can’t take because it’s so Bruce-by-the-numbers, right down to the faux Clarence Clemons sax solo), the Rats set their sights on America. While on a U.S. radio tour promoting their second LP “A Tonic for the Troops”, the news came over the wire about a school shooting in suburban San Diego. When asked why she did it, the teenaged female shooter simply shrugged, “I don’t like Mondays.”

The Rats had their first taste of American airplay and chart success with the resulting single. Make that “some” airplay and chart success, since a boycott over the tastefulness or lack thereof of said single impeded the song’s chances. Since then, it’s become one of those songs, like Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” whose legend has grown over the years in comparison to its actual chart standing and popularity during its release. A retroactive classic.

After that, things were pretty quiet stateside, save for some college radio heat and a few videos on light rotation on MTV, including one that most Americans associate with the Boomtown Rats, “Up All Night.”

“Up All Night” had a strange, circuitous route of release. It was left off non-U.S. and Canadian versions of “Mondo Bongo”, the Rat’s fourth album. Besides getting this track on its version of that album, North America also got it via the “Rat Trax” EP, plus a 7” single. Everyone else had to wait for the Rats’ next album, “V Deep” to hear it, and even then it via a radically different version than what we in the states got to hear. “Up All Night” was not chosen as a single for the UK, that distinction going to the epic “Never In a Million Years.” This explains why it’s left off the recent “Best of the Boomtown Rats” compilation…everywhere else but here, it was merely an album track.

The U.S. album and single version of “Up All Night” is stripped down to drums and bass, with some guitar and keys thrown in, almost a dub version, tailor-made for 1983 dancefloors, where it scored quite well. If this is the version you’re used to hearing (and seeing, via the video), the UK version, which is much more of a straight-ahead new wave rock song, is quite startling but still excellent. This ability to change gears musically carried over to all their mostly excellent albums, where you'd find a rock song going into a deep dub reggae song, then a dancey tune, genres be damned.

A similar thing happened with the lead single off the Rats’ final album “In the Long Grass”. A poignant song about helping a grieving friend through depression, “Dave” got completely misunderstood by some coward at the Rats’ American record company and as a result, had the lyrics completely rewritten and re-titled “Rain.” Again, this is the version most of North America is familiar with, since it also had a video that got some MTV play, to no avail. “In the Long Grass” was dead on arrival, even after the record company left it on the shelf until after Band Aid and Live Aid, and then released it, hoping to capitalize on Geldof’s higher profile.

Oh, yes. Live Aid. Band Aid. Saint Bob. Bono. Ethopia. Good deeds. Rats breakup. Horrible solo albums. Affairs. Tabloids. Boring.

But today is a great time to be a Boomtown Rats fan. This month, their entire catalog was reissued, and it sounds spectacular. There’s also a live DVD of a vintage 1982 concert being released stateside next month. Now’s the time to rediscover this music, so criminally out of print for nearly 15 years.

I mean, not to dismiss all the good you’ve done man, but we liked you more as an asshole, Bob.

Download the original UK version of ”Up All Night”
Download the original UK version of ”Dave (Rain)”

"I Don't Like Mondays" peaked at #73 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"Up All Night/Elephant's Graveyard" peaked at #54 as a double A-side 12" on the Billboard Club Play chart.
"Rain" did not chart.

Buy the re-issues from The Boomtown Rats.

Find out more about the Boomtown Rats at Boomtown
posted by John, 4:47 PM | link |

Friday, February 18, 2005

Wilde Child

Welcome to Lost in the ‘80s. Here’s where you’ll find the other side of all the big hits you remember…the failed follow-ups to the one-hit wonders, the album tracks that got significant airplay in some parts of the country/world but ignored in others, and the songs MTV may have played to death but never translated into sales or chart action…songs that didn’t deserve to be forgotten…songs that got Lost in the ‘80s.

With the blog’s mission statement out of the way, I must admit a fair amount of hand-wringing went into picking what song with which to debut the new blog. The song had to represent all aspects of the mission statement in a big way. After stewing it over, I narrowed it down to two songs – two songs that represented completely different musical eras that belonged to the ‘80s, New Wave and Hi-NRG, two songs that were failed follow-ups to a major hit, yet didn’t deserve to be Lost in the ‘80s.

It was by chance that both songs happened to be by the same artist – Kim Wilde.


Long before Joseph Simpson creeped everyone out by pimping out his daughters Jessica and Ashlee, father Marty and brother Ricki brought Kim Wilde into the pop world, writing and masterminding her material, while Mom Wilde played manager. They hit paydirt right out of the gate, unleashing the imminently catchy “Kids in America,” which climbed the charts worldwide. “Kids in America” remains a classic pop song, one of my top ten picks for single of the ‘80s, still vital and energizing to today’s ears. Don’t believe me? Put it on in a club…any club…and watch the crowd react.

When it came time for a follow-up, the Wildes had plenty of hummable tunes to choose from, since Kim’s debut disc was packed with them. “Chequered Love” was the pick, a hyperkinetic, very much of its time new wave stomper, perfect for the 1982 airwaves. “Chequered Love” was a hit everywhere “Kids in America” hit, peaking in the mid-teens and top tens of pop charts worldwide…

…except for the kids in America.

In the U.S. “Chequered Love” stalled immediately upon release. A third attempt at a U.S. single, “Water on Glass” fared a little better, scraping the bottom of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. But save for a campy, fun-to-look-at video which MTV played a few times, the hooked-filled “Chequered Love” got Lost in the ‘80s, and Kim Wilde became a one-hit wonder.

Two years later, after a few more worldwide hit singles, the Wildes and MCA, Kim’s new American label, tried to break the U.S. again, this time jettisoning Kim’s appealing new wave sound and image and replacing it with a sound that positively dripped with every sad excess that permeated Top 40 radio in 1984. “The Second Time” (renamed “Go For It” for its U.S. release, for reasons that are self-evident at first listen) was Big ‘80s all the way, from its Trevor Horn/Frankie Goes to Hollywood deep bass-popping sound, to the blasting synth horns, booming drums and bombastic background singers screaming along the chorus with Kim. And good golly, just exactly what did Kim want her man to do for a second time…? Let’s check the lyrics:

I’m never letting go - baby don’t expect me to
How can you stop when my whole world’s exploding
Look in the mirrors - and see the heat of something new
Why don’t we do it - just do it once again

There’s such an urgency in everything I need from you
Stop giving up - you know you can’t refuse me
I’ve every reason to believe there’s still a man in you
You done it once so come on go again

Just go for it
Just go for the second time

Oh, that. That’s all well and good, I suppose. Women need more time, foreplay, and WAITAMINUTE! Wasn’t this song written for her by her FATHER AND BROTHER?!?


It’s all so ridiculously over the top that you can’t help but smile and nod along while you turn it down before anyone else catches you listening to it. “The Second Time” peaked at number 29 on the U.K. charts.

Except for some club play, again, America ignored it.

Did these songs deserve to be Lost in the ‘80s? Both sound dated by today’s standards, but curiously enough, the new wave sound that MCA thought was dated by 1984, sounds more vital in 2005 than the “sound of today” that the label forced upon Kim with “The Second Time”. Both songs are well-crafted slices of pop, with strong, well-structured melodies and choruses, and they both follow my rules for a classic pop song – verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus and no longer than four minutes.

Oh, and don’t feel bad for Kim’s American chart career. In 1987, the Wildes jumped yet another pop train and hijacked the Stock/Aiken/Waterman sound to produce a remake of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”. Of course, it was shlockey and familiar enough to U.S. ears to hit number one.

Download “Chequered Love” by Kim Wilde
Download “The Second Time” by Kim Wilde

”Kids in America” peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“Chequered Love” did not chart.
“Water on Glass” peaked at #53 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
“The Second Time” did not chart.
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On” peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

For more about Kim Wilde, visit
posted by John, 3:40 PM | link |