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Monday, January 07, 2008

"...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 Springsteen-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. Their entire catalog has been reissued, and it sounds spectacular. There’s also a live DVD of a vintage 1982 concert out now. 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.

"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, 11:53 AM