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Aug 08

THE BOOMTOWN RATS – “Rat Trap”

FT + Popular/196 comments • 9,019 views

#428, 18th November 1978

“Rat Trap” is billed – in the Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles, no less – as the first punk No.1. I couldn’t recall it – my memories of the Rats themselves were vague; Geldof I knew for later good works. So I approached “Rat Trap” cold but with a frisson of definite expectation. Geldof tore up a picture of John’n’Liv on Top Of The Pops, didn’t he? So “Rat Trap” – great title, Sir B – was surely something tight and angry, a sliver of nimble menace in the shadows of 1978’s poptopian monsterhits.

Five minutes later my expectation had turned to shock and laughter. Whatever I’d anticipated it wasn’t this: five woeful minutes of scraggy street-rock pastiche, Born To Run with the melted-down Crystals records replaced by stolen chip fat. Far from the first punk No.1, this risible track sounded like an early warning of one of indie’s less palatable side-effects: a deadly combination of overreach and the feeling of virtuous entitlement that being (relatively) outside the mainstream would lend to mediocre bands.

But once I’d lived with “Rat Trap” a bit, my initial scorn softened – starting with that scouring horn riff, the truest bit of E Street channeling here. After all, I really like “Born To Run” and prime Boss, so why should I care about someone biting it? And honestly, there’s more going on than I thought: Springsteen’s possibilities of escape closed off – the rat trap doesn’t open up again, even when Billy meets Judy. And come to think of it Judy’s dreams aren’t of getting out of town, they revolve around independence via work in the local factory. Yes, “Rat Trap” is laying it on thick, when even the crossing signals are holding The Kids down, but ridicule is a reasonable trade-off for one of the song’s most exciting peaks, the “BILLY TAKE A WALK!” chant.

I still think “Rat Trap” is a mess, overlong and a victim of its own ambition, Geldof trying to cram in every pop trick he’s ever heard of. 4 in 5 times when it comes on I get frustrated with it before I’ve hit halfway: the fifth it catches me in the right mood, and I love its preposterous kitchen sink epic feel – “Hand in her pocket! SHE FINDS FIFTY PEE!!”. It’s still a mile away from my idea of punk, but it’s hard not to feel charitable towards such an eager record.

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Comments

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  1. 121
    wichita lineman on 18 Aug 2008 #

    And with punk came a return to
    the (—)
    with a post punk burst of
    (—)
    and
    (—) (—)
    followed by an electro duo/proggers on the make/Scouse weirdness
    (—) (—) (—) (—) (—)

  2. 122
    Caledonianne on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Boo Radleys.

  3. 123
    Pete Baran on 19 Aug 2008 #

    Pluralisation in the name often forces the definate article (because you are actually talking about a singular thing, you linguistic habit is to avoid confusion by stating this). Hence the requirement in The Bizzcocks, The Editors, The Happy Mondays, but not where its clear. I am going to see New Order sounds fine.

    One where the multiplicity is implied in the sense of the bands name often have it both ways. It seems acceptible to say The Joy Division in a sentence and bothe Army Of Lovers / The Army Of Lovers work. Sorry its always bee The Boo Radleys to me, plural and literature derived. You can’t force the way language works. You can just sometimes codify the capitalisation on the the. Who really fuck things up.

  4. 124
    rosie on 19 Aug 2008 #

    With the plural, I get the sense that the definite article connotes a kind of egoism (“we are the only Kinks, there can be no other”) and without is more general and self-effacing, or perhaps of being one in a larger collection (“we are Buzzcocks, but there’s loads of other Buzzcocks about”). The latter does seem to sit better with punk.

  5. 125
    Billy Smart on 19 Aug 2008 #

    One reason why Sparks is much better than The Sparks, of course, is it makes the name both a noun and a verb.

  6. 126
    henry s on 19 Aug 2008 #

    do we prefer Sweet, or The Sweet?

  7. 127
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 19 Aug 2008 #

    #125: swans and foals are also (arguably) verbs, the first in context quite funny (=gira fannyin around), the second weird and a bit icky

  8. 128
    Mark G on 19 Aug 2008 #

    The Can.

  9. 129
    DJ Punctum on 19 Aug 2008 #

    Worked for Monster Movie but then they really had to can The Can.

  10. 130
    Mark G on 19 Aug 2008 #

    yr office, 9am…

  11. 131
    wichita lineman on 19 Aug 2008 #

    They seemed to become The Sweet again at some point in the 90s, no matter what their artwork might say. Not sure why cos it was always Sweet and Slade – or Sleet and Suede as Alf Garnett said at the time – in 73/74. Can anyone work this one out?

    Or does everyone say “I love Blockbuster by Sweet” outside of my bubble?

  12. 132
    henry s on 19 Aug 2008 #

    to my ears, “The Sweet” sounds like how one’s dad might refer to them….as in, “so, Wichita, off to see The Squeeze then?…right, enjoy…home by midnight!”

  13. 133
    wichita lineman on 19 Aug 2008 #

    I was worried you’d say that, son.

  14. 134
    Alan on 19 Aug 2008 #

    it’s when the band is used, er, ‘adjectivally’ (?) that the definite article gets some bashing out of existence…

    I went to a The Smiths gig
    I went to the The Smiths gig that you are talking about
    I see that the new The Smiths album is out
    I see you have a The Smiths album

    all sound wrong (and not cos of the example chosen)

  15. 135
    Billy Smart on 19 Aug 2008 #

    Interestingly, the only group for whom I’d retain the definite article when making any of the above four comments would be The The.

  16. 136
    Erithian on 20 Aug 2008 #

    Billy, you get the “QI” klaxons and flashing screen for using the The The gag!

  17. 137
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 20 Aug 2008 #

    esp.as pete already made it

    alan’s post at #134 is a variation on the argument i use as a sub to “prove” that galleries and newspapers (and etc) don’t get to capitalise the The in their address or elsewhere; the argument abt bands and their The and capitalisation thereof is ongoing…

    (classic imperial convention has it that by special dispensationb The Times does get to, but eg the Observer and the Guardian don’t; as a wild pirate hobbledehoy i disdane this convention obv)

    my next band will be called some Thes

  18. 138
    Erithian on 20 Aug 2008 #

    Remember the band “And And! And”? (sneaky quiz question)

  19. 139
    Mark G on 20 Aug 2008 #

    they showed a lack of commitment (!)

  20. 140
    henry s on 20 Aug 2008 #

    how does one address U2’s guitarist in conversation?…and if he ever gets knighted, would he be Sir The Edge?

  21. 141
    DJ Punctum on 20 Aug 2008 #

    He’d only get an honorary knighthood, being Irish and all that.

    Otherwise you call him “Mr Evans” if you don’t know him and “Dave” if you do.

  22. 142
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 20 Aug 2008 #

    one pokes him at gravely yet silently with a sharpened stick

  23. 143
    Chris Brown on 21 Aug 2008 #

    When Jools Holland was on Desert Island Discs, Sue Lawley did indeed say that he’d been a member of The Squeeze. He was obviously too polite to say anything though.

    Unfortunately, I can’t help hearing this through the prism of what Geldof has done since. Or at least what I know of it, not all of which I can mention – it seems to me like all but about three Rats singles (including this one obv) have been forgotten a bit, so I’ve never heard the vast majority of them. Crap vocals too.
    But yeah, if you don’t think about punk or Springsteen, this is an acceptable record.

  24. 144
    The Intl on 26 Aug 2008 #

    back to rat trap for a sec (sorry) – wonder where pyjamas guy is now?

  25. 145
    Roadhog on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Further to the comments on the expression “new wave” I find it amusing that Americans still use this expression to describe just about any kind of music which isnt long haired, californian and made in about 1972.
    In England where i suppose the expression was first used noone has used it seriously since about the end of 1978 and then it usually meant skinny tied conventional guitar pop/rock probably containing a barely discernible connection to punk.However in America going by whats on the net they insist on bracketing such things as eighties synth-pop/artists described as “new romantic” with this ridiculous description when these boundary breaking acts were about as far from conventional three chord, gigging boring old rock bands as you could get…
    Me and my friends who used to spend our midteens buying synth-pop etc would have run a mile from anything which we’d seen as remotely connected to dodgy old rock canonical “new wave”…

  26. 146
    wichita lineman on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Simon Reynolds once snorted that the Teardrop Explodes were about as “new wave” as you could get, which confused me and has coloured my judgment of them ever since. Hard to make that case for Tiny Children, but maybe he was thinking of the jerkiness of some tracks on Kilimanjaro. Or was the great man just plain wrong?

  27. 147
    Mark G on 3 Sep 2008 #

    I think it was more a reflection that at the time, the “Teardrop Explodes” set up (pop star front man, musically tight band, horn section, pop single type tracks, and album tracks that were, um, album tracks) was the requirement du jour for A&R men who needed something they could relate to. Like the Eurythmics were, for a while.

    Conveniently ignoring the darker side to the TX’s, they’d seek out and offer contracts to bands like this, that were nice.

  28. 148
    DJ Punctum on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Well first of all you have to stop thinking of Reynolds as a “great man” since if he really were a great music writer as opposed to a sometime copywriter with a conventionally ordinary Oxford degree his books would not have been so speedily remaindered.

    His work really does underline the dangers of “great” writing in and of itself since careful reading demonstrates Reynolds to have been fundamentally wrong headed with regard to just about everything but because his work was “well written” (which may indicate the general qualitative poverty of music writing in the mid-late eighties and early nineties) it becomes retrospective gospel. See also H*rnby.

  29. 149
    Mark G on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Well, one of the great “wrong headed” books in my mind would be “the boy looked at johnny” Burchill/Parsons, but it’s certainly of-its-time and a classic of sorts.

  30. 150
    byebyepride on 3 Sep 2008 #

    “I’ve got a 2:1 degree in English Literature from Oxford, I’ve had a successful professional career for 23 years and I probably make more money in a month than you’ve done in the last five years” DJP 30/07

    “if he really were a great music writer as opposed to a sometime copywriter with a conventionally ordinary Oxford degree his books would not have been so speedily remaindered.” DJP 3/09

    Now I’m confused as to whether an Oxford degree is or isn’t a license to write about music. Perhaps someone who has one could clear this up for those of us who haven’t?

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