23
Sep 08

THE BOOMTOWN RATS – “I Don’t Like Mondays”

FT + Popular68 comments • 5,229 views

#440, 28th July 1979

So, you’ve got a theatrical #1 record about teen alienation under your belt – how do you follow that? Why, more histrionics, greater alienation, and – the trump card – this time it’s all true! This wouldn’t be the last time Bob Geldof’s gut reaction to a news story made a mark on pop, but there’s no good cause associated with “I Don’t Like Mondays” and no good comes of it. Geldof’s dramatisation of a school shooting is simply rubbernecking, hijacking an incident and hitching it to a new wave bandwagon that was running out of puff. He can’t seem to decide whether to sing it snotty or hand-wringing and the result is a horribly awkward song – it’s so terrible, but that’s the nihilistic modern world for ya! Almost the worst touches are his shoehorns of “silicon chip”s and “telex machine”s into the lyrics, hand-waving vapidly at the idea of dehumanising technology.

But the feeblest thing about it is how incompetent Geldof is: how he over-phrases everything, lip-smacking each syllable, and then when he does reach a lyrical climax – “and the lesson today is how to die!” – he smothers it in yet more bloody am-dram piano. You wouldn’t get Elton – and this is very much an Elton kind of joint – screwing that up. “Rat Trap”‘s eagerness to make a statement had a charm – this time it seems like Geldof was shoring up his limited skills as a songwriter by letting the subject’s seriousness take the strain. But it buckles: memorable chorus aside, this is a failure on every level.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Erithian on 24 Sep 2008 #

    What do the comments crew make of later Rats material such as “Diamond Smiles” and “Someone’s Looking At You”? Again, big on the social comment (the former being the sad tale of a debutante’s suicide) but perhaps a lighter touch on the bombast while still being chock-full of musical and lyrical drama. Geldof described the band’s last hit single “Never in a Million Years” as Sturm und Drang, and he wasn’t far wrong.

    In summer ’79 we were on a family holiday in North Wales, and I was beginning to assert my independence by for instance going on a full-day walk down Offa’s Dyke path rather than staying with the parents. Another time I decided to take in the local folk club, which was meeting upstairs in a pub. As was apparently their habit, they decided to have their final singalong in the main bar downstairs, except that just as they started the song the opening chords of “Mondays” thundered from the jukebox. Knock that on the head then…

  2. 32
    mike on 24 Sep 2008 #

    I well remember the collective (and nearly universal) awestruck intake of breath which greeted this release. So advanced! So important! So contemporary! Such a breakthrough! That opening “silicon chip” reference was an ultra-topical one, (predating even Basement 5’s lofty meditation upon the subject!), and it accordingly set expectations – as did the state-of-the-art video.

    Sure, we’d had promo clips before – but the “IDLM” video was a proper video, with picture quality to match. And since talk was building of a new Video Age (home VCRs were just beginning to take off, with the Betamax/VHS wars in full flow), this was taken as another signifier of Great Cultural Import.

    As far as I was concerned, and I suspect this applied to an awful lot of people, this was the first big hit since “Bohemian Rhapsody” (unless you count the straight-from-the-movie clips from Grease) where the video was inextricably linked to the song, to the extent where you can’t hear the song without automatically recalling key elements of the visuals. And in that respect if in no other, “IDLM” stands as yet another signpost to the future, in a year where everything seemed to be fundamentally changing.

    Yes, it has dated badly – not helped by some ghastly later performances by Geldof, such as an embarrassingly self-important and painfully off-key rendition at one of the early Secret Policeman’s Balls – and the Live Aid version eventually squeezed the song so dry of meaning that it has never quite been able to recover. But looking at the 1979 video, Bob doesn’t do such a bad job (at least when he can keep his hands away from his hairdo) of conveying the impenetrable blank nihilism of the song’s protagonist. It’s as if the song wants to progress from reportage to analysis, but is repeatedly thwarted from doing so. And that’s not such a bad trick. I’ll give it six: for boldness, deftness and period charm.

  3. 33

    … and this of course is the second punk rock number one!

    this seemingly doomed argument works thusly:
    i. sir blob-to-be is insisting that NOT ONLY THE ATTESTED GROWN-UPS HAVE A RIGHT TO SPEAK THEIR MINDS
    ii. sir blob-to-be is introducing, into the zone of pop, types of stories, and emotions and analysis of emotions thereto, that are generally not to be found in this zone
    iii. sir blob-to-be is using one mode of expression — flourishy piano pop expanding into prog bombast — to deliver material alien to said mode

    is this project well done? no, not terribly — but recall the ideological scrim of the times: “better speak out, be it ne’er so clumsy, than stay muffled and sidelined by the eloquent and the musical and the politely approved — unchecked, the tyranny of the well-made skews our social conversation”; this claim has complicated — not to say perilous — implications, but i still basically think that it identifies a genuine problem (if not the scale of it at any given moment)

    i think this record is clumsy and pretentious and unintentionally (which is to say inappropriately) camp and lyrically absurd* and way beyond tonedeaf about the particulars of the story (the er pioneering schoolgirl in question, in her mid-40s now, and still in prison, as per the documentary i saw about the events a few weeks back): and yet i retain an enormous fondness for it that all sir blob’s self-importance and reactionary blimpishness since can’t erase

    *it’s a continuation of the critique pursued in “she’s so modern” etc — which i somewhat assume is geldof trying to be costello instead of springsteen — and as regards social insight, it’s hopeless… but but but sometimes i think the buffoon needs to get up and speak his piece to get the non-buffoons juiced, and (in my cosmology) this is closer to the most daring of what would come, out of the clashing post-punk tribes, than it is to what went before

  4. 34
    vinylscot on 24 Sep 2008 #

    Erithain #31 – I actually enjoyed some of the Rats’ later singles. “Diamond Smiles”, I hoped, signified a return to form of sorts. While still a “big” song, Geldof kept the hysterics in check rather better, and the long fade-out gave a rather contemplative feel to the track.

    I could do without “Someone’s Looking At You” and the Costello-ish “Elephant’s Graveyard (Guilty)” despite their chart sucess.

    I enjoyed “Never in a Million Years”, and its follow-up “House on Fire” greatly as I hoped for an Indian summer to their career. Both were good songs. “Never” possibly leant too much on their earlier “big” songs, but “Fire” was genuinely different.

    The final few singles after that in the year leading up to Live Aid are probably best forgotten, as indeed I suspect they have been.

  5. 35
    Waldo on 24 Sep 2008 #

    I’m surprised that this has been generally caned upthread, but there you go.

    The Rats pile in again to score impressively with another joyous tale but one completely different to “Rat Trap”. Whereas Billy and Judy had been fictitious, the genesis of IDLM was grounded in reality, a deranged teenage girl in San Diego called Brenda Spencer shooting up a school and offering “I don’t like Mondays” as an explanation. She’s still in the boob to this day.

    The song itself is fabulous. A magnificent orchestral arrangement woven around a brilliant, if morbid, pop song, which certainly wasn’t digestible in some parts of the States, IDLM offered the lunatic Spencer girl no alibi but simply reiterates that “there are no reasons” for what she did.

    I have heard Geldof on interview being asked whether he feels guilty that probably the band’s biggest hit would not have happened if the shootings hadn’t. As quick as a flash Bob responded in his usual tame fashion that he most certainly did not feel guilty and went on to point out that greater songs than IDLM and much great art of other kinds (literature, painting, sculpture etc) have been based on acts resulting in human misery and that this had always been the way of the world. This is perfectly true, of course.

  6. 36
    mike on 24 Sep 2008 #

    My memory of “Diamond Smiles” was feverish anticipation (“Oh My God, what can these impossibly advanced artistes pull out of the bag NEXT?”) followed by the dull thud of anti-climax (“Er, it doesn’t really GO anywhere, does it?”). At the same time, Blondie were experiencing a similar wobble with “Union City Blue”.

  7. 37
    Mark G on 24 Sep 2008 #

    I was always amazed that there was no outcry of “bad taste” accusations, like there would have been if anyone had written songs about the Columbine massacre in such unambiguous fashion.

    Still, this was one of the songs on a compilation DVD I got for cheap at Fopp that the kids particularly liked. The other was “Prime Mover” Zodiac Mindwarp.

  8. 38
    Tom on 24 Sep 2008 #

    #33 – I still think Bob’s earnestness smothers any radical possibilities of the song at birth. But of course I wasn’t there – or not paying attention anyway – so I know it only as an already-worthy artifact.

    Re. i-ii-iii: I eagerly await your inevitable hosannas towards the upcoming Christmas No.1!

  9. 39
    DJ Punctum on 24 Sep 2008 #

    “Union City Blue” is CLASSIQUE fule (#36). Best drumming on any pop record ever (ARGUABLE).

  10. 40
    Tom on 24 Sep 2008 #

    BTW, while I haven’t read anything on the thread yet to convince me I was wrong to throw a 2 this record’s way, I have nothing but respect for all the people who thought it was immensely exciting at the time and are willing to six it up for old times’ sake. We are approaching at some speed the era when I start falling head over heels for acts like this, and honestly I’m not sure what’s going to happen to the marking.

  11. 41

    re 38: *puts on contrarian booster-helmet in preparation*

  12. 42

    i posted my “everything at number one is by defn great” theory already (or did i just mean to post it?)

    this was the year i actively applied it — and it entailed “teaching myself that the vox of pop had spoken”, and essentially feeding its values into mine

    but popular as a project — by focusing so ruthlessly on the number one — strips away part of the act of judgment i was making, which was a complicated kind of triangulation* of the collective squabbling voice of the WHOLE of the top ten (as thrown wide open and innovative and exciting by punk), with the strength of the voices that never got into it

    (since quality isn’t zero-sum i didn’t have to stop approving of eg the very different works, charting and otherwise, of dennis bovell at this juncture: i read it in a soon-and-inevitably kind of way, that the emergence into dominance in the charts of new and strange stuff like numan and this**, even if it “wasn’t quite what we meant”, not only kept the charts open for even more brilliant stuff, but showed that this stuff was right now on its way)

    *i was pretentious too! way more than bob! i was 19, had just started studying maths and philosophy, and knew that i knew everything!
    **”new and strange” by what i at the time took to be the standards of the charts historically — i might be a bit less glib about this perspective now

  13. 43

    iv: (which i forgot about above) sir blob-to-be is enacting the programme that the charts will be a kind of bulletin board commenting on the state of the world — which to me (at the time) hugely softened the (otherwise very evident) Important Statement problem that others have noted; i just assumed that these kids of thoughts-as-singles would become really common, even routine, drive-by opinions on current affairs part of what popstars just DID

    and i really liked this proposition! i accept that it would probably have ended like the texted “letters” in london lite (and hence the very absolute banal opposite of Important Statements), a layer of lame insta-rubbish, and hence a poor reason to like this song (and a good reason to dislike it)

    BUT AT THE TIME WE DID NOT APPRECIATE THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD WE WOULD BRING ABOUT (bah)

    [split from earlier post and edited to make a bit more sense]

  14. 44
    DJ Punctum on 24 Sep 2008 #

    Unfortunately your theory would have made a lot more sense and impact if inserted here.

  15. 45

    true but i was only 14 then and
    A. hadn’t developed it yet, and
    B. had less traction globally

  16. 46
    The Lurker on 24 Sep 2008 #

    I’m quite surprisd at Tom’s mark for this song, more so than any Popular entry since Vincent. I can see a few similarities between the two songs and Tom’s reaction to them – both try to empathise with a real-life protagonist and in both cases there’s an earnestness/smugness about the lyric that Tom reacts against.

    In both cases I actually like the songs quite a lot (up to a 7 at least). In Vincent’s case the prettiness of the melody overcomes any weakness of the lyric. In IDLM’s case there’s an element of childhood nostalgia (I was four at the time, and at least some of the factors Billy Smart mentions apply). However, my childhood memory of the song is quite dim – it was at university I rediscovered it and the orchestral flourishes Marcello so dislikes are one of the musical elements that appealed – and still appeal – to me. In fact the transition between the bombastic orchestra and the more lithe piano section makes it one of my favourite intros ever. I never thought of it as a grand statement – as a piece of music it’s great fun – a second cousin to Bo Rhap perhaps. That can be seen as an indictment of it, of course, given the subject matter – perhaps bad taste is what makes this song authentically punk.

    Also, I don’t think Bob’s subsequent (mis)use of the song at Live Aid should detract from it as a single.

  17. 47
    wichita lineman on 24 Sep 2008 #

    Re 36/39: How queer that two acts who both seemed like Slade/Sweet/T Rex shoe-ins for the Top 3, whatever they released, both stalled at 13 in the middle of their epic runs? Odder with Blondie, because not only did they follow Union City Blue with another number 1 but it was also so sky-scrapingly great. Diamond Smiles, as mentioned before, was all fur coat and no knickers – from memory it was a Spector-via-Springsteen pastiche, but I remember waiting for the hook only to realise I was listening to the coda. Someone’s Looking At You was Rat Trap redux, but much lighter and, consequently, more fun.

    Agree with Tom. It isn’t that silicon chips and telex machines don’t fit into pop vocab (two contemporary groups used the very same tech in their names), it’s just that Gary Numan did it all so much better than IDLM without the hoo-ha and without all that finger wagging. It might make a decent show tune for a very bleak musical (has that one about Auschwitz opened yet, by the way?), but it’s a wretched performance.

    I wonder if the people sticking up for IDLM have any thoughts on Sham 69 (Jimmy Pursey being another finger-wagger) and their social commentaries.

  18. 48
    Billy Smart on 24 Sep 2008 #

    Well, when I was seven and avidly excited by watching Top Of The Pops every week (along with Doctor Who, The Goodies and Sykes my favourite media things) I do remember thinking that Sham 69 were like watching a revolution, so dangerous did they seem! As an adult, though… there’s so little pop craft going on (and so slight a sense of playfulness) that I can’t really be attracted to them.

  19. 49
    vinylscot on 24 Sep 2008 #

    DJP #25 – you won’t be at all surprised to learn that IDLM was not number one in Italy that summer. That was the summer that was dominated by Alan Sorrenti’s fourteen weeks at the top with the rather insubstantial “Tu Sei L’unica Donna Per Me”. I also remember hearing lots of Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” and Patrick Hernandez’s “Born To Be Alive” in Italy that summer.

  20. 50
    DJ Punctum on 25 Sep 2008 #

    Alan Sorrenti, THANK YOU! That was another tune that drove me mad that summer but I could never quite remember the song or the artist. Emphatic yes also for “Bjorn (sic) To Be Alive” too, which I’ve always loved – hi there backing singer/dancer M Ciccone – and of course the original “Gloria” (a minor UK hit for Jonathan King that year and a considerably bigger hit for the divine and much missed Laura Branigan in early ’83). All good memories of wading very far out into the Mediterranean in Scauri; pizza and red wine on the beach at seven in the morning mmmm….

  21. 51
    rosie on 25 Sep 2008 #

    wichita @ 47: you remind me of something that separates me from, much of the comment at the moment: the visual aspect of much of this stuff was lost on me. I watched Top of the Pops sometimes but not as avidly as I once did, I didn’t go to gigs and I didn’t go out of my way to watch other music programming. So what I received was what I picked up through the radio. It’s still largely true today – apart from a one-year hiatus a couple of years ago I haven’t had a telly for years. So the finger-wagging and eye-swivelling of the performers was lost on me.

    Swerving a little: it occurred to me last night that apart from the shifting of cultural tectonic plates going on in the world at large, this was also the age of the Ripper. I don’t really know what impact this had in London but in Hull. which was on the periphery of the Ripper’s sphere of influence, his shadow was clear. The previous October a story took hold amongst the kids at school that he had announced that he was going to make his last killing at Hull Fair and then throw himself from the ferris wheel. By the end of 1979 I’ll be spending a lot of time in Leeds and there the impact was startling: the city effectively closed at dusk.

  22. 52
    wichita lineman on 25 Sep 2008 #

    Re 51: Rosie, I didn’t mean literal finger-wagging, it’s all in the sneery, so-pleased-with-himself tone of Geldof’s voice. And visually, Sham were more shirts-off fist-waving than finger-wagging! But this low-end Speakers Corner stuff felt slightly embarrassing to me at 14. It gives the impression of offering solutions while saying precisely nothing:

    “He can see no reasons, cos there ARE no reasons…”

    “If the kids are united, they will never be divided”

    It implies we’re too stupid to understand some basic truths, unlike Geldof*, and reminds me of graffiti on Portobello Road I saw around this time:

    “No taxes. No bombs. Yes, it’s that simple.”

    The Ripper effect added to the general sense of dread that I felt (and must have been considerably worse north of Watford) in 1979. It’s not a year I remember fondly. As mentioned above, the number ones mirror this, much the same way as political/religious/soul-searching efforts reflected 1969’s malaise.

    *a myth he continues to perpetrate – I’ll never forgive him for ignoring the July 7th bombings because they inconveniently got in the way of his Live 8 pronouncements.

  23. 53
    Mark G on 25 Sep 2008 #

    OK, weigh in time…

    This song is a narrative.

    All the quotes taken from it are third party.

    I do remember the big pause for “how to die” at Live Aid, but didn’t he do that for every live performance of that song?

  24. 54
    Mark G on 25 Sep 2008 #

    I think it all basically comes down to:

    Pop music s/be viscaral, exciting, energising, basic, simplistic perhaps, but also a connection of an idea.

    But the sad thing is, the ones that register with more people and become ‘recognised’ as ‘classic’ is the ones where it sounds more like classical music.

    And yet, at the end of time, the one that sold the most is when a princess dies and everyone wails, and dashes out to buy a lousy commemorative rewrite.

    (bunny bdamnd)

  25. 55
    Erithian on 25 Sep 2008 #

    Rosie 51 – yes, I made a passing reference to the Ripper and the atmosphere in Leeds in the “Ring My Bell” thread. Obviously there was a shadow over Manchester as well at the time. A friend of mine was a student at Leeds Uni at the time of the last murder and vaguely knew the victim. Very frightening times.

  26. 56
    DV on 26 Sep 2008 #

    did people at the time know this song was about a school shooting? I know I didn’t.

  27. 57
    Alan on 27 Sep 2008 #

    10yr old me was aware of the story, probably via my parents, but not in any engaged way.

  28. 58
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 27 Sep 2008 #

    yes we did DV — and it was the first school shooting (unless you count this pimp pimp)

  29. 59
    Billy Smart on 6 Oct 2008 #

    TOTP Watch: Sadly a BBC technicians’ strike in the week of the 16th August 1979 prevented a studio performance of this song. Other casualties of the industrial action were planned appearances by Sham 69 and Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

  30. 60
    wichitalineman on 26 May 2009 #

    K-Tel watch: it opened Hot Tracks, sales of which were badly hit by a lack of advertiding due to an ITV strike that began on August 10th and continued for 10 weeks. It was followed by this delightful run:
    Who Were You With In The Moonlight – Dollar
    Silly Games – Janet Kay
    Living On The Frontline – Eddy Grant
    Gertcha – Chas & Dave
    No. 1 Song In Heaven – Sparks
    Married Men – Bonnie Tyler
    Duke of Earl – Darts
    Some Girls – Racey
    Go West – Village People

  31. 61
    Paulito on 8 Apr 2011 #

    Surprised there’s been no mention upthread of “Banana Republic” – one of the band’s biggest hits and a sad, searing indictment of a contemporary Ireland dominated by the Catholic Church and blighted by the Troubles. The song’s ‘Rats-go-reggae’ stylings, while surprisingly accomplished, haven’t dated too well; the lyrics, though, still resonate for those who recall what a depressing place the emerald isle was in those days.

  32. 62
    Ed on 12 Apr 2011 #

    #61 I love ‘Banana Republic’! Lugubrious white reggae, like a ham-fisted ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, and Geldof at his most bitter: what’s not to like? It was by far my favourite radio song of its time. As Tom suggests, Geldof is always at his best when he is engaged with the subject-matter, and that is certainly true there.

    I met him once, and thought he was really impressive: very bright, very quick, and surprisingly charming. I suppose I should have guessed that from his various achievements, apart from the obvious, but I had pretty low expectations. I am prepared to accept, though, that pop music was not really his forte.

  33. 63
    Elmira on 7 May 2011 #

    Thanks for sharing. Always good to find a real eprxet.

  34. 64
    seekenee on 8 May 2011 #

    #53 He certainly gave that line dramatic pause at Glastonbury a few weeks before Live Aid as per a BBC recording and on another In concert in 82 methinks.

    8 year old me was aware of the song’s subject matter not least because of a newspaper article pinned up in the local library – the song was newsworthy while being a news report itself. We all sang the words to Rat Trap in our school but I think I treated IDLM as a news item/video rather than a song/record. I was more interested in spending money on Sting or John Travolta, haha. My Rats phase was in 86 – having read Is That It? I embraced Geldolf and still find him thought provoking. I enjoy all the singles mentioned here but not this one – I own a reluctant-second-hand-no-picture-sleeve copy of this but have never played it, it lacks the beat/the reason I need.

  35. 65
    Mike Atkinson on 26 May 2012 #

    Quick revive, as I heard Van Morrison’s “Wavelength” (1978) today and only now realise from whence the Rats nicked the “dumm-dumm clap-clap” bit.

  36. 66
    swanstep on 26 May 2012 #

    @mike. Good catch. Somewhat similarly, I tripped over 10% of Art of Noise yesterday when I heard Henry Mancini’s Lujon for the first time yesterday.

  37. 67
    hectorthebat on 7 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Woxy.com (USA) – Modern Rock 500 Songs of All Time (combined rank 1989-2009) 80
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 488
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 3

  38. 68
    Lee Saunders on 8 Aug 2017 #

    Sorry, ancient thread but I really couldn’t help myself after seeing comment #37. Mark G refers to this song being on a compilation DVD he bought cheap at Fopp that his kids really liked.

    Though my introduction to this song as a 5 year old was on a SchoolDisco.com compilation in early 2003, that same year, summertime I think, so in no time at all really, my dad bought me a compilation DVD from Fopp named after Julian Cope’s World Shut Your Mouth (which was one of the last songs on it) that mostly comprised new wave, synthpop and post-punk videos. And yeah, the music video for I Don’t Like Mondays was on there. And I watched that DVD endlessly, introducing the 5 year old me to a lot of music I love to this very day. Very tempted to know if this was the DVD he was referring to.

    And reading this thread today, I was surprised how long it took for anyone to really mention the video, as I was thinking how (like Rat Trap, actually) I can’t separate this song from the video at all (though, it wasn’t just me, as I then saw this mentioned in comment #32). In fact, watching it today, I remembered the video completely frame for frame, knowing each moment before it happened, from the school in the middle of nowhere at the start (and end), the apparent significance in the girl getting up after the first chorus, quickly revealed to be his sister, Geldof being ‘scared’ back into his seat after leaning forward a few times, the pianist walking into the white, throwing his hat and immediately recollecting it after a magic change of clothes (and position), Geldof in the “how to die!” section, followed by the….mime artist in the background, and so on.

    The “how to die!” section seems most memorable to me now. Once he’s said it, there’s that brief silence trying to nail his words down like a gasp, but then the video quickly zooms in on his big bug-eyed new wave shades. There are a lot of ironic memes on Facebook or wherever in comic or video form where, to humorously emphasis someone’s (contextually funny) facial expression after doing or saying something, it is enlarged upon in the last frame (typically for just a brief moment if its a video). And that’s what that part of the IDLM video reminds me of, zooming in on his vogue sunglasses right after his big line as if the video itself couldn’t take the song, or Bob’s earnestness, that seriously at all.

    So I’ll give it a point for being a totally unintentional starting point – as i see it – for a whole meme gimmick. Furthermore, I’ll give it a point for being 2003 nostalgia, the best year of my life. September 2002-July 2003 was my first school year, and I certainly didn’t like Mondays much at all. And I’ll give a point for inspiring the talk of later day Boomtown Rats endeavours in this thread, because that reminded me of their bizarre comeback single from a few years ago, also called “The Boomtown Rats”, where the band’s name is repeated for 5 and a half minutes over some anachronistic, terribly uninteresting dance beats (while, in the video, the band stand motionless and bored in black and white while rats crawl over them, a somewhat ‘update’ on Fatboy Slim’s ‘Everybody Loves a Carnival’ video as I see it).

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