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Sep 08

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

FT + Popular68 comments • 4,868 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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)

  5. 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.

  6. 56
    DV on 26 Sep 2008 #

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

  7. 57
    Alan on 27 Sep 2008 #

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

  8. 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)

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 63
    Elmira on 7 May 2011 #

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

  18. 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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