Aug 08


FT + Popular/197 comments • 10,382 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.



  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    This is one of those records that I find it quite hard to believe that anyone ever took seriously. It’s a comic strip or a photo story narrative, and taken in that spirit, it’s straining for effect I find surprisingly effective.

    Something that i do like about it is that, for an excessive narrative, the instrumentation is quite sparse. The story is carried along by a propulsive cod-menacing shuddering bassline, then a stabbing motif of piano, then a brief rattle of drums, then a blaring bit of sax, etc. You rarely get all of them at once, generally what I find wearing about the E-Street Band. This fits in with the somewhat low-rent feel of the story of Billy and Judy, who are not characters who take on an imaginative life of their own once the song has finished.

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 13 Aug 2008 #

    As a punk at the time, I recall not taking the Boomtown Rats terribly seriously, and not seeing this as punk – ‘new wave’ was the term generally used for a kind of post-pub-rock that came to the fore along with punk (Stiff being the main home for this) and that turned out to be the main route towards indie. I thought this was an okay record, but was surprised at its success. I guess its rather dated, rather trad, rock sounds were more palatable or graspable to the audience beyond converted punk fans than even great pop tunes from acts like the Buzzcocks or Undertones, for instance.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2008 #

    In Bob Geldof’s autobiography “Is That It?”, he relates an episode from the recording session for – let’s say a certain 80s record, but it’ll be pretty obvious which – where Ken Kragen, his American counterpart, said “Bruce Springsteen has just parked his car on the other side of the road and walked across – by himself – to the studio. Can you believe it?”
    I could believe it, Geldof recalled.
    ‘No, I mean he drove himself, no chauffeur, no limo. Then The Boss walked across himself, no bodyguards, no security.’ ”
    Geldof added that Springsteen heard the last bit and winked at him in an acknowledgment of how ludicrous the LA people were, compared to these down-to-earth New Jersey and Dublin boys.

    I imagine that that was one of Geldof’s finest moments in the whole process – getting conspiratorial recognition from Brucie. Because “Rat Trap”, like a number of other Rats songs, seeks to do for Dublin what Bruce’s early songs did for the characters he rolled with on the Jersey shore. For Wendy, Spanish Johnny, Crazy Janey and the rest of them, read Billy and Judy and the Five Lamps boys. And for me at least it does the job admirably – it might not be the purist’s idea of punk, but nothing with this kind of tone, attitude and drama had been heard at number one for a long time if ever. One of my favourites of the decade.

    I certainly wouldn’t call it overlong – the best thing about it is that at circa 3½ minutes, when many another record is fading out or settling for another chorus, the piano introduces Judy setting off down the road and the song still has the momentum for another act in the playlet. On the other hand the “Billy take a walk” bit is the weakest section of the track for me. You pays your money…

    The Rats had made the front page of the Manchester Evening News a year before in strange circumstances. The night they played their first gig in Manchester, a fan was hit by a car outside the venue, and the band used their tour transport (can’t remember if it was a van or they’d graduated to a bus by then) to get him to hospital, effectively saving his life. His mother said: “You can say what you like about punks, but I’ll always be grateful to them.” This was 1977 and new wave bands didn’t tend to get that good a press. That Geldof bloke might turn out to be a good guy after all.

  4. 4
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I always thought when it ‘turns’ into the “her mind’s made up, she walks down the road”, it kind of got more interesting, and from there could have gone on for another 20 mins or so.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Have any credible band ever reached such a position of subsequent critical neglect as The Boomtown Rats? Bob Geldof may still be valued as a campaigner and for his cultural commentary, but I’ve never come across any word of praise for his songs. Yet at the time, they had huge-selling singles and albums, rode high in NME readers’ polls, etc.

    You’ll never see the Rats on the cover of Mojo or Uncut, I confidently predict, unlike The Clash, Jam, etc – or even The Police, who held an equivalent position of huge popularity without much cachet at the same time.

  6. 6
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    But yeah, it didn’t ‘feel’ like the first punk number one.

    So, I guess for bunny reasons, this line of discussion has to end there. Which is a shame.

  7. 7
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I like the way that the Five Lamps boys announce their fearsome presence by clicking their fingers, in the best West Side Story tradition.

  8. 8
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I liked the line from their first album that went:
    “Look at the brick wall gravestone where some kid has sprayed
    Saying nobody could be bothered to rule here OK”.

    I fancied painting those words on a wall in Moss Side myself.

  9. 9
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    i too had 1xPUNKUS MAXIMUS SNOBBISMUS on re the rats, but my little sister — punkier than me bcz 15 rather than 18 — liked em, so i was loyally torn also, and am now actually quite fond of the first LP, kinda useless as it basically is: “she’s so, uh, TWENTIETH CENTURY squeak squeak!”

    their bandname is very nearly the worst of all time

  10. 10
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2008 #

    “She’s So Modern”, reputedly inspired by the Polygram press office girls including one Mariella Frostrup.

  11. 11
    lonepilgrim on 13 Aug 2008 #

    pantomime punk – I had just started at art college when this hit the top and I remember its lyrics being quoted to me by a violet elizabeth bott type fashion student as if it were the most perceptive piece of political insight, used to justify a fatalistic attitude to the notion of changing anything. No wonder Thatcher was only a few months away.
    Far more exciting were x-ray spex with ‘germ free adolescence’ and the first PiL single

  12. 12
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    And so we come to the first “official” new wave number one – Guinness say punk but I say new wave – a moment of such clenched significance that Bob Geldof heralded it by ripping up a photo of Travolta on TOTP, before miming the song’s sax riff, albeit fingering a chandelier rather than a saxophone. He must have felt, if only in his mind, like Guy Debord winning the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact “Rat Trap” has much more in common with “Summer Nights” than Geldof would have liked to admit; the structure is theatrical and vaguely ‘50s, with its fingersnaps, its very un-punk opening line of “There was a lot of rocking going on that night,” and its staccato “climax” of “Billy take a walk.”

    It has considerably more in common with Bruce Springsteen; despite Geldof’s purported distaste for his work at the time, “Rat Trap” comes on as an attempted Barrytown “Jungleland,” an Epic in Capital Letters to nail the degeneracy and decay of urban Dublin once and for all, complete with ersatz Clarence Clemons R&B sax rasps. Despite lines like “And pus and grime ooze from its scab-crusted sores” – is “Rat Trap” the first grime number one? – and the fact that the chorus, as such, doesn’t appear until the very end, the record’s roughness is rehearsed and choreographed; and the Top Of The Pops reference in the fourth verse ensured A-list status for the single on Radio 1 (cf. the Rezillos’ considerably sparkier Top 20 hit “Top Of The Pops” shortly beforehand). As with so much of Geldof’s work, musical and otherwise, “Rat Trap” is, however sincere and bloodily heartfelt, unhelpfully hammy.

    In truth, “Rat Trap” and the Rats had much more in common with the post-Mott/Harley world of half-cynical rock circa 1975 than anything to do with punk or new wave; by 1978, as every schoolboy knows, post-punk had begun to emerge, and in fairly stark contrast to this year’s list of number ones my head, as a listener, was being turned around and spun on a weekly basis by records and groups which proposed entirely new ways of looking at this thing called rock – Pere Ubu’s mind-erasing triptych of The Modern Dance, Dub Housing and the Datapanik In The Year Zero E.P., the first Suicide album, which also qualified as the first album I thought I could as well have made myself (the highest of compliments, incidentally), Siouxsie’s The Scream, PiL’s First Issue, Wire’s Chairs Missing, Magazine’s Real Life, the double-whambar of the Buzzcocks’ Another Music In A Different Kitchen and Love Bites, Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings And Food, the general WHAT-THE-FUCKness of Devo, and above all Alternative TV’s ground-smashing The Image Has Cracked; was it an album, or an indictment of its listeners, or a tract? Next to this, Geldof sounding like the missing link between Supercharge and Supertramp and mumbling about Billy and Judy in the Italian café seemed…recherché.

    The situation was also not helped by the re-emergence of Springsteen himself in 1978, after three years of legal battles, with Darkness On The Edge Of Town, one of the most bitterly sober records ever to pass through the Customs gates of “rock,” where he turned his back on hopeless bravado and reflected on those born to crawl rather than run, who never escape; the beyond-bleak drone of the closing “Racing In The Streets” pinpoints the desperate, resigned emptiness of a deceased, decanted urban settlement far more quietly and profoundly than Geldof barking “We’ve been caught in a rat trap” – and the scenario is made to seem even more decadent in retrospect when considering Geldof’s subsequent life.

  13. 13
    mike on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Well… that rather too self-conscious ceremonial ripping of John & Olivia’s photo on TOTP did still feel like a little Moment, of sorts. A changing of the guard, if you will. Of course, the irony is that if “Rat Trap” did (albeit unwittingly) usher in a new era for chart pop, its singer/songwriter would later be responsible (albeit unwittingly) for killing that era off. But more of that in due course.

    I’m not altogether sure how “Rat Trap” elevated the Rats beyond their comfortably established hit-making status (“She’s So Modern”, “Like Clockwork” etc), but I suppose that the scale and the sweep of the song carried many along with it, in a way that almost harks back to “Bo Rhap” and the brief era of the “episodic” hit single. There’s no single vocal hook, the first phrase that comes to mind generally being that rasping sax riff. The token “punky” bit comes with the fuzzed guitar thrash that follows “you’ve been conned” – but other than that, yes, we’re picknicking in Springsteenland.

    Bits of it work pretty well – little phrases here and there, and the “Judy” verse in particular – but other sections feel laboured: the humble Pelican crossing as instrument of Fascist Thought Control, for instance?

    I sort-of quite liked it then, whilst rolling my eyes at the realisation that this so-called “first punk Number One” should be so far removed from the glorious Spirit of 76. Weird indeed to recall the near-universal fondness (if not exactly love) for the Rats, who enjoyed a remarkably easy ride from the assorted snootypants on the weekly inkies. There’s little residual period charm, and maybe that’s because Rat Trap’s ambitions rather outstripped its imitative reality? Hmm, tough one…

  14. 14
    vinylscot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I think we all knew this wasn’t the first “Punk” #1, even at the time, but we were that keen for there to BE a punk #1, that this was probably close enough.

    The Rats never took themselves seriously (back then), and they were probably really a pub-rock type of band, but the inclusion of their “Looking Out For #1” on one of the first UK-released “punk” compilations, “The New Wave Album”, in 1977 rather pigeon-holed them as “punk”, whether they liked it or not.

    By the time this hit #1, Geldof was 27; it was the Rats’ fifth top 20 hit, and the singles had grown progressively less “punk” as each new one emerged. This trend would continue with their later singles.

    This is only “punk” in the sense that Springsteen was a New Jersey punk – the story fits the American definition of the word, far more than the musical genre definition, but that doesn’t make it a “punk” record.

    It also doesn’t make it a bad record. As Billy Smart said at post #5, this band have been relentlessly pilloried retrospectively. They were never the future of rock and roll, but they never claimed to be; but they were also a damn fine pop group, with a number of excellent singles to their name, both before and after this one.

    SB prevents too much discussion of their future, but it appeared to all go pear-shaped after the rather lukewarm reviews of their next album; I believe, and I’m sure some posters here can expand, that Bob could be rather “difficult” to deal with, and, while good value, he was never really much of a favourite of the media, at least until his later saintly deeds came about.

    The album in question isn’t half as bad as the reviews would have you believe, although not their best. However, one of the pitfalls of not taking yourself seriously is that nobody takes much notice when you try to be taken seriously. Despite a few later attempts, and, more decent singles, they never really made it onto the “critically acclaimed” list.

    I agree with Billy; it’s high time we had a critical reappraisal/appreciation of their work.

  15. 15
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    No, I just thought ripping up the photo was Geldof being a Grade A applaud-me-for-breathing prat.

    Second ex-music journalist to get to number one, though (ahem).

  16. 16
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Oh he took the Rats VERY seriously; in interviews he always goes on about how the Rats were one of the nine key punk bands and how bad the other eight were in comparison, no but really.

  17. 17
    mike on 13 Aug 2008 #

    But not the first ex-journalist. That would be – aha, another connection! – Steve Harley (and yes, I do agree that strains of Harley can be heard in Geldof).

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I think that we can say that the next two ex-music journalists to get to number one raise the bar set by Bob Geldof.

  19. 19
    vinylscot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    DJP – I did qualify by stating they didn’t take themselves seriously back then. When you start off taking the p***, it is rather difficult to be taken seriously later, no matter how much you want to be.

    I have to admit, I found it difficult to take them seriously too, what with their candelabra saxophones, pianists in pyjamas, and writing songs as Hitler!

  20. 20
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    The trouble with Geldof is that in the end he believed in his own piss.

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I’d welcome a reappraisal, but I’m not sure that it would necessarily result in a championing of Geldof as some kind of Nick Drake/ Gram Parsons overlooked visionary hero figure.

    I would certainly, however, *much* rather read a 15-page article about The Boomtown Rats than The Clash or The Sex Pistols yet again. There’s certainly an interesting story to be told here, I think.

    Marcello is obviously right about the more vital post-punk things going on, but the one thing to be said in Geldof’s favour is that – to my six-year old self – he was the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll cool, whereas I think that Pere Ubu and Suicide would have probably made me cry!

  22. 22
    koganbot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Hah! This is the first I’ve ever heard of this song.

  23. 23
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Lyric watch.

    its very un-punk opening line of “There was a lot of rocking going on that night,”

    See, I’d always heard this as “There was a lot of rotten goin’ on that night”

    Which is a bit punk, Im sure you’d agree.,

  24. 24
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Number 2 watch: Still, they wouldn’t go away – 2 weeks of Olivia Newton John’s ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’.

  25. 25
    vinylscot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I wouldn’t expect the Rats’ work to be lauded to any great extent, but an end to the sneering dismissals, and a move towards rehabilitation at least would be good!

  26. 26
    Tom on 13 Aug 2008 #

    My only at-the-time memory of the Boomtown Rats wasn’t this or their other really famous single but “Banana Republic”, and that mostly because I had to ask what on earth one was.

    I think a big factor in their non-reappraisal is that they were fairly short on memorable tunes.

  27. 27
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    At the time, though, I can attest that at school level they were equivalent to the Stranglers in that they were the “punk” band that people in my class liked because they were “melodic.”

  28. 28
    koganbot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    their bandname is very nearly the worst of all time

    Really? I’d say it’s pretty darn good, and that every day my inbox is full of promo text for indie bands with much worse names: e.g., just yesterday’s haul includes these examples of self-involved witlessness:

    Shitdisco, Yuppie Pricks, Made In China, Mock Orange, Eagles Of Death Metal, The Mint Chicks, The Silent Years, The Graduate, Plushgun!, The Break And Repair Method, Tittsworth!, Five Finger Death Punch

  29. 29
    rosie on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Ok, just come back from bowls practice (don’t laugh, there are plenty of teenagers playing in the league and they’re depressingly good too.) So I’m commenting before reading other comments and hope that others will bear with me.

    I, too, have heard this described as the first ‘punk’ number one and I’ve never been able to work out why. Certainly it’s informed by ‘punk’, whatever that might be, and the Rats certainly had previous bandwagon-jumping experience if ‘punk’ means belting out the words like a bunch of lads ejected from the pub at closing time. But just as Tom notes, there’s a lot of Springsteen about it. Not classic Springsteen for sure, and it’s Springsteen with an accent dredged out of the Liffey, but it’s clearly there.

    If I can’t see it as punk, and I had no interest in its being punk, then there’s no reason for me to be outraged at some kind of betrayal. That leaves me clear to treat it as a good old-fashioned pop song, one that grabbed the ear at the time. The first Rats track that I liked, and I’ll go as far as to say that it’s a rather classy piece of pop that began to break new ground in the tradition of 1978. A seven from me.

  30. 30
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Oh yeah, and regarding the tearing up of JTrav’s pic was purely about how Rat Trap had been at number two for some weeks, along with the band performances on TOTP along with the general feeling that this was not going to happen for them.

    Then, it did.

  31. 31
    a logged-out pˆnk s lord whatnot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    all those are better

    ok worst of all time out of bands anyone has ever heard of (except you)

    bands named after someone else’s song, LP, film or book aRE very nearly invariably very bad bands (but the name can be quite good, it’s just that someone else thought of it first)

  32. 32
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2008 #

    As a band name “We Work At Tesco’s But We’re Well Gangsta Innit?” is either very good or very bad, can’t decide which.

    Quite like the tribute band “And You Will Find Us In The Bargain Bins”, assuming they exist.

    That Rock Family Trees episode about the second Merseybeat era showed the likes of Pete Wylie and Iain McCulloch forming bands with great names that never got beyond a rehearsal.

  33. 33
    Erithian on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Mark G #30 – its chart career was 22-9-7-3-2-1. Unusual in that it accelerated having gone up only two places – the theory was that the record shops were understocked.

  34. 34
    Tom on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Even limiting it to the heard-of, surely bad band names are more common than good ones?

  35. 35
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    #33, that would kind of tie in with my memory, 3 and 2 certainly.

    I was trying to find the TOTP performances, but the database seems to have gone off the BBC site.

  36. 36
    LondonLee on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Even knowing that it was a ‘Jungleland’ rip-off (‘Born To Run’ was one of the first albums I bought with the wages from my WH Smith saturday job) I loved this then and I still do, the line “deep down in her pocket she finds 50p” gets me every time. But I’m a sucker for “kitchen sink epic”

    And it’s the first New Wave number one, there was a very clear distinction between that and Punk at the time – New Wave bands wore skinny ties.

  37. 37
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I think that ‘Does This Offend You Yeah?’ is extraordinarily rubbish.

    The most uninspired band name of all time is ‘The Mods’. No generic confusion there.

  38. 38
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I’m somewhat mystified at the criticism of this, especially from those contributors who seem to regard it with an element of amusement. I don’t agree with this interpretation at all.

    I personally thought “Rat Trap” was a monumental piece of work. A tale of bleakness and despair. Outlining far much more than regulation teenaged angst, this is a parable from the gutter and Geldof offers zero hope to neither Billy nor Judy as he growls, pleads and spits his way through the narration. I remember being amazed when this got to number one, as the landscape it depicted was so desperate and unlike “Seasons in the Sun”, for example, there was not a grain of irony or humour to be derived from it, in my opinion. I was also amazed it got to number one simply because it was the Rats, New Wave pioneers and thus not chart topping naturals. I would say that “Rat Trap” was very much a fish out of water and it’s not often that a record leaves you cold. Truly brilliant. And that SAX!

    vinylscot # 19 – “I have to admit, I found it difficult to take them seriously too, what with their candelabra saxophones, pianists in pyjamas, and writing songs as Hitler!”

    I have to say that I find this observation curious, since surely the whole point of punk/new wave was to present a challenging look. And it didn’t begin with punk, of course. Just because the Rats did not perform RT dressed in sombre suits and all looking as if they wanted to jump in front of a train does not detract from the power of the message.

    Having now dealt with this particular track, I am happy to add my voice in bashing Geldof for other crimes. DJP’s “The trouble with Geldof is that in the end he believed his own piss” cannot be bested as a tribute or epitath. But then again, there are plenty of blokes to whom this could cosily apply, the obvious case being the icon I cannot mention lest Bunnykins guns sweet Waldo down outside the Dakota building

  39. 39
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    There were two TOTP performances; October 5th 1978 and the 16th of November 1978 (so presumably as a new entry at 22 and the number one)

    Also in the studio for the first performance were; Mick Jackson, Elaine Paige, Marshal Hain and Sham 69, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’. The host was David Jensen.

    Also in the studio for the second performance were; The Buzzcocks, Elton John, Heatwave, Dean Friedman and Child. David Jensen was again the host

  40. 40
    vinylscot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Waldo – are you suggesting that wearing pyjamas and playing candelabra saxophones represents a “challenging look”?

    Not in my book – it’s just silliness like Steve Priest’s German helmet, Alvin Stardust’s glove, or Ron Mael’s moustache. It’s what you’ll be remembered for, no matter the quality of your musical output.

  41. 41
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    That’s a long gap between performances when you think about it, #39…

  42. 42
    Billy Smart on 13 Aug 2008 #

    They did repeat the first one several times before The Boomtown Rats returned to the studio again.

  43. 43
    SteveM on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I think this is the earliest of the three most recent #1 singles I cannot hear in my head at all. Damning indeed.

  44. 44
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2008 #

    vinylscot # 40 – The short answer to your question is yes. The Rats’ look was clearly challenging and indeed clearly challenged you or you would not have mentioned it and you and I would not now be debating it. Furthermore, I’m sure you’ll agree that what may appear “silly” in your own book may, indeed would, not appear in those of others.

    Will have to join you with regards Alvin’s glove, though. What the fuck was that all about?

  45. 45
    vinylscot on 13 Aug 2008 #

    OK, truce Waldo! Not sure I entirely agree with you, but don’t think it’s worth quarreling over minor semantics.

  46. 46
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Indeed. Peace, brother.

  47. 47
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Oh, Waldo! You so nearly passed Level 1 of the Stuart Maconie Test with post #44…if only you’d remembered to add the words “Eh? Eh?” at the end!

  48. 48
    mike on 13 Aug 2008 #

    The Bachelors, Dana, and the Boomtown Rats: any other Irish Number Ones thus far?

  49. 49
    will on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Was it punk? Or new wave? Or Tesco Value Springsteen? Personally speaking, I didn’t give a toss then and still don’t give a toss now. What I do remember is that they were the first group to get to Number One in bloody ages that I could relate to, ie – they were a bit scruffy and looked like an older version of the sort of numpty I was aged 9.

    To these young ears, Geldof and co just sounded like nothing more than a good pop band. I’ve never understood the antipathy that’s been directed towards them either.

  50. 50
    katstevens on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I don’t have much to say about this song other than it’s the fourth best UK chart hit with the word ‘rat’ in the title.

  51. 51
    DJ Punctum on 13 Aug 2008 #

    #48: Ruby Murray and Gilbert O’Sullivan.

  52. 52
    wichita lineman on 13 Aug 2008 #

    The candelabra and pyjamas make me think this had more in common with See My Baby Jive (custard pies and gorilla suits, long, prominent sax, Spectorisms) than punk. But I’ll attest there was a long running, fierce argument in Smash Hits about whether this was the first punk no.1 or whether God Save The Queen was the moral winner. Punk and new wave may seem poles apart now but they were definitely seen as spiritual partners fighting the same war in 1978. At least in my school.

    As for the lack of a Boomtown Rats re-evaluation, I think it has everything to do with their singer’s later career. DJP’s succinct summary of Geldof’s inflated opinion of himself is spot on. I find his antics offensive (the Live 8 press conference, ignoring the suicide bombs in London that day, was very poor), as do many charities in Africa who don’t find it so easy to get on the news (this was well documented around the time of Live 8). It’s hard to listen to Rat Trap without prejudice.

    Besides, I had a feeling Mojo HAD covered the Boomtown Rats. Peter Paphides wrote it, I think.

    Re 40, 44: Alvin’s glove was a tamer Gene Vincent look, I guess – the echoed vocals on My Coo Ca Choo and Jealous Mind are Sweet Gene knock-offs after all. Designed to make him look intimidating and mysterious, it worked on 8-year old me. He pinched all his slow-motion snaky moves from Dave Berry (as my parents tutted at the time), who was considerably creepier.

  53. 53
    thevisitor on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Just playing it in my head. Melodically, it doesn’t repeat itself at all, does it, save for perhaps some of that sax break? Every bit happens only the once as far as I can recall, which is kind of extraordinary for a song that was deemed catchy enough to reach number one. One factor here may be how strongly the song ends. Ending their singles with a catchy refrain seemed to be a trick that The Boomtown Rats liked to rely upon: Someone’s Looking At You; Never In A Million Years; the na-na-nas on Diamond Smiles*.

    Re: the band name. At the age of nine, I thought The Boomtown Rats was a brilliant band name. It’s just the sort of thing you would probably want to call your own band if you were a rufty-tufty nine year-old boy. So while my brother (four years older) was scornful of what he perceived as the Rats’ version of punk, Geldof struck me as thoroughly credible.

    Good as I thought Rat Trap was, I do sometimes get the impression that Geldof thinks these songs were more important than they really were. Seizing the chance to do it at Live Aid was understandable and fine, but doing it again at Live 8, twenty years later, to thousands of people who had no clear idea that he used to be a pop star, seemed inappropriate.

    *featuring the demon lines, “The girl in the cake/Jumped out too soon by mistake”

  54. 54
    Waldo on 13 Aug 2008 #

    DJP # 47 – I am happy to take that as a compliment. Eh? Eh?

    Of course had I finished instead with “Hmmm? Hmmm?”, this would have put older posters in mind of William Hartnell, the inaugural Doctor Who.

    Now drink.

  55. 55
    wwolfe on 13 Aug 2008 #

    I don’t know this song at all. I do know that when I first heard the Rats’ version of “I Don’t Like Mondays,” I was surprised by how much the arrangement made it sound like a Broadway show tune – to the point where I couldn’t help but picture a kickline of dancers at one point. It was a *good* Broadway show tune, but not the fierce, punk (or at least punk-like) record I had been expecting.

  56. 56
    LondonLee on 13 Aug 2008 #

    Is there another version of ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’?

    I should have added above that, not being greaser from New Jersey, I found this easier to relate to than Springsteen’s overly romantic tale – and anyway The Magic Rat sounded like a character from Wind In The Willows to me. I can’t imagine Bruce ever finding much magic in a humble 50p piece either.

  57. 57
    Mark G on 13 Aug 2008 #

    “Deep down in her pocket, Rosalita finds 50p
    “Hey what is that doing there, who gave that to me?””

  58. 58
    pink champale on 13 Aug 2008 #

    the jive-talking conversational style of this reminds me of thin lizzy (okay, the one thin lizzy song i know) as much as bruce. it’s alright though i think, melodramatic and ludicrous but still quite affecting.

    anyway, someone’s clearly reappraised the boomtown rats, razorlight are virtually a tribute band (though i have a suspicion this isn’t quite what they’re aiming for).

  59. 59
    Matt on 14 Aug 2008 #

    Wichita, you are right about Mojo covering the Rats. There was a fairly substantial feature about them about a year ago, coinciding with the reissuing of their back catalogue I would imagine.

    On the topic of whether this was the first “punk” number, if it wasn’t I’ll be interested to see what (if any) future number ones might take that title (although obviously not wanting to inspire any bunny baiting comments now)

  60. 60
    DJ Punctum on 14 Aug 2008 #

    first punk number one

  61. 61
    mike on 14 Aug 2008 #

    OK, OK. I played both TOTP appearances back-to-back last night, and am now prepared to concede that “Rat Trap” is better than I remembered it. By the standards of chart pop, it is clever, sparky, adept and original, and sneering at its would-be Springsteen-isms and its Not Being (Post-)Punk Enough is hardly fair, considering the easy ride that I was prepared to give to the stylistic bastardisations/dilutions of glam-rock (which were in turn sneered at by the hipsters of the day, just as my 16-year-old self rolled my eyes at the Rats). If I’d been eleven years old, then I might well have thought this was the Best Thing Ever.

  62. 62
    DJ Punctum on 14 Aug 2008 #

    No, you were right the first time. “Rat Trap” is a ploddy, life-denying, elephantine, rancid, self-applauding Trex chip fat grease remnant for me to slip and break my neck on because the idle bastards couldn’t be bothered to come out and clear it up wait until I report them to the bloody Council cock rock record.

    Also, life isn’t fair.

  63. 63
    Conrad on 14 Aug 2008 #

    61, As an 11 year old at an all-boys school, I can attest that this was very briefly the best thing ever (for the uncool first years anyway). JT and ONJ were sissy. Everyone cheered when Geldof ripped up the poster. It’s ‘pop moments’ like that, the fact the record was a hit in term-time, the contrast with the endless months of the Two Johns at Number 1 every bloody week and Geldof’s unruly, spiky appearance that helped made it happen.

    None of us had even heard of Springsteen at that point.

  64. 64
    DJ Punctum on 14 Aug 2008 #

    Well, that’s all-boys schools for you.

  65. 65
    Mark G on 14 Aug 2008 #

    #63 is how it seemed then (and does now, to be honest).

    As I say, it was more “hooray, SummerNights at number one finally over!” than “Hello, we’re the Boomtown Rats and Grease is now beaten and gone”

  66. 66
    Mark G on 14 Aug 2008 #

    It was also an indication of optimism, that, musically, things are going to get better.

    Which they did.

  67. 67
    Erithian on 14 Aug 2008 #

    As a 16-year-old, I organised a poll among our year in which “Rat Trap” pipped “Mr Blue Sky” as single of the year, with “Wuthering Heights” not too far behind. Wish I could remember the rest of the placings. I remember thinking they’d make an interesting school disco, although what our neighbouring girls’ school would make of some of the rockist selections I’m not sure.

    Re Springsteen – yes we knew “Born To Run”, although “Darkness on the Edge of Town” didn’t make that big an impact. Two years later when I went to London no student party was complete without a copy of “The River”. Capital Radio played the “River” singles on heavy rotation, which Piccadilly in Manchester certainly didn’t. Was Springsteen more a London thing in those days?

  68. 68
    DJ Punctum on 14 Aug 2008 #

    #66: Wrong. It was only a cause of optimism in terms of things can only get better, since they couldn’t get much worse than “Rat Trap.”

    Also I distrust the latent misogyny behind “hurrah no more Summer Nights at number one.”

  69. 69
    Dan R on 14 Aug 2008 #


    Of course, The Beatles is also a pretty stupid band name…

  70. 70
    DJ Punctum on 14 Aug 2008 #

    We’re going through a purple patch of them now…The Script, The View, The Kooks, The Zutons, The Fratellis, The Enemy…all worthy heirs of the Boomtown Rats’ aesthetic legacy.

    But in truth civilisation as measured in terms of band names can’t really sink any lower than Biffy Clyro.

  71. 71
    mike on 14 Aug 2008 #

    Latent misogyny? Nah, 16 weeks of anybody at Number One is hard to bear when you’re trapped in a monoculture. People were just bored.

    Well OK, not just bored. To a lot of pop kids (Gawd bless ’em!), the Grease phenomenon was an imposition by a distant “them”, whereas the Rats represented some sort of victory for a here-and-now “us”. It’s an identification with the artist thing, innit? Which I suppose makes the Rats a teensy-weensy little bit “punk” after all.

  72. 72
    DJ Punctum on 14 Aug 2008 #

    I disagree – from my contemporary viewpoint at the time it was very much a case of “yay, that girlie rubbish is off the top and here’s some proper boys’ music.”

  73. 73
    Mark G on 14 Aug 2008 #


    Whoa! I like Summer nights, but that clip had been played every week, and was getting boring. In fact, the original ‘performance’ of Rat Trap was also getting boring, and one week at number one was deserved, but no more or less what it was due.


    I didn’t say it was getting better for all time, just that the stuff I’d consider from ‘our’ contamporaries could actually make inroads into the charts. Which it did for a fair while.

    #71, well quite. ta.

    #72 well, you weren’t standing next to me at the time, so you can’t know how *my* reaction was. Bob’s, I cannot say, as I wasn’t standing next to him either.

  74. 74
    crag on 14 Aug 2008 #

    re; bad band names……

  75. 75
    LondonLee on 14 Aug 2008 #

    Capital Radio managed to turn me off Springsteen with their incessant plugging of ‘The River’

    Being at an all-boys school too I don’t remember any glee at “girlie rubbish” being knocked off the top, we just wanted a new #1 and I don’t think we classified ‘Grease’ in that way anyway (Slik and The Bay City Rollers certainly). Travolta had been in ‘Saturday Night Fever’ which we liked and Olivia did look good in those leather strides.

  76. 76
    koganbot on 14 Aug 2008 #

    bands named after someone else’s song, LP, film or book aRE very nearly invariably very bad bands

    E.g. the Rolling Stones???

    So were the Boomtown Rats named after someone else’s song, LP, film, or book? I really know nothing about this, and even knowing your ideas rather well, I can’t intuit why you’d think “Boomtown Rats” is a bad bandname. Seems less posturing and obvious than The Damned or Teenage Jesus And The Jerks, for instance (both of whom probably made better music but as I’ve said I’ve yet to hear this or anything else Ratlike other than “Mondays”).

    First punk number one would be ? And The Mysterians’ “96 Tears” on October 29, 1966, though that was in the U.S. only, and anyhow one could argue that The Troggs’ “Wild Thing,” which reached number one three months earlier, takes precedence. (But then, what’s the logic of counting any of these including “God Save The Queen” and discounting “Paint It, Black,” which reached number one a month and a half before “Wild Thing”? Unless of course the band’s naming itself after a song disqualifies them out of hand.)(But really, what would be the argument that “Rat Trap” is more punk than “96 Tears” is?).

    Cute Is What We Aim For
    Scouting For Girls

    = two terribly named bands that people other than me have heard of

  77. 77
    koganbot on 14 Aug 2008 #

    The Velvet Underground

    = named after someone else’s book

  78. 78
    Waldo on 14 Aug 2008 #

    Re – bad band names.

    Whilst I may be skating on the thin ice of the Bun here, I must mention the house band in The Swan, a large drinker just ouside Stockwell Station. The Swan was as Irish a pub as you could get in London. I don’t want to get into this too much. Let’s just say that the local Brixton dealers knew better than to “do their stuff” in The Swan.

    Circ 1982, the house band were called “Paddy Goes To Holyhead”. They were not unlike The Rats, as it happens.

  79. 79
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 14 Aug 2008 #

    don’t think the boomtown rats are named after someone else’s anything, unless it’s a very early tony parsons novel

    i like all the names on the marquee in crag’s link! (though “happy mother’s day, i can’t read” is only good if it’s two bands not one)

  80. 80
    Billy Smart on 14 Aug 2008 #

    The Boomtown Rats were named after a gang in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography ‘Bound For Glory’. I think that it’s a good name, myself.

    I’ve also been enjoying ‘Rat Trap’ more and more every time that I’ve been listening to it over the last couple of days!

  81. 81
    wichita lineman on 14 Aug 2008 #

    The Boomtown Rats, at the time, claimed to be named after a gang in a film or a book. Cos prior to this I’d always assumed it was some odd play on the Bay City Rollers.

    Re 75: Snap. And I never made the Springsteen/Rats connection until I read Smash Hits’ 3 out of 10 review in for The Fine Art Of Surfacing, which explained it loud and clear.

    As for the monoculture of 16 weeks at number one… I know that a few people have dissented, but it’s 16 weeks plus 6 more of Three Times A Lady/Dreadlock Holiday in between which makes for 5 solid gloop-and-pastiche mono months. No wonder Rat Trap, with its undeniable (fourth-hand) ambition, sounded like some kind of future.

  82. 82
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 15 Aug 2008 #

    hah! if that’s where the name’s from that’s about 40 times WORSE than i was prepared to accuse them of — it’s bad borrowed poetry and authority of a kind they don’t know how to live up to, basically

    the stones and the velvets would be too, except they did live up to it — a bad name is a good gamble if yr prepared to be SO GOOD that the power yr tryin to siphon becomes unnecessary: the atmosphere you create shd be YOU

    the johnny fingers side of the rats — pretend rebels in pyjamas — was always the draw, i think: back in the day i strongly disapproved of this, but now i don’t; clowning trumps bad poitry

    the small good and the big bad of sir blobster of geldof is that he really does think he is the woody guthrie de nos jours

  83. 83
    Malice Cooper on 15 Aug 2008 #

    This must have been a big surprise when it hit the top as listening to it now, it sounds no more commercial than many records of the time that failed to hit the top 20. Not as good as “looking after number one” but still a good borderline between new wave and pop which Sir Bob managed to hit so often.

  84. 84
    rosie on 16 Aug 2008 #

    Other band names from book titles that I can think of off the top of my head:

    Sad Cafe (Carson McCullers)
    Soft Machine (William S Burroughs)
    Steppenwolf (Herman Hesse)

    Probably lots of others given time to think about it. Wasn’t there a Sons and Lovers, from Nottingham? I can’t remember anything they did so I don’t suppose they were any good. And a nagging voice says there was once a Vanity Fair, but I can’t remember anything they did either.

  85. 85
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 16 Aug 2008 #

    the doors <— proof of theory
    the fall <— disproof

    the infestation really takes off in the post-punk era — and in general bands named after films or songs are much worse than those named after books

  86. 86
    rosie on 16 Aug 2008 #

    Mark @ 85: What theory is this to be proved? That bands with literary names are crap? Would you like to enlarge on why you consider The Doors not to have been a good band? They are, after all, up there with my all time favourites.

    Or are you trying to be provocative?

  87. 87
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 16 Aug 2008 #

    that bands whose first key down-payment on their own creativity (ie how they announced themselves: their name) is funded by borrowing directly from the creativity of others before them are likely to come up wanting later also

    the “literary” element is kind of a red herring; it’s the upfront borrowing i am leery of, whatever it’s from (it’s like declarations of influence: announcement of unearned authority to bump you up into a league you can’t get to on your own)

    (at least steely dan had read past the cover of a burroughs book!)

    my favourite doors song/couplet is actually named for a chapter heading in frazier’s the golden bough: “not to touch the earth/not to see the sun” — i’m not a giant big fan of jim morrison but i like the other doors (the sound they make i mean); mainly i’m teasing koganbot when i list all these famous and beloved bands that prove/disprove my theory and claim

    BUT the basic idea — about the issue of borrowed authority — is something i’m interested in which bugs me

  88. 88
    LondonLee on 16 Aug 2008 #

    I hate to break it to you Rosie but a lot of people think The Doors weren’t that good.

  89. 89
    o sobek! on 17 Aug 2008 #

    wait wait wait rosie who was moaning about threatening leering macho young men in the context of PHILLY SOUL thinks THE FUCKING DOORS were GREAT????????? THE DOORS WHO SPEND AT LEAST HALF THEIR HITS TURNING ‘YOU’RE GONNA GET RAPED’ INTO NINE MINUTES OF BAD SOLOS AND WORSE POETRY? REALLY? mind you the doors were white so no inconsistency here but still WOW.

  90. 90
    Pete on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Whilst I agree with Mark’s general thesis about borrowed authenticity when bands quote other literature as band names, I think sometimes its just a pose to say “look we read a book”. Which often doesn’t translate too far too “Look, one of us (probably the singer cos he didn’t have to waste time learning how to play insturments) read the title of a book once and tricked the rest of us into thinking it was a good band name”.

    Bands which quote other song lyrics as song titles surely must be the nadir of this, setting their high water mark at the song they quote. Whilst I am sure there are a score of bands who have quote Smiths lyrics as names, the worst of this type of band must surely be 1994 group Passion Fruit And Holy Bread, a STONE ROSES quote fcs!

  91. 91
    byebyepride on 17 Aug 2008 #

    I only find ‘borrowed’ names irritating if I recognise them – my reaction is usually ‘FFS you think you’re being clever by alluding to X, but if I’ve heard of it, it can’t be big or clever’. There’s a really good example of this I saw on the shelves in Fopp recently, but it’s too early on a Sunday morning to remember the name. I guess this is a perverse (? or sound, maybe) version of the principle of not wanting to join any club that wants to have you.

  92. 92
    rosie on 17 Aug 2008 #

    LondonLee @ 88: That’s fine by me. It’s not compulsory to like the things I like and that’s not what I was suggesting. I don’t much care for the Buzzcocks and I assume that view will be similarly respected.

  93. 93
    rosie on 17 Aug 2008 #

    O Sobek! @ 89: I know I made a remark somewhere about leering young black men but I can’t recall the particular connection to Philly Soul (I think it more likely to have been in the context of hip-hop). Would you care to remind me? On the other hand the experience of being regularly leered at and mentally raped, and sometimes spat at, by groups of young men belonging to a particular minority subculture of young African-Caribbean people as I pass them on street corners, isn’t an enjoyable one and yet seeing such a group ahead of me means that I can predict their behaviour with some accuracy. I recall me and my friend Joanna being in full agreement, over a delicious meal of ackee and saltfish and fried plantains, of how this behaviour tends to bring her community into disrepute.

    Well, I really have no time for black music. One of these days I must get rid of about 80% of my collection.

    Live and let live I say.

  94. 94
    Billy Smart on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Re 89/93 – The contentious comments can be found in the commentary on ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But My Love’ by the Stylistics, part of an oddly schizoid discussion that alternates between talking about race and oppression and memories of defunct brands of crisps.

  95. 95
    Tom on 17 Aug 2008 #

    I don’t like the Doors much, to say the least, but Jim M never came across to me as particularly rapey. I haven’t ever paid close attention to the great man’s lyrics though.

    I like hip-hop AND saltfish and fried plantains, but I think only about 30% of my record collection is black. :(

  96. 96
    rosie on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Thank you, Billy. That was when I was defending Philly Soul, which I like. For some reason I was then branded a cosseted, privileged, racist gliberal with a soft spot for New York vigilantes, which came as somthing of a surprise.

    Tom @ 95: Maybe 80% is an exaggeration but my predilection for raw blues and jazz as well as the work of singers like Billie, Ella and The Divine Sarah does tend to bump up the percentage somewhat. That’s not to mention all the 60s Stax/Atlantic soul which some find so uncouth!

  97. 97
    wichita lineman on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Re 90: That’ll be The Stone Roses who named themselves after a 50s crime novel by Sarah Gainham. Let’s face it, most band names are crap and we soon learn to accept them if the music’s good enough: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Stone Roses, The La’s…

  98. 98

    not crap:
    i: “i love you but i chose THE DARKNESS”
    ii: kraftwerk
    iii: er that’s it

  99. 99
    CarsmileSteve on 17 Aug 2008 #

    the doors, of course, only clever enough to read half a book title, there…

    three colours red infamously said they’d never seen the film, they just liked the way the words sounded.

  100. 100
    rosie on 17 Aug 2008 #

    CarsmileSteve @ 99: Or even less clever if you put it that way, being only one eighth of the line from Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

    “If the Doors of Perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite.

    I don’t know how much Aldous Huxley Jim read. I know he read a lot of Blake.

  101. 101
    wichita lineman on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Re 99: Steve, it was better/worse than that. They claimed they’d never heard of the girly arthouse film. It was just a coincidence.

    As the man said when he was told you can have a double negative, but there was no such thing as a double positive:

    Yeah, yeah.

  102. 102
    LondonLee on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Prefab Sprout is the worst band name ever. At least, the worst one for a band that were actually good.

  103. 103
    wichita lineman on 17 Aug 2008 #

    Lee, I think we have a winner. Prefab Sprout’s the only one I can think of that you can’t abbreviate (like the Stones, the Manics) because both words are so ugly – and sound even worse when they’re paired.

  104. 104
    Snif on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Great band name from a few years back – William Shatner’s Pants.

  105. 105
    Mark G on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Yeah, the Prefabs.

  106. 106
    wichita lineman on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Well, you could also them the Sprout but neither fell into common usage. And weren’t the Monkees the Prefabs?

  107. 107
    DJ Punctum on 18 Aug 2008 #

    The Prefab Four.

    I believe top Tory “Pop” DJ Mike Read briefly referred to them as “the Sprouties.”

  108. 108
    Stevie on 18 Aug 2008 #

    In its favour Prefab Sprout does show a strong Bloomian misreading of “hotter than a pepper sprout” from the Rodgers/Wheeler number “Jackson”.

  109. 109
    Mark G on 18 Aug 2008 #

    When Prefab Sprout the band first became known, I would have sworn I’d heard the name before.

  110. 110
    henry s on 18 Aug 2008 #

    I used to confuse Prefab Sprout with Aztec Camera…seemed like a lot of other bands were using that “two incongruent words” naming strategy back then…

  111. 111
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Aug 2008 #

    i’ve never seen — but would like to — a proper study of band-naming fashions (with stats and trends and everything)

    my rough tab of the 50s and 60s is that the dominant mode mutated as follows

    the [—]s —> viz the orioles
    XY and his [xxx]s —> bill haley and his comets
    XY and the [xxx]s —> cliff richard and the shadows
    the [—]s —> the kinks
    the [—] —> the who
    [—] —> cream (who were i think “the cream” to start with)
    [—] [—] —> deep purple

    (^^applies to “rock” only) (yes the orioles are rock)

    but thereafter, w.retro AND punk both arriving to mess up the idea of a single central canon anyway, deliberately back-looking and deliberately futuristic names blur everything

  112. 112
    Mark G on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Which is why Don Van Vliet got annoyed about having “his” on his records early on, as in “Captain Beefheart and his magic band”

    which is ironic, as the band from Trout Mask Replica’ was most assuredly *his*, apart from “Unconditionally Guaranteed” and “Bluejeans and Moonbeams” which were more “and his, but leased out at the moment”

  113. 113
    DJ Punctum on 18 Aug 2008 #

    #111: not really that interesting unless accompanied by a full damnation of wrong-way-pretentious unnecessary abandoning of definite article viz. Buzzcocks, Guillemots, Editors and with the exception of the first named an invariable guarantee of aesthetic crapness.

  114. 114
    Mark G on 18 Aug 2008 #

    .. and how Verve were forced to add one.

  115. 115
    Tom on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Some Foals!

    I can never remember (or care) who does this and who doesn’t.

  116. 116
    Billy Smart on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Cocteau Twins? Happy Mondays? Sisters of Mercy? All great, though I suppose that everybody adds a ‘The’ in conversation anyway.

  117. 117
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 18 Aug 2008 #

    haha some sex pistols

    $wans <— not entirely awful

    what’s interesting (ok to me and me alone) is the sociology of shifts in assumptions about how naming works, and is meant to — esp.the shift from plurals to singular, where i think there was also a real shift in what rock was taken to be

  118. 118
    mike on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Sparks? (Also one of the few bands to have successfully dropped the definite article; nobody has ever called them “The Sparks”.)


  119. 119
    Tim but logged out innit on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Fire Engines! I seem to recall Davey Henderson really, really caring about their non-“The” status.

    Status Quo are successful definite article abandoners.

    Madness took one on for that one record/reunion, didn’t they? And then lost it again.

  120. 120
    Tim but logged out innit on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Just by way of not really helping this along at all, here is me mapping these naming styles onto generic names for multiple-performer-units (I don’t know that I have this right actually but, eh):

    the [—]s —> viz the orioles = a combo
    XY and his [xxx]s —> bill haley and his comets = an act
    XY and the [xxx]s —> cliff richard and the shadows = a band
    the [—]s —> the kinks = a group
    the [—] —> the who = a band [with undertones of gang-ness]
    [—] —> cream = a project
    [—] [—] —> deep purple = er um also a project probably

    Each of these places itself at different points on insider-outsider and art-entertainment continuums, in my mind.

  121. 121
    wichita lineman on 18 Aug 2008 #

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

  122. 122
    Caledonianne on 18 Aug 2008 #

    Boo Radleys.

  123. 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.

  124. 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.

  125. 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.

  126. 126
    henry s on 19 Aug 2008 #

    do we prefer Sweet, or The Sweet?

  127. 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

  128. 128
    Mark G on 19 Aug 2008 #

    The Can.

  129. 129
    DJ Punctum on 19 Aug 2008 #

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

  130. 130
    Mark G on 19 Aug 2008 #

    yr office, 9am…

  131. 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?

  132. 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!”

  133. 133
    wichita lineman on 19 Aug 2008 #

    I was worried you’d say that, son.

  134. 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)

  135. 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.

  136. 136
    Erithian on 20 Aug 2008 #

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

  137. 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

  138. 138
    Erithian on 20 Aug 2008 #

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

  139. 139
    Mark G on 20 Aug 2008 #

    they showed a lack of commitment (!)

  140. 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?

  141. 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.

  142. 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

  143. 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.

  144. 144
    The Intl on 26 Aug 2008 #

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

  145. 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”…

  146. 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?

  147. 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.

  148. 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.

  149. 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.

  150. 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?

  151. 151
    DJ Punctum on 3 Sep 2008 #

    No hypocrisy at work there. It’s a question of innate ability as a writer as well as understanding of the milieu in which one chooses to write and unfortunately Reynolds has spent so much time and effort on his “crusades” and “jump on a nascent scene so I can name it and establish myself as a branding agent” clothes horses that he seems to have overlooked the necessity to engage, move, touch or even simply inform his readers.

  152. 152
    Mark G on 3 Sep 2008 #

    I absolutely agree with you about S.Reynolds, however could we kill off this judging a writer by their degree, please?

  153. 153
    DJ Punctum on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Morley got an HND at UMIST. Can’t remember what in though.

  154. 154
    wichita lineman on 3 Sep 2008 #

    I did Town Planning at PCL for a year before I dropped out to try and earn a living as a writer. Just thought I’d put my cards on the table.

  155. 155
    thevisitor on 3 Sep 2008 #

    I don’t agree with a lot of what Simon Reynolds has to say. I was at Melody Maker at the same time as him and gradually, through realising that my outlook** was (and is) pretty much the opposite to his*, I found my own way. But that didn’t stop me enjoying the way he wrote and also feeling grateful for the level of discourse his writing promoted. He risks ridicule (see his inadvertently hilarious My Bloody Valentine piece in The Sex Revolts [riff = phallus; noise = vagina, apparently]) but I envy the lengths he goes to in order to inhabit areas of music that I may never get to crack.

    If you don’t mind, can I also add that, in my opinion, the best way to get into The Teardrop Explodes is through their ceaselessly brilliant b-sides. I can’t think of a band at that time whose b-sides so consistently outperformed their a-sides. Christ VS Warhol, Strange House In The Snow, East Of The Equator, Use Me, the list goes on. Fans of foreboding, experimental, atmospheric pop can’t fail here. Even Reynolds (who was, incidentally, one of the nicest and humble characters on the paper at that time) would have surely found something of value there?!

    While we’re confessing, I scraped a 2:2 in philosophy at Lampeter, making me possibly the thickest employee of the paper where I now work.

    *his, as I understood it: decide on your aesthetic and work out what music fits into it
    **mine (I think): decide what music you like and then try and discern a aesthetic that unites it all.

  156. 156
    Billy Smart on 3 Sep 2008 #

    Such was the effect of Melody Maker on me as a 16-year old, that I’m now desperately trying to work out who thevisitor is. (I’m guessing Dave Simpson, but I could certainly name quite a few thicker Guardian journalists)

    I always found it odd how David Stubbs never seemed to attract either the acclaim or dismissal that Reynolds did, as they very much shared the same aesthetic. Perhaps it was because Stubbs often wrote about Arsenal and TV comedy as well, that he struck readers as less effete than Reynolds. A collection of his interviews, etc, from that time would be as rich and valid a book as ‘Bring The Noise’, though.

    Even as late as 1988, the solo Julian Cope was still putting his best songs on B-sides – see ‘Crazy Farm Animal’

    Hm – I only got a 2:2 in Drama, but now I’m doing a PhD. I really don’t know to what extent – if at all – this qualifies (or disqualifies) me to comment on music intelligently!

  157. 157
    byebyepride on 4 Sep 2008 #

    re: Teardrop Explodes B-sides, ‘Ouch Monkeys’ is another cracker.

  158. 158
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Ah yes, David Stubbs, the guy who wrote in MM in 1987 that there should be a five-year ban on black music. I don’t think there’s any pressing need to revisit his particular brand of “wisdom.”

  159. 159
    thevisitor on 4 Sep 2008 #

    #156: I rather felt that David Stubbs’ passion for discovering new music seemed to subside in the early nineties, as he carved out a niche for himself doing the funny pages. Also I remember him and Reynolds being very different personalities. Reynolds bucked MM protocol by being friendly and interested in what the bottom-feeder freelancers were up to. By contrast, David was more wary of new faces, and didn’t exactly go out of his way to set people at ease. I got to know him as time went on, but in that respect he had more in common with Andrew Mueller and Steve Sutherland – writers who made you feel you somehow had to earn their attention (hope Andrew doesn’t mind me saying that as I’m pretty friendly with him now). Anyway, I digress. I think the point I’m making is that there’s a correlation between Simon’s open-ended approach to people and the way he approaches new music. That’s just what he’s like – and it was (and is) to his benefit as a person as well as a writer.

    That said, I felt that Reynolds’ philosophy accidentally set a negative, counterintuitive climate at Melody Maker, which had many at the paper (I’d left by this point) seriously claiming that Trans-Global Underground were worthier Britpop emissaries than Blur. I can’t tell you the suspicion with which the latter were greeted when they put out Modern Life Is Rubbish. By comparison, you put on a Trans-Global Underground album on and it felt like homework. Same, I felt, with the likes of Young Gods and Skinny Puppy. That said, even though I was more populist in my outlook, I was never discouraged by anyone there. Everett True and Jim Arundel (now Irvin), in particular (both of whom also kept to their own agendas) couldn’t have been more encouraging.

  160. 160
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    As a punter, the either/or thing never really bothered me; I thought Modern Life Is Rubbish and Dream Of 100 Nations were (and still are!) equally great and both records still have considerable personal resonance for me. Same with the Young Gods and Skinny Puppy; all great soundtracks to coming over the Westway (if you’ll pardon the expression) of a sunny weekday morning.

    As a writer fifteen years later I very much regret that the either/or crutch is still handicapping music writing in general, both online and off; I’ve always tried to see the whole picture, even if it’s a picture I’ve had to paint myself (so your music -> aesthetic process works here). If I think something’s rubbish, of course, I say so and say it strong but give my reasons for doing so. But that’s different from the corners into which both Dissensus and Poptimists (for example) have painted themselves in which there is One Absolute Declaration of Principles which will not be strayed from ever for fear of excommunication. If nothing else, you miss all the exciting stuff that’s going on everywhere else.

  161. 161
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    I’m being knowingly disingenuous of course about that five years piece because (a) it was co-written by SR and DS (it’s collected in Blissed Out) and (b) I know why they wrote it, i.e. as a reaction against Beige Proper Soul We Are Not Worthy Masquerading As Pop which as we all know has recently made an unwelcome comeback. But the way it was worded was perhaps less than helpful at the time.

  162. 162
    Tim on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Poptimists and Dissensus are places rather than individuals, DJP, and it seems quite likely that people go to those places to talk about one sort of thing with a specialist crowd, and get their other kicks elsewhere. I’m not sure either holds any of its participants to any absolute declaration of values, not that I look at either much, if ever.

  163. 163
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Totally OTM about the Teardrops’ B-sides; my personal favourite is “Window Shopping For A New Crown Of Thorns,” the demented flip to 1981’s #54 flop “Colours Fly Away.”

    (supplementary question: why isn’t “Christ Vs Warhol” a bonus track on the CD of Wilder when every other B-side from the period is? Did someone forget to add it or did JC put his foot down?)

  164. 164
    byebyepride on 4 Sep 2008 #

    DJP – you don’t seem to practice what you preach about music in relation to other people who like to talk about it. Your portray yourself as the only free thinker amongst blinkered conformists to popular taste or slavish followers of avant garde manifestos. But your word for the former (gliberal) comes directly from the latter (k-punk, one assumes).

  165. 165
    thevisitor on 4 Sep 2008 #

    #163: It ended up on a hits comp which appeared around the same time as the reissues, so perhaps JC thought it warranted special status?

    #156: Oh yes, loads of ace JC solo b-sides: Hey High Class Butcher from the flipside of Sunshine Playroom; Desi from the back of China Doll; Disaster from the back of Trampolene; and Christmas Mourning from the back of Charlotte Ann. Phew!

  166. 166
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    If you take “gliberal” in accordance with its dictionary definition – “superficially, shallowly, or falsely liberal” – then I don’t see how you connect that to assumed “blinkered conformists to popular taste” since I have certainly never used the word in that sense.

  167. 167
    Mark G on 4 Sep 2008 #

    CvsW is on the Jap version of “Everybody wants to Shag”

  168. 168
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    “It was a little unusual, but we all loved it”

  169. 169
    Tom on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Right, I’m back from holiday. I see you’ve all been keeping yourselves occupied.

    Cope B-Sides – when I worked at MVE a colleague once solemnly informed me that Mik Mak Mok was the only good song Julian Cope had ever written.

    DJP if you’d like to point me to Poptimists’ One Absolute Declaration of Principles I’d be fascinated to read it!

    Ah, no, here we go – “This is a community for people who believe that pop music is a good thing. The definition of ‘pop music’ is left up to you, but it probably includes at least some stuff that gets in the charts.”

    Hardline stuff I think you’ll agree. My position as the Mullah Omar of pop is secure.

    Byebyepride – I am not sure the word gliberal comes from K-P at all! I looked it up when DJP first started using it and it seems to have been coined by the vigorous US right (and picked up by the likes of our neighbour-from-hell Melanie Phillips) to lambast liberals in general – glib and liberal here are conjoined by definition. It’s a rough equivalent to something like “do-gooders”.

  170. 170
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Like Nas, I’m claiming the word back.

  171. 171
    DJ Punctum on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Wonder what Mad Mel thought of God On Trial on BBC2 last night. One of the best dramas I’ve seen on TV for years, if not decades.

  172. 172
    Tom on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Like Bono and “Helter Skelter” you mean :)

  173. 173
    Lena on 4 Sep 2008 #

    Twenty years ago, I first travelled to London for a near-month-long stay. The only person I knew was a music journalist; he worked in radio, and did a weekly live broadcast on my favorite station. At one point I expressed to him my admiration for both the NME and MM and how I wanted to work for one of them, as a writer. His response was quick and soul-crushing: those papers, he said, were largely (if not entirely) populated by Oxbridge grads and there would be no way I could fit in. I wasn’t male, British or a university graduate, and that was that. Better I write about something else. It was like a door slamming on me. He named no names, so I had no idea who he was talking about, nor did I ask. It seemed pointless. (It seems needless to say, but this man was not an Oxbridge grad; his statement wasn’t one of hatred or envy of them, just a plain understood fact. I had no opinion of them myself, as I figured you went there if you wanted to, just as I went to Ryerson because I could. That was probably a wrong assumption, Ryerson being a polytechnical institute at the time.)

    One of the reasons this was such bad news for me was I had been reading MM and the NME and Creem and Star Hits (the US version of Smash Hits) and I loved aspects of them all, from super-serious pieces (the derogatory term for them being ‘muso’ which I still don’t understand – I guess it means the author ‘muses’ on things) to the silly, funny, weird, passionate, hyperbolic, etc. I wanted in on the action, but nope, no way. (I would have happily labored in the listings section, or been a proofreader, anything!) Only later did it occur to me that maybe the all-male/token-female environment would not have been that comfortable, nor would they have been too welcoming to an American girl who didn’t understand the hip-hop wars…

  174. 174
    wichita lineman on 5 Sep 2008 #

    At my school we once had an open evening where ex-pupils came back and told us about the wonderful world ahead of us. Each was sat at a table with his chosen career displayed before him. I headed straight for the architect who smilingly told me that there was no way I could follow his path without A-level maths. I was very upset as I’d be lucky to scrape O-level (I did, just). Twenty years later I found out this was BS but how was I to know?

    Lena, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Melody Maker in the late 80s/early 90s featured not one but two American female writers: Caren Myers (who hated British indie) and Caroline Sullivan who loved Bananarama, so hardly fitted into the MM boys club either, and has made a pretty good fist of a career in music journalism since.

    As for NME, Helen Mead and James Brown, the reviews and live editors 20 years ago, definitely weren’t Oxbridge grads. Both were very welcoming to young ‘outsiders’ (see Stuart Maconie’s Cider With Roadies).

    I hope you’ve found health, wealth and happiness outside the UK music press. As with any profession, there might have been leering, sniping and back-stabbing, but it certainly wasn’t a closed shop. I’m intrigued to know who gave you this duff information.

  175. 175
    DJ Punctum on 5 Sep 2008 #

    Well, Burchill, Parsons, Penman, Morley, Baker etc. etc. never went to Oxbridge (and apart from Morley none of them went on to further education, full stop). Set against that the Monitor intake on MM were all Oxford and Chris Roberts went to Cambridge, same college and same year as N*ck H*rnby. So it wasn’t an iron rule though in some cases public school backgrounds probably helped. Absolutely asinine advice, though, and I wish I’d known Lena at the time and given her some infinitely better advice.

    Has Lena found health, wealth and happiness outside the UK music press? Well, she married me last November and I’m doing my best to give her all three! :-)

  176. 176
    wichita lineman on 5 Sep 2008 #


    I honestly don’t think education had anything to do with the weeklies’ recruitment policy 20 years ago. Fanzines were the way to prove your worth, a stint at Eton or Balliol less so. The broadsheets, then as now, were probably another matter.

  177. 177
    Tom on 5 Sep 2008 #

    A major reason I never tried to write for the NME (aside from laziness etc.) is that I assumed my public school and Oxbridge background disqualified me!

  178. 178
    Pete on 5 Sep 2008 #

    Mine was the mid-ground that there was already someone in my Oxbridge college who was writing for them and I believed that even the NME would think this would flag up a real lack of diversity. Though John Harris had left by the time Tom got there so his reason still holds.

  179. 179
    DJ Punctum on 5 Sep 2008 #

    No swearing on FT please.

  180. 180
    intothefireuk on 6 Sep 2008 #

    No I can’t go along with it really being the first ‘punk’ no1 but Bob can still proudly claim to be the first ‘punk’ single bought my me (‘Looking after No1’). I enjoyed most of their earlier singles and saw them live in 1978. They were suprisingly good and Bob was a great frontman. Pity then that Rat Trap was a considerable disappointment. It’s not as if punk’s flame was entirely extinguished in 1979 – if we were going to have a late punk no1 then why not The Ruts mighty ‘Babylon’s Burning’? RT instead opts for Springsteenisms and a story based lyric. Ughh! Yes Bob you did rip John & Olivia from the top spot but only by sujagating your punk credentials. It’s a Rat Trap indeed.

  181. 181
    Lena on 9 Sep 2008 #

    #174: I’ve been debating myself as to how much I should say, so I will stick to the basics. The show was called “Live From London” and it was on CFNY, hosted by Lee Carter. While I was in London he got word that the station had new management and would be changing gradually to include more ‘commercial’ music (this meant George Michael, for example) and would play less obscure stuff. He kept doing his show for another year or so, but I think his advice to me (to read John Pilger & not the music papers) was more his own projecting of his own impatience to do ‘harder’ journalism. But I was too distraught at the time to realize that…once in a while I hear him on the CBC here, so he is still in radio, doing more production work than on air stuff, I think.

  182. 182
    wichita lineman on 9 Sep 2008 #

    Well, I’m glad it wasn’t a bosom buddy. That adds up. Everyone goes through that John Pilger moment at some point, your timing was just unfortunate.

  183. 183
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 9 Sep 2008 #

    if lena’s “20 years” is exact — ie taking us back to 1988 — then nme’s satanic rule of posh kids (such as it ever was)* was entirely over; dep ed was danny kelly; asst ed was james brown… both proudly working class and state school

    *by my count: barney h and mat snow were senior staff, x.moore and me were lowly freelancers — and we had all left by 88: very likely there were other freelancers keeping their backgrounds quiet, but this really is quite a strange claim re the nme: by contrast, mm did have a klatch of oxbridgers, but plenty of non…

    HOWEVER: you totally dodged a bullet working there at that time, lena, during the hiphop wars of dire memory, cz it wz grim and stressful :(

    i was v.lucky cz i wz spotted by r.d.cook (also not posh) and went on to wire

  184. 184
    DJ Punctum on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Furthermore, all the Oxford Monitor lot, i.e. Simon, David and Paul Oldfield, tried the NME first and were knocked back before being signed up to MM so an Oxbridge pedigree certainly didn’t guarantee you a job, though in places like Q Magazine it might have been a different story.

  185. 185
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 10 Sep 2008 #

    i think it is largely the case that between the mid-80s and the mid-90s, there was a creeping professionalisation of what had been a VERY ad hoc, off-the-map career choice: one of the less high-profile struggles under ian pye was to get the various wayward addicts, wastrels and night owls to deliver copy on time, to length, in an acceptable form (stylewise but also just nicely typed etc)

    years ago i remember neil spencer saying of julie burchill that one of the hidden clues to her success — with editors increasingly distant from her politics — was that her copy was no burden at all: it was beautifully delivered, to length and on time, and in that sense she always was a pleasure to work with

  186. 186
    Lena on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Yes, it was the summer of ’88 – early August to be exact – when I was told this rather old and inaccurate news, and obv. not knowing any better I believed it. I am very sorry to hear the NME at the time was grim and stressful, esp. since I subscribed to it for six months in ’89 (mainly because they were Wedding Present-crazy and so was I). I read John Pilger (Heroes) and admired him but knew that there was no way I could emulate that, the actual foreign correspondent work, as far as I can tell they are born, not made.

    At Ryerson we were trained to be on time (date-stamping our stories) and accurate (you failed outright if you spelled someone’s name wrong!) – working hard to please editors, at least in those ways, was there from our first assignment…

    By the by, does anyone know how Neil Tennant got to edit Smash Hits? Did anyone at MM or NME ever work there? Is there a rock/pop divide in journalists as well?

  187. 187
    DJ Punctum on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Well, interestingly Neil seems to have come up the old-fashioned journalistic way and bypassed the whole fanzine thing altogether; here’s what it says in Wikipedia:

    In 1975, having completed a degree in history at North London Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University), Neil Tennant worked for two years as London Editor for Marvel UK, the UK branch of Marvel Comics. He was responsible for anglicising the dialogue of Marvel’s catalogue to suit British readers, and for indicating where women needed to be redrawn more decently for the British editions. He also wrote occasional features for the comics, including interviews with pop stars Marc Bolan and Alex Harvey. In 1977, he moved to Macdonald Educational Publishing where he edited “The Dairy Book Of Home Management” and various illustrated books about cookery, playing the guitar and other home interests. Then he moved to ITV Books where he edited TV tie-in books. After having commissioned Steve Bush, then the designer of Smash Hits and The Face, to design a book about the group Madness, he was offered a job at Smash Hits as news editor of the British teen pop magazine in 1982. The following year he became Assistant Editor. He also edited the 1982, 1983 and 1984 editions of The Smash Hits Yearbook.

  188. 188
    mike on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Somewhere in a box in the attic, I’ve still got a copy of the Dairy Book of Home Management (ed: N.Tennant), having accidentally inherited it from the previous occupant of a flat I once rented. I think it came free with the milk, if you saved up vouchers or something. Anyway, it’s, er, of its time. I particularly remember a chapter on the correct wording for letters of condolence…

  189. 189
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 10 Sep 2008 #

    until the early 70s, nme had been a pop trade paper really — staffed by old-school entertainment journalists — and had suffered salewise as a result, given how much rock had energised and transformed pop, in chart fact and (harder to pin down) in cultural potential

    around 1974, the then-editor (i think called andy gray?) had made the decision to bring on-board writers from the underground press: charles shaar murray from oz, nick kent from frenz, mick farren from IT… i forget now who else

    by its nature, the underground press had fostered the self-taught, the self-indulgent (in a good and a bad way), and an entire bestiary of square wheels, neer-do-wells and otherwise unemployables… this strategy revitalised the paper and set the tone for its market dominance, but at a complex cost, as the essence of the move was bolshy counterculture maverickness, which is (not surprisingly) very hard to routinise on a weekly basis

    i had no journalistic or editorial training that wasn’t on the job — i think this degree of improvisational chancing was becoming less and less usual as the 80s advanced, simply because the sector was increasingly crowded, and under assault at both ends (ie the smash hits end, and — after about 1984? — the tabloid end also: the broadsheet arrival as a player in pop/rock culture was belated and remains more reactive than not…)

  190. 190
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 10 Sep 2008 #

    of course a genuinely dedicated collector would still have the MILK IT CAME WITH, mike

  191. 191
    Billy Smart on 10 Sep 2008 #

    Re 189: IIRC, the pioneering NME editor was called Alan Smith.

  192. 192
    Jonathan Caren on 9 May 2011 #

    can’t find on itunes

  193. 193
    Brendan on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Both this and Bon Jovi’s ‘Living On a Prayer’ have been shown to have influences of Bruce Springsteen. This would make Springsteen a rather unlikely punk/metal crossover artist to rank alongside the likes of Motorhead! Of course, the truth is that this is not punk, and Bon Jovi are not metal, both are ‘merely’ pop, and here it’s a rather ordinary kind of pop at that with plenty thrown into the mix but nothing that you couldn’t hear done better somewhere else. Again I’m in agreement with Tom, 6 seems right.

  194. 195
    Tammy Burke on 25 Jan 2019 #

    There are a lot of blogs over the Internet. But I can surely say that your blog is amazing in all. It has all the qualities that a perfect blog should have.

  195. 196
    Mark G on 26 Jan 2019 #

    And so say all of us!

  196. 197
    Gareth Parker on 8 May 2021 #

    I would be more inclined to go with a 4/10. I just find Geldof’s vocal style irritating and this goes on a bit too long for me.

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