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Sep 08

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

FT + Popular73 comments • 7,133 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 63
    Elmira on 7 May 2011 #

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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

  8. 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).

  9. 69
    benson_79 on 21 Jul 2020 #

    As this was number one when I was born I’m taking the 2 as a personal insult. To be fair though, the justification given is pretty good.

    In Geldof’s acceptance speech for his Lifetime Achievement Brit (or whatever it’s called) he claimed the award was for the music alone, which is quite the claim however you look at it.

  10. 70
    23 Daves on 20 Mar 2021 #

    Found myself getting sucked into the Boomtown Rats documentary on BBC4 last night, which I hadn’t seen on its previous showing and… what a puzzling band. Sartorially, they really do seem like a band slightly out of time circa “Rat Trap”, wearing very mid-seventies clothes. Bob’s lame jacket is almost cabaret in its stylings for the TOTP performance of that one, though knowing him that was probably a deliberate ironic gesture.

    Putting all their achievements aside for one moment, they’re one of those peculiar acts who feel like neither fish nor fowl in hindsight, and that’s probably had as much of an impact on how they’re regarded since as Geldof’s philanthropy. Not quite New Wave, not really pop, not necessarily straight-ahead rock (though there’s clearly a strong Thin Lizzy/ Springsteen influence running through much of their material)… the no man’s land they inhabited would have killed many other bands at the time and later on, including bands who in my opinion were far more interesting, but I suppose in the confusion of the late seventies they ended up appealing to a broad audience, the kind of people who would quite like to have owned a punk album or two but found most of it a horrible racket. Even my soul loving brother bought a copy of “Rat Trap”.

    Another peculiarity is how none of their LPs got to number one in this country and none went platinum. Their singles sold in huge quantities, but the albums often struggled to get into the top five.

    One thing leapt out at me from the documentary in relation to “Mondays”, which was an American rep of the band telling Geldof that he needed to write more songs with lyrics which were relevant to American life. Not long after that, Geldof was at a radio station when the story of this shooting broke, at which point he took the telex report and very quickly wrote a song about it.

    The telling of that story was supposed to flatter Bob’s creative ingenuity, I think, but it also revealed how cynical the penning of this track potentially was. Would he have written it had the suggestion of more relevant content and “breaking America” not been put to him? Did he really feel that strongly about the matter? I found myself doubting it where previously I hadn’t. Does it matter? Well, it probably matters if you were among the children shot or were their families…

    I used to love this song as a child but I don’t think I really understood what it was about. I just enjoyed the video and the dramatic nature of the single itself. These days I do find it to be a bit of a confused statement with a somewhat overblown delivery behind it – like the “Eve of Destruction” of New Wave, a bellowing, chest-thumping thing which tapped into a mood at the time I can’t quite channel now, even if lyrically it has become more relevant than ever.

  11. 71
    Alexander on 22 Mar 2021 #

    re : 70

    The impression that I always get with The Boomtown Rats was that they were trying too hard in every way. Not least, their lead singer with his verbose lyrics and over-determination to make statements. The arrangements on their singles sound top-heavy and cluttered to me, like every member was constantly busying himself (their best single was probably Someone’s Looking At You – The one time when they simply allowed the track to carry itself along rather than pushing and prodding at it).
    Their appearances on TOTP are now cringeworthy to watch because of Bob and his bandmates’ constant jostling and mugging for the camera – All those Geldof beckoning hand gestures get on my nerves. Compare the dynamism of The Clash and how they moved onstage, or the almost feline slouch of The New York Dolls and The Boomtown Rats simply look like a bunch of goons over-excited about being on television.
    They certainly appear to have been viewed as the housewives’ choice of punk/new wave.
    At the height of their fame, Bob Geldof appeared as a guest on Parkinson – Not an invitation that I could imagine being extended to Lydon or McLaren. If The Boomtown Rats represent any era, for me, then it’s the very late 70’s/very early 80’s* – That odd crossing over moment that we might associate, in pop terms, with The Kenny Everett Video Show, mirrored sunglasses with large frames, videos shot in plain white studios.
    As for how their music is viewed, in hindsight. It falls down in comparison to fellow Irishmen The Undertones, a truly great singles act, who, if anything, seem to be held in greater affection, despite only ever gaining one top 10 hit. There is perhaps a certain justice, that Teenage Kicks, a minor hit in 1978, is now viewed as a pop classic, whereas I Don’t Like Mondays, which sold over a million, now sounds very dated, and it’s hard to grasp why it was so popular in the first place.

    *Notably, they went out of fashion with a bang, when the new romantics arrived.
    One of the many ironies of Band Aid was that it was Bob Geldof corralling together the very bands who had knocked him off the top of the charts a few years earlier.

  12. 72
    23 Daves on 22 Mar 2021 #

    #71 – Yes, I remember reading in Geldof’s biography “Is That It?” that he warned the rest of the Rats “We can’t look too much like a showband”, but that choreographed mugging for the camera does feel very showband-esque. It doesn’t irritate me particularly, but the only other act of the era I can think of who would engage in similar behaviour were Madness – and they had better clowning skills, really.

    Also realised I made a mistake above. “Tonic For The Troops” did indeed go platinum. Their other LPs didn’t, and none at all reached the top five.

    I do like this late period Rats flop, though. For once I think the cluttered and busy arrangement actually works in its favour: https://youtu.be/1rmUr0dPFPs

  13. 73
    Gareth Parker on 8 May 2021 #

    I would go with a 5/10 here. I find Bob’s vocal histrionics a bit too much. I still think Banana Republic is a dreadful record though!

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