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Unfairly Dismissed: The Boomtown Rats October 25, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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A very welcome guest post from 6to5against

I think its fair to say that when you see mention of this band, you will immediately think of one member of that band in particular. And I think it’s also fair to say that your feelings for that one member of the band are somewhat negative. Words like ‘chancer’ might spring to mind when you think of him. Or ‘Gobshite’ perhaps. You might think with irritation about relentless self-promotion, self-regard or even self-obsession. But I’m asking you to put all that aside.

There was more to this band than one member. And there was more to that one member than he makes it easy to appreciate these days.  If nothing else, as a lyricist, he was fiercely articulate.  And when he kept that skill focussed on tight narratives within  the confine of a 3 minute pop song, he did little wrong.

By all accounts the Rats saw themselves as a R+B band to begin with: following the Rolling Stone as the Stones followed the early blues heros. Listening to their first album, I often think a lot of it would have been great fun played live. I can’t vouch for that because I was far too young and in the wrong part of the country to see them during those years. I did see themn on the Late Late show at that stage, though and as a 10/11 year old, I thought they were amazing: Arrogant, musical, stylish. Everythng I could have wished for in a band. I’m not sure any of those early songs stand up well enough to be offered here as evidence – but I’m going to do so anyway.

The hugely successful 2nd album had a number of good, well crafted pop songs, and Rat Trap. A song that became so iconic it seems pointless to bring it up here: you already know what you feel about it.

The first song I want to put seriously put forward in my defence of the Rats as a band-worthy-of-respect comes from the 3rd album, the Fine Art of Surfacing. As I remember it, it was only a minor hit, but I always thought of it as a great piece of song writing. The arrangement is flawless, its repeated punchy motifs allowing both the melody and the well-structured narrative to unfold without a wasted word:

This was from the same album. And I can’t think of a better description of urban paranoia and the surveillance society. Written when said society was in its infancy.

If proof were needed that there was more than one significant member of the band, it’s worth noting that their music  grew weaker after the departure of Gerry Cott. He made something of an attempt at a solo career that never seemed to come together commercially, but which I think threw up one or two solid songs in its attempt to do so. I’ve always liked this:

And more recently, he put together this record – which I listen to repeatedly and really enjoy. I don’t think there’s any commercial drive behind it: just the desire to share music once it has been made:

The uneven later offerings did still have some highlights. I think this one from Mondo Bongo might have something something to say about Brexit Britain even if it was written in 1984.

I skipped over one iconic hit because I do want to remind you all of another. A song that I think will stand up long into the future. It is a great piece of writing, combing narrative and comment with a great melody. And the piano part further bolsters my argument that this was a real band, reflecting the varied creative skills of many of its members.

Comments»

1. alanmyler - October 25, 2020

Very good. As with U2 it can be difficult to see or appreciate the band behind the mouth of the singer. A good selection of tunes from the Rats, but I wouldn’t be so dismissive of their first album, it has some really great tracks on it. I went through a couple of weeks earlier in the year relistening to it after a 40 year break. I still have the album on cassette, but it’s also on Spotify which is these days the easier option for listening to in the car. Neon Heart has a great rhythm driving it along. Joey’s on the Streets Again is an early episode of Rat Trap. Looking After No 1 is a punk gem. Close As You’ll Ever Be is another cracker. A really good album. At the time I also had Tonic For The Troops and loved it. Rat Trap, a classic. Then after Mondays, which I still have on 7″, I lost interest in their new sound. Or maybe I just discovered other bands that I liked more. As to Geldof, he was needed at the time as a popular lightning rod for the rising anger against the stale culture and society of the late 70s, I’ll give him that. But he’s been hard to take ever since. I guess he meant well with Band Aid / Live Aid too.

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6to5against - October 25, 2020

I didn’t really mean to dismiss it. I only really got on board with Tonic for the Troops and discovered the first album in retrospect – so it doesn’t have the emotional connection with time and place for me, and when I listened back, thought some of the tracks were a little too try-hard for me.
At the same time, Looking After no 1 is a bit of a classic. I only introduced it in an offhand way here to try to draw people in….

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alanmyler - October 25, 2020

Yes I get you, with so much baggage associated with Geldof you managed to solve that problem of drawing people in despite all of that. I struggled myself with the U2 one about how to avoid that trap. Btw I came to Tonic For The Troops first myself, and then came to their first album after that. I think Like Clockwork was out as a single at the time and was getting the Larry Gogan play of the week or something which piqued my interest.

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2. Mick 2 - October 25, 2020

You make a compelling case, sir. I grudgingly admit that ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ is a great song. It is indeed difficult to get over the persona of himself.

The brilliant Kirsty MacColl had this great slice of teenage desperation rock backed by (a few of?) the Rats. A once-off thing, I think. So you can have your Rats sans Geldof.

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WorldbyStorm - October 25, 2020

I’d have similar problems with TBR. Himself is so huge a presence it is difficult to get past that. On the other hand, was lisetning, like AM above, to the first two albums and there’s some genuinely impressive songs on them.

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6to5against - October 25, 2020

Never came across that. Really interesting, and you can hear the connection.

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3. Joe - October 25, 2020

Next week – The Corrs.

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WorldbyStorm - October 25, 2020

Ah now, steady on Joe!

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6to5against - October 25, 2020

Ha! Hats off to anybody who can make that case…

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4. gypsybhoy69 - October 26, 2020

I remember being in Blackpool. I’m guessing it was 1978. I was nine but this incident has stayed in my memory since. We were in a fish and chipper as you do and the lad that was serving us had a Boomtown Rats badge on. My dad who was brought up in Dun Laoghaire said Bob was practically a neighbour, to which the young fellow, oh right were are you from. So my Dad said Dublin which was met with an immediate look of disgust from yer man. Don’t know where he thought they were from but it certainly wasn’t Ireland.

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WorldbyStorm - October 26, 2020

Hahaha, brilliant! He was too cool for school, and geography.

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5. Dr. X - October 27, 2020

I think it’s sociologically significant that a decade before the biggest (non-showband) Irish act was the Johnstons. Who could basically be summed up as “you know lads, if our Lord was alive today he’d be organizing a trades union for migrant grape pickers in California”. A big contrast with the sincere nihilism and despair you get in the Boomtown Rats, ten years on.

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