The Boomtown Rats – The Boomtown Rats (1977)

The Boomtown Rats is the debut album by Irish rockers the Boomtown Rats, released in September 1977 on Ensign (UK) and Mercury (US). It contains the a-side of their debut single “Lookin’ After No. 1” (UK #11) and the first version of their second a-side “Mary of the Fourth Form” (UK #15). The centerpiece of side one, “Joey’s On the Street Again,” became an enduring staple of their live act. The album was produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange.

The Boomtown Rats consists of nine songs that range from uptempo rockers on the margins of punk (“Lookin’ After No. 1,” “Kicks”) to mid-tempo cuts in the R&B/hard-rock mold (“Neon Heart,” “Never Bite the Hand That Feeds”). Each side contains a lengthy epic: the E Street-style rocker “Joey’s on the Street Again” and the ballad “I Can Make It if You Can.” The arrangements consist of readily identified band instruments with few studio enhancements apart from the buzzing effect on “(She’s Gonna) Do You In.” Saxophonist Albie Donnelly (Supercharge) leads the climactic part of “Joey.”


Background

The Boomtown Rats moved to London in the spring of 1977, having emerged as one of the hottest new live acts on the British Isles. Their arrival coincided with a new wave of acts (The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers, The Jam, The Vibrators, Elvis Costello, Ultravox) and a flurry of interest among the major labels. After some consideration, the Rats signed to Ensign that May. They recorded their debut album that summer with Lange, a South African expat newly immersed in the UK music scene. Singer Bob Geldof wrote most of the songs over the prior two-year period.

The Boomtown Rats was directly preceded by the August 19 release of the band’s debut single, “Lookin’ After No. 1,” noted as the first BBC-playlisted single by a new wave act. Accompanied by an appearance on Top of the Pops, it charted on both sides of the Irish Sea (Ireland #2, UK #11).


Cover

The Boomtown Rats shows a shirtless Geldof reaching out to the viewer in a dark, flooded setting. The back cover shows all six members as cellophane-wrapped cadavers. Photographer Hannah Shawn captured both images, rendered in stark black and white apart from the wood paneling (front).

The band’s name lines all four edges (front and back) in slanted all-caps. The track list right-aligns to a diagonal white panel (back). Graphic designer Geoff Halpin did the sleeve layout. He also did cover visuals on 1977 albums by Horslips (Aliens), Hawkwind (Quarks Strangeness and Charm), Colosseum II (Wardance), SAHB (Fourplay), and the two albums Lange produced that year by Brummie rockers City Boy: Dinner at the Ritz and Young Men Gone West.

The insert contains printed lyrics and xeroxed medium pics of each member, taken by photographer Adrian Boot, who also captured images on 1977/78 albums by the Kursaal Flyers, Bethnal, Magazine (Real Life), and Ultravox (Systems of Romance). The Rats’ blunt fashion sense (loose ties, striped shirts, razor haircuts) reflect the punk aesthetic of select contemporaries on the London scene; namely The Clash and The Vibrators, who sport similar looks on the covers of their respective debut albums, The Clash and Pure Mania.

In the credits, the Rats give special thanks to “The Lizzies (long may you be thin),” a reference to fellow Irish rockers Thin Lizzy.


Production

The Boomtown Rats was recorded June–July 1977 with producer Robert John Lange and engineer Steve “Stiffgee” Brown. Sessions took place in Pulheim Stommeln near Cologne, Germany, at Dierks Studios, also the recording site of 1977 albums by Scorpions (Taken By Force), Wallenstein (No More Love), and Schicke Führs & Fröhling (Sunburst).

The Boomtown Rats is one of the early production credits for Lange in the Northern Hemisphere. He started as a producer/engineer in his native South Africa with a slew of 1972–75 credits. After moving to England, he produced 1976 albums by Mallard (In a Different Climate), Supercharge (Horizontal Refreshment), City Boy (City Boy), and the first two albums by Graham Parker & the Rumour: Howling Wind and Heat Treatment. Like the Rats, those last three acts were sextets with roots in R&B.

Lange continued to work with the Boomtown Rats on their 1978/79 albums A Tonic for the Troops and The Fine Art of Surfacing. However, he developed his trademark sheen with his other main client from the period, City Boy, whose first five albums he produced. On their 1979 release The Day the Earth Caught Fire, he achieved the stadium grandeur that he’d take to platinum levels during the 1980s with his most famous act, Def Leppard.

Brown mastered The Boomtown Rats and produced “Born to Burn,” the studio b-side of “Lookin’ After No. 1.” His tech credits date to 1974 albums by Nucleus and Wizzard. In 1975, he worked on albums by Thin Lizzy (Fighting), Roy Wood (Mustard), and one track (“The Hap-Ki-Do Kid”) on the debut album by City Boy. Aside from the Rats, he produced 1977 releases by ex-model Twiggy and the MOR duo Peters & Lee. The following year, he co-engineered A Tonic for the Troops with Tim Friese-Greene.

Saxophonist Albie Donnelly, the leader of Liverpool R&B rockers Supercharge, is the featured guest on “Joey’s On the Street Again.” He also played on 1976–77 tracks by Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, Graham Parker, City Boy (“Honeymooners”), and Parker’s backing band The Rumour.


Release

The Boomtown Rats was released on September 1, 1977, on Ensign (UK, Japan) and WEA/Mulligan (Ireland). It reached #18 on the UK Album Chart. In Europe, Oceania, and North America, it appeared on Mercury, also the stateside label of Graham Parker and City Boy.

In an effort to hype the band to American radio programmers, Mercury Records artistic development manager Mike Bone sent copies of “Lookin’ After No. 1” to US radio stations accompanied with zip-locked dead rats (a play on the band’s name). The stunt drew condemnation from the label, the band, and the US Postal Service, which charged him with sending hazardous material in the mail.

Aside from that contentious bit of public relations, Mercury’s stateside promotional efforts were deemed negligible by Geldof, who shook the band free of its contract during their 1978 US tour.

Dissatisfaction with Mercury’s practices were a common sentiment among Lange-produced acts. In 1978, City Boy had a transatlantic hit with “5.7.0.5.,” based on a party extension at Mercury’s headquarters. In 1979, Parker recorded “Mercury Poisoning,” a scything indictment of his experience on the label. Each song precipitated a change of US labels: City Boy to Atlantic; Parker to Arista. The Rats moved to Columbia, which gave A Tonic for the Troops a belated US release in 1979.


Tracklist:
A1. “Lookin’ After No. 1” (3:08)
A2. “Neon Heart(3:55)
A3. “Joey’s on the Street Again” (5:52)
A4. “Never Bite the Hand That Feeds” (2:44)
A5. “Mary of the 4th Form” (3:31)
B1. “(She’s Gonna) Do You In” (3:52)
B2. “Close as You’ll Ever Be” (3:23)
B3. “I Can Make It if You Can” (5:45)
B4. “Kicks(4:09)

Credits:
Bob Geldof — lead vocals, harp
Johnnie Fingers — keyboards, vocals
Gerry Cott — guitar
Pete Briquette — bass, vocals
Simon Crowe — drums, vocals
Garry Roberts — guitars, vocals

Albie Donnelly — saxophone (A3)
Mutt Lange — producer, mixer
Steve Brown — engineer, mastering


Sources:

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1 thought on “The Boomtown Rats – The Boomtown Rats (1977)

  1. From the start, Bob Geldof exhibited a self-aware, positive, confident alfa-mindset that drove his band to international success during the late 1970s, and also prompted his globally-televised, music-industry unifying humanitarian efforts since the mid-1980s — accomplishments that earned him a place in the 100 Greatest Britons of all time, as voted by the British public in 2002.

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