The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats are an Irish rock band that released six albums between 1977 and 1984 on Ensign and Mercury. Singer Bob Geldof was an outspoken new wave figurehead who later marshalled the all-star charitable projects Band Aid and Live Aid.

Members: Bob Geldof (vocals), Johnnie Fingers (keyboards, vocals), Gerry Cott (guitar 1975-81), Pete Briquette (bass), Garry Roberts (guitar, vocals), Simon Crowe (drums, vocals)


Background

The Boomtown Rats formed in Dublin in 1975. They took their name from a youth gang depicted in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound for Glory. At first, they played acoustic instruments because they couldn’t afford electric ones. Early setlist numbers included “Doin’ It Right,” “My Blues Away,” “A Second Time,” and “Fanzine Hero.”

Early Boomtown Rats photos show the members in typical mid-seventies garb (flares, mustaches, collar-legth hair). By the time they hit London in mid-1976, they embraced a fresh-faced image with short hair and straight trousers.

In England, their wild stage antics swept them into a contract frenzy then afoot among A&R execs eager to sign new wave acts. They signed with Ensign (Mercury in the US) and recorded their debut album.


The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats released their self-titled debut album in September 1977 on Ensign (UK) and Mercury (US). It opens with “Looking After Number One,” a Randian rocker that became the first BBC-playlisted punk song. Other tracks range from the angular bar-chord sass of “Neon Heart” and the stinging pogo pulse of “(She’s Gonna) Do You In” to the grand riffage of “Kicks” and the brassy nostalgia of “Joey’s On the Street Again.” 

Overall, the album reflects the brisk, brash principles of the nascent new wave scene yet also displays penchants for Dr. Feelgood-ish R&B raunch (“Never Bite the Hand That Feeds”) and elongated Hunter/Harley-style balladry (“I Can Make It If You Can”).

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

Studio Dierks (Stommeln)

The Boomtown Rats
Bob Geldof – lead vocals, harmonica
Garry Roberts – guitar, backing vocals
Gerry Cott – guitar
Johnnie Fingers – keyboards, backing vocals
Pete Briquette – bass, backing vocals
Simon Crowe – drums, backing vocals

Additional musicians
Albie Donnelly – saxophone

Technical
Adrian Boot – photography
Steve Brown – editing, engineering, mastering, mixing
Sue Dubois – art direction, design
Geoff Halpin – design
Robert John “Mutt” Lange – mixing, production
Hannah Sharn – photography

“Lookin’ After No. 1” preceded the album on August 19, 1977, as the lead-off single, backed with the exclusive “Born to Burn” and a live rendition of the 1966 Robert Parker hit “Barefootin.”

B. “Born to Burn

In the video, the Boomtown Rats mime inside a tight rehearsal space where Geldof lip syncs aggressively toward the lens and his bandmates.

“Lookin’ After No. 1” reached No. 2 in Ireland and No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart.

On November 11, a re-recorded “Mary of the 4th Form” (3:52) became the second single, backed with the live thematic rave-up “Do the Rat.”

B. “Do the Rat

“Mary of the 4th Form” reached No. 15 in the UK Singles Chart

The Boomtown Rats reached No. 18 on the UK Albums Chart.


A Tonic for the Troops

The Boomtown Rats released their second album, A Tonic for the Troops, on June 30, 1978, on Ensign. It features their third a-side “She’s So Modern,” a giddy new wave rocker with sassy harmonies. Lyrically, Troops covers the perky witticisms of “Living On an Island,” the exuberant warnings of “Don’t Believe What You Read,” and the martial-tinged comedic revision “I Never Loved Eva Braun.”

The band’s style now encompasses everything from staccato/vibrato ska-tinged pop to maximalist horn rock: the latter displayed on the epic “Rat Trap,” their first No. 1 hit.

1. “Like Clockwork” (3:44)
2. “Blind Date” (3:22)
3. “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun” (4:39)
4. “Living in an Island” (4:11)
5. “Don’t Believe What You Read” (3:08)
6. “She’s So Modern” (3:00)
7. “Me and Howard Hughes” (3:12)
8. “Can’t Stop” (2:19)
9. “(Watch Out For) The Normal People” (2:54)
10. “Rat Trap” (5:12)

Studio Relight (Netherlands)
Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange and The Boomtown Rats
Alan Holmes – saxophone
Stuff Brown – engineering

Fin Costello – photography
Chalkie Davies – photography
Tim Friese-Greene – engineering
Hothouse – artwork, design
Chuck Loyola – painting

“She’s So Modern” appeared three months in advance of A Tonic for the Troops on March 31; backed with the exclusive “Lying Again.”

B. “Lying Again

“She’s So Modern” reached No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart.

On June 9, “Like Clockwork” became the second advance single, backed with the non-album “How Do You Do?”

B. “How Do You Do?

“Like Clockwork” peaked at No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart.

On October 6, The Boomtown Rats lifted “Rat Trap” as the third Troops single backed with the exclusive “So Strange.”

B. “So Strange

A Tonic for the Troops reached No. 8 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 25 in New Zealand.


The Fine Art of Surfacing

The Boomtown Rats released their third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, in June 1979 on Ensign. It contains “I Don’t Like Mondays,” a lavish piano–strings ballad with lyrics inspired by news of a shooting spree perpetrated by San Diego teenager Brenda Spencer. The song went to No. 1 in multiple countries and became the signature Boomtown Rats song.

Fine Art also contains one Johnnie Fingers’ number (“Sleep (Finger’s Lullaby)”) and songs Bob Geldof co-wrote with Pete Briquette (“Having My Picture Taken”) and Gerry Cott (“Keep It Up”). Musically, the songs range from sassy uptempo new wave (“Nothing Happened Today,” “Keep It Up”) to folksy acoustic numbers (“Someone’s Looking at You,” “When the Night Comes”) with sonic treatments like the buzzed-out tremors of “Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)” and the orchestral grandeur of “I Don’t Like Mondays,” which Geldof co-composed with Fingers.

1. “Someone’s Looking at You” (4:22)
2. “Diamond Smiles” (3:49)
3. “Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)” (4:35)
4. “Having My Picture Taken” (3:18)
5. “Sleep (Fingers’ Lullaby)” (5:30)
6. “I Don’t Like Mondays” (Geldof, Johnnie Fingers) (4:16)
7. “Nothing Happened Today” (3:18)
8. “Keep It Up” (3:39)
9. “Nice N Neat” (2:50)
10. “When the Night Comes” (5:00)

Recorded November 1978 – February 1979
Studio Phonogram, Hilversum, Netherlands
Producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange and Phil Wainman (“I Don’t Like Mondays”)
Fiachra Trench – string arrangement on “I Don’t Like Mondays”
Tony Platt – engineering
Arun Chakraverty – mastering

Fin Costello – photography
Chuck Loyola – inner sleeve artwork and design
Lorne Miller – cover artwork and design

The Boomtown Rats lifted “I Don’t Like Mondays” as a single on July 13, 1979; backed with the non-album “It’s All the Rage.”

B. “It’s All the Rage

On the week of July 28, 1979, “I Don’t Like Mondays” reached No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, where it overtook “Are “Friends” Electric?” by Gary Numan + Tubeway Army. It held the summit for one month and bowed on August 25 to “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Cliff Richard. “I Don’t Like Mondays” also reached No. 1 in Ireland, Australia, and South Africa. It reached the Top 3 in Sweden and the Netherlands (both No. 2), Belgium, Norway, and New Zealand. Elsewhere in Europe, the song went Top 10 in West Germany and Switzerland (both No. 6), Spain (No. 7), and Austria (No. 10).

In Canada, “I Don’t Like Mondays” reached No. 4 and consolidated The Boomtown Rats’ conquest of the Great White North. In the US, however, FM radio stations banned the song due to its subject of an American minor pending trial. Consequently, “I Don’t Like Mondays” stalled at No. 73 on the disco-saturated Billboard Hot 100.

On November 9, “Diamond Smiles” became the second Fine Art single, backed with the exclusive “Late Last Night.”

B. “Late Last Night

“Diamond Smiles” peaked at No. 13 on the UK Singles Chart.

The Boomtown Rats lifted “Someone’s Looking at You” as the final Surfacing single on January 18, 1980 (b/w “When the Night Comes”). It reached No. 2 in Ireland, No. 4 in the UK, and No. 6 in Norway.

The Fine Art of Surfacing reached No. 6 in Canada and No. 7 in Norway and the UK. It peaked at No. 10 in Sweden and New Zealand and No. 11 in Australia. The album also went Top 35 in the Netherlands and West Germany.


Mondo Bongo

The Boomtown Rats released their fourth album, Mondo Bongo, in December 1980 on Mercury (UK). It marks their embrace of reggae (“Banana Republic”), surf rock (“Whitehall 1212”), percussive tribal pop (“Mood Mambo”), and Pigbag-style jazz–funk (“Please Don’t Go”).

Select tracks (“Another Piece of Red,” “Fall Down”) match piano–vocal arrangments with poignant lyrical ruminations. The album’s octane cuts (“Straight Up,” “Under Their Thumb”) uphold the band’s new wave heritage.

Mondo Bongo spawned hits with the pre-released “Banana Republic” and the jittery second single “Elephant’s Graveyard,” a comedic number in the Tonic vein. In the US, Columbia Records issued the album in February 1981 with the bass-driven American single “Up All Night” in lieu of “Whitehall 1212.”

Bob Geldof wrote everything apart from two Pete Briquette co-writes (“Mood Mambo” “Banana Republic”) and one Simon Crowe collab (“This is My Room”). The track “Under Their Thumb is Under My Thumb” interpolates the 1966 Rolling Stones song and lists Jagger–Richards as co-authors.

1. “Mood Mambo” (4:06)
2. “Straight Up” (3:15)
3. “This is My Room” (3:35)
4. “Another Piece of Red” (2:35)
5. “Go Man Go!” (3:52)
6. “Under Their Thumb is Under My Thumb” (2:41)
7. “Please Don’t Go” (3:34)
8. “The Elephants Graveyard” (3:43)
9. “Banana Republic” (4:55)
10. “Fall Down” (2:26)
11. “Hurt Hurts” (3:05)
12. “Whitehall 1212” (3:43)
13. “Cheerio” (1:24)

Studio Ibiza Sound Studios, Ibiza, Spain
Producer Tony Visconti and The Boomtown Rats
Chris Porter, Tom Winter – engineer

Dr. Dave McHale – saxophone
T.V. – backing vocals, recorder, occasional drunken bass, guitar

“Please Don’t Go” features bazouki by co-engineer Tom Winter (once of the folk duo Ofarim & Winter with Abi Ofarim of the Israeli sixties pop couple Esther & Abi) and percussion by Andy Duncan, a member of Jane Kennaway‘s Strange Behaviour with 1978–81 session credits on albums by Charlie (Lines), Hazel O’Connor (Breaking Glass), Linx (Go Ahead), The Planets (Goon Hilly Down), and UK-based Kiwi new waver Zaine Griff.

Mike Owen – photography

On November 14, 1980, “Banana Republic” appeared as the album’s advance single; backed with the exclusive “Man at the Top.”

B. “Man at the Top

“Banana Republic” peaked at No. 3 in four countries (West Germany, Ireland, Norway, and the UK) and went Top 10 in Sweden (No. 7), Switzerland (No. 10) and Top 20 in South Africa (No. 12) and Australia (No. 18).

On January 16, 1981, “The Elephant’s Graveyard (Guilty)” became the second single, backed with “Real Different.”

B. “Real Different

Mondo Bongo reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart and went Top 25 in Canada and Australia.


V Deep

The Boomtown Rats released their fifth album, V Deep, in March 1982 on Ensign. It contains the pre-released organ ballad “Never In a Million Years” and delves further into funk (“Skin On Skin”) and ska–reggae (“House On Fire”). Side Two opens with “Charmed Lives,” a synth-laden new wave rocker with trademark sassy harmonies.

The title V Deep is a dual reference to its chronological place (their fifth album) and the band’s member count (down to five since Gerry Cott’s departure). Bob Geldof wrote everything apart from “The Little Death,” co-credited to Pete Briquette.

UK copies contain the 1981 US club hit “Up All Night” (found on US copies of Mondo Bongo). In the US, Columbia replaced that track with the once-omitted UK Mondo track “Whitehall 1212.”

1. “Never in a Million Years” (3:50)
2. “The Bitter End” (4:30)
3. “Talking in Code” (2:53)
4. “He Watches It All” (3:15)
5. “A Storm Breaks” (5:59)
6. “Charmed Lives” (4:00)
7. “House on Fire” (4:46)
8. “Up All Night” (3:38)
9. “Skin on Skin” (4:38)
10. “The Little Death” (3:35)
11. “
… House Burned Down” (1:19)

Recorded 1981–1982
Studio Ibiza Sound Studios, Ibiza, Spain
Producer Tony Visconti and the Boomtown Rats
Andy Le Vien, Corinne Simcock – engineer
Gordon Fordyce – remixing

Andy Duncan – percussion
Andy Hamilton, Dave McHale – saxophone
Guy Barker – trumpet
Spike Edney – trombone

Ben Kelly – cover, design
Jon Prew – photography

On November 20, 1981, The Boomtown Rats released “Never In a Million Years” as an advanced single backed with the exclusive “Don’t Talk to Me.”

B. “Don’t Talk to Me

On February 26, 1982, “House On Fire” became the second advance single, backed with the non-album “Europe Looked Ugly.”

B. “Europe Looked Ugly

On June 4, The Boomtown Rats lifted “Charmed Lives” as the third V Deep single with the non-album “No Hiding Place.”

B. “No Hiding Place


1984–1985

As band activities slowed, Bob Geldof engaged in philanthropic efforts. Upon seeing news of the Ethiopian famine, he teamed with Ultravox frontman Midge Ure to compose “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Recorded with an all-star ensemble of British rock talent, the song topped global charts and raised Western awareness of the African plight. Geldof used his newfound political clout to organize the largest multi-act charity concert in the history of modern music: Live Aid, which occurred over two days in July 1985 at London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK.


In the Long Grass

The Boomtown Rats released their sixth album, In the Long Grass, in May 1984 on Mercury (UK). It features “Dave,” about a friend who lost his partner in a drug overdose (re-titled “Rain” in the US with modified lyrics).

Long Grass contains two Johnnie Fingers numbers: “Another Sad Story” and “Lucky.” Bob Geldof wrote everything else apart from the closing track “Up of Down,” a co-write between Simon Crowe and Pete Briquette.

1. “A Hold of Me” (4:57)
2. “Drag Me Down” (4:31)
3. “Dave” (4:19)
4. “Over Again” (3:45)
5. “Another Sad Story” (3:42)
6. “Tonight” (3:53)
7. “Hard Times” (3:54)
8. “Lucky” (3:37)
9. “An Icicle in the Sun” (3:50)
10. “Up or Down” (3:33)

Studio Right Track Recording, New York
Producer Pete Walsh, The Boomtown Rats; James Guthrie on “Tonight”
Martin Rex – engineer
Bob Clearmountain – mixing

Peter Thoms – trombone (credited on the sleeve as Pete “Gidday” Thomas)
Luke Tunney – trumpet
Guy Barker – trumpet
Gary Barnacle – saxophone
Martin Dobson – saxophone
Peter Claridge – guitar
Molly and Polly – backing vocals on “Hard Times”
Ian Ritchie – saxophone
Bob Carter – arrangement on “Tonight”

Ashworth – photography

Four months before Long Grass dropped, The Boomtown Rats released “Tonight” as a single backed with the exclusive “Precious Time.”

B. “Precious Time

“Drag Me Down” accompanied the album’s release as a second single (b/w “An Icicle in the Sun”). In December, the Rats lifted “Dave” as the third single (b/w “Hard Times”).

In the US, Columbia issued In the Long Grass in the spring of 1985 amid publicity surrounding Geldof’s work on the Band Aid and Live Aid events.

After their set at Live Aid, Geldof folded The Boomtown Rats to launch a solo career and devote more time to charity work. In 1986, he was the first runner-up for the Nobel Peace Prize.


Discography:


Sources:

1 thought on “The Boomtown Rats

  1. Original draft (November 2017):
    “The Boomtown Rats are an Irish band that was active as a recording unit between the late-1970s and mid-1980s.

    Formed in Dublin in 1975, the Boomtown Rats took its name from a youth gang depicted in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, Bound for Glory. At first, the band played acoustic instruments because they couldn’t afford electric ones. Nonetheless, early demos from this period show that the band already had their minds set on the stripped, brisk sound that would propel them to stardom. In Bob Geldof, the band had a charismatic and outspoken frontman who could command audiences and interviewers alike.

    Early photos of the band show them in typical mid-’70s garb, but the band soon realized that an image change was in order. Ditching the mustaches, wide-lapel jackets and flares, the band adopted the spiky-haired, drainpipe-trouser image that would soon be plastered over teen-oriented music magazines across the UK.

    Arriving in London in 1976, the band’s wild stage antics quickly swept them into a contract frenzy then afoot among A&R execs. Signing to Ensign, the band debuted in July 1977 with the bold Randian statement “Looking After Number One,” which made them the first of the hair-shorn new breed to be radio play-listed. The song reached number 11, and was followed that fall with the raunchy “Mary of the Fourth Form” and their self-titled longplayer, which encompasses everything from the angular bar-chord sass of “Neon Heart” and the stinging pogo pulse of “(She’s Gonna) Do You In,” to the grand riffage of the curios-minded “Kicks” and the epic, brassy nostalgia of “Joey’s On the Street Again.” Overall, the album reflects the brisk, brash principles of the then-nascent New Wave, yet also displays penchants for Dr. Feelgood-ish R&B raunch (“Never Bite the Hand That Feeds”) and elongated Hunter/Harley-style balladry (“I Can Make It If You Can”).

    In early 1978, the band was on Top of the Pops with the giddy “She’s So Modern,” on which the Rats’ signature sassy harmonies were codified. This chart-placer was followed with the quirky “Like Clockwork” and their second album A Tonic for the Troops, one of the year’s most celebrated UK releases. In addition to the aforementioned hits, the albums features the perky witticisms of “Living On an Island,” the exuberant warnings of “Don’t Believe What You Read,” and the martial-tinged historical concerns of “I Never Loved Eva Braun.” The band’s style had grown to encompass everything from staccato/vibrato ska-tinged pop to maximalist horn rock, the latter of which was displayed on the epic “Rat Trap,” the band’s first number one hit.

    Attempts to replicate their stardom stateside proved futile, but a news item regarding the murderous spree of one Brenda Spencer inspired the Rats’ next release “I Don’t Like Mondays.” With its profound lyrics and gripping arrangement of piano and strings, the song went to number one in a dozen countries and became the Boomtown Rats’ signature song. Their third album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, followed soon after, highlighted furthermore by the nocturnal pounce of “Sleep (Finger’s Lullaby)”, the buzzed-out tremors of “Wind Chill Factor (Minus Zero)” and the loopy keyboard twists of “Keep It Up.”

    As the 1980s dawned, the Boomtown Rats moved away from guitar/keyboard rock and more towards funk, reggae and ethno-pop, a shift demonstrated on their 1981 Mondo Bongo LP. Forwarded by the giddy ivory jitters of “Elephant’s Graveyard,” the album is also graced with the Caribbean joys of “Banana Republic” and the bass-snapping “Up All Night,” which gave the band some long-overdue stateside play.

    Undeterred by a dwindling UK profile, the Boomtown Rats soldiered on with 1982’s V Deep, named for its place in the band’s chronology, as well as for their reduction to a five-piece following the departure of guitarist Gerry Cott. Highlights from the album include the boyish harmony sass of “Charmed Lives”, the ska games of “House On Fire” and the sigh-heavy disco/funk of “Skin On Skin.” Geldof himself would always be partial to the organ-echoey courage declaration “Never In a Million Years.”

    Geldof became increasingly political as band activities slowed. Upon reading news reports of the Ethiopian famine, he teamed with Ultravox frontman Midge Ure to compose “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Recorded with an all-star grouping of British rock talent, the song was a global chart-topper that helped raise awareness for African poverty and starvation. Geldof used his newfound political clout to organize the greatest charity concert festival in the history of modern music — Live Aid, which occurred over two days in July 1985 at London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK.

    Amidst the frontman’s globally elevated responsibilities, the Boomtown Rats ran aground following their final album In the Long Grass, which failed to reclaim former glories but was punctuated with the notable tracks “Dave (Rain)”, “Lucky” and “Up or Down.” Geldof would launch a solo career and proceed with his charity work. In 1986, he was the first runner-up for the Nobel Peace Prize.”

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