The Boomtown Rats are an Irish band that was active as a recording unit between the late-1970s and mid-1980s.
Members: Bob Geldof (vocals), Johnnie Fingers (keyboards, vocals), Gerry Cott (guitar 1975-81), Pete Briquette (bass), Garry Roberts (guitar, vocals), Simon Crowe (drums, vocals)
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.
- The Boomtown Rats (1977)
- A Tonic for the Troops (1978)
- The Fine Art of Surfacing (1979)
- Mondo Bongo (1981)
- V Deep (1982)
- In the Long Grass (1984)
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