Ten Songs That Made Me Love....
published: 12 /
Eoghan Lyng selects ten favourites from Dublin pioneers The Boomtown Rats, moving from punk into New Wave, Eighties pop and the recent comeback album
In the realm of punk, there were anarchists, socialists, sufferers and Nazis. There were also a bunch of rag-tag Rats from Dublin, led by a singer who had the gumption to bring the band to Britain, and the bravado to ensure they stayed there. More critically, he also had the musical ability to write a number of killer songs.
His name was Bob Geldof, the band of course was, or rather is, The Boomtown Rats and like many singers, he came to overshadow the other contributions of the band. Which is a shame, precisely because they were a tight group, capable of delivering a series of blinding riffs, each one more fiery than the last. And what the band held was a passion for melody, making it easier for Geldof to write his epithet driven work to an audience aching for a more immediate for of music. This is my selection of work that seeks to define the band for what they were and continue to be.
1.Lookin’ After No. 1’ (‘The Boomtown Rats’, 1977)
Straight from the off, the band means business and turbocharged debut single ‘Lookin’ After No.1’ had the riffs to match the attitude. Singer Bob Geldof, yet to serve at Her Majesty’s command, utilised this moment as his mantra to demonstrate his contempt at the structures that had led him to his point of enlightenment.
Unlike the more convivial Joe Strummer, Geldof had no-one’s agenda to bow down to other than his own. The single exudes gleeful energy that holds up with the multitude of records spiralling in John Peel’s record collection. But this act of defiance was more attainable to hit and served as an anthem for the younger generation aching for a new feeling of propensity and panache.
2. ‘Rat Trap’(‘A Tonic For The Troops’, 1978).
One of Geldof’s catchiest hybrid numbers, the song boasts a flavour that’s entirely of its own, placing one foot in the sphere of Fifties rock, and the other facing the future. Laced with attitude and bursting with atmosphere, the song was an unusual choice for Top of the Pops fodder. And yet it played well with the younger generation, distancing themselves from the friendlier refrains of ‘Grease’ for something more thunderous and immediate. (The track famously knocked ‘Summer Nights’ off Number One – Chart Anorak Ed)
Everything about the number screams excellence, from the shimmering saxophone to the bustling coda that brings listeners back to The Beatle doo-wop harmonies of yore. Moreover, the song features one of Geldof’s most distinguished vocals. He’s easy to mock, but the man really can sing, sometimes through his nose alone!
3. ‘She’s So Modern’ (‘A Tonic For The Troops’, 1978)
Although Geldof was the band’s chief songwriter, bassist Pete Briquette regularly contributed to the band’s material, as did guitarist Gerry Cott. The conspicuously named Johnnie Fingers wrote the incendiary riff that cements this particular rocker, culminating in a piece that’s heavy on atmosphere and punchy on beat.
Plunging himself into the material, Geldof restores much of his punk rock credibility with a zesty vocal performance, offering his bandmates the chance to exhibit a series of eerie, semi-hallucinogenic harmonies that position the song like a Camembert melting in the summer sun.
4. ‘(I Never Loved) Eva Braun` (‘A Tonic For The Troops’, 1978).
Punk offered Jewish musicians the chance to reclaim their Jewish heritage, something they took with great reverence. Geldof’s father was Jewish, which makes some of the comments Bob Sr. made all the more surprising. “He’d say things like, I mean, he never said actually this, but you’d be eating away and he’d go ‘Ah, y’know, that fella Hitler, he had a few good ideas.’ The next minute, the place would erupt. He’d sit back and me and my two sisters would argue passionately that we didn’t fucking believe it at all. It was fairly explosive.”
Geldof channelled some of that acidity into this propulsive rocker that’s heavy on irony and light on dynamism. The song floats nicely along, Fingers’ barrel-house piano recalling the Cabaret circuit of the thirties.
5. ‘Diamond Smiles’ (‘The Fine Art of Surfacing’, 1979)
Although they’d missed the Glam bandwagon by a few years, The Boomtown Rats were more than capable of knocking out a tune that could rival Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople. In a move that mirrored The Beatles ‘Hey Jude’, the song ends with a convoy of voices simply shouting ‘Na Na Na’, as if chanting to a higher power.
Centred on the guitars in question, the tune pummels along, driven by the tale of a dilettante surveying her surroundings in the hope of capturing imagination, interest and dividends. The song reflected the Dublin that had changed before the band’s very eyes. It was no longer the city of saints, but a reservoir of bankers, gangsters and sex.
6. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ (‘The Fine Art of Surfacing’, 1979).
There was no way I was going to leave this off the list. It’s the Rats’ finest hour, their most popular piece and the song that still shows Geldof’s chops, both as a musician and a lyricist. And yet it’s one of the more atypical tune, with nary a guitar nor a drum heard in the mix.
Indeed, the focus is almost entirely on Geldof, who recounts an inexplicable shooting in the US, damning the affection for gun ownership through a series of blinding passages, each more venomous than the last. The recording is excellent, but the definitive version was heard at Live Aid. Mindful of the starving children they were supposed to save, audiences heard “The lesson today is how to die”, with great interest.
7. ‘Banana Republic´ (‘Mondo Bongo’, 1981)
It wasn’t easy for The Boomtown Rats to carry their Irishness, particularly when their native country cut their opinions down to its knees. Regressing to stereotypes about parochial tradition, the Dublin of the early Eighties bore little of the progressive nature the Emerald Isle now inhabits.
Geldof lets out years of burned up anger on what might be his angriest set of lyrics, chastising the clergy and commissioners who tie up the island based on their perception of the place. What the album holds is venom, but Briquette’s bouncy bass helps deflect some of the acidity from the final mix.
8. ‘Never In A Million Years’ (‘V Deep’, 1982)
Although sullied in later years due to her affair with Michael Hutchence, the romance between Bob Geldof and Paula Yates was amongst the most admirable in rock. Although Geldof hasn’t said whether or not Yates forms the basis of this particular track, it’s clear from the sentiment that the song is aimed at a woman who has conquered his heart, soul and personal happiness.
The Boomtown Rats follow suit with a collection of tidy Beach Boys-like harmonies, and the song feels like one Brian Wilson could have written, if he was in the mindset to do so. Completing a breezily written pop number, the song floats along with the urgency of love pushing it along.
9. ‘Drag Me Down’ (‘In The Long Grass’, 1984)
Evolving with the times, The Boomtown Rats agreed to soften their sound, in the hope of appearing more sophisticated, elegant and erudite. It wasn’t entirely successful, but ‘Drag Me Down’ is surprisingly yearning, cut in a decade that was growing more materialistic with every changing day.
The album is also notable for holding one of Simon Crowe’s most impressive backing vocals. Seated behind the drum kit, Crowe held a function that was comparable to Roger Taylor in Queen’s. Both Taylor and Crowe had to hold the beat, centre the music, and sing some of the more demanding vocals in concert. That, and they sang better than their frontmen!
10. ‘Trash Glam Baby’ (‘Citizens of Boomtown’, 2020)
Reforming the band for their first record in decades, Bob Geldof shows no quarter on this pummelling rock number that details the records that made up his music collection when he wandered the streets of Dublin as an aimless teenager. The song has zingers galore, detailing the wonders of rock in a world pivoting closer to annihilation.
If it was a nihilistic anthem, it was comfortably nihilistic, which was fitting considering how much anger Geldof carried in the years since departing from the band. The world was pushing him into the realm of irrelevancy, so he fought back, determined to show his purpose on this rock we call earth. It’s a blinding track.
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