Wednesday, March 09, 2005

8-Track Memories - The Boomtown Rats

I always say I was a weird kid. For proof, look no further than this: one of my favorite songs at age nine was "I Don't Like Mondays" by the Boomtown Rats. It was the band's only single to chart in America, peaking at #73 in 1980. While I did not know the exact story that inspired this song, I knew it was about someone who shot some kids at a school and said she did it because she didn't like Mondays. Somehow I doubt that many of my fellow fifth-graders were listening to songs like this.

The Fine Art Of Surfacing was the Boomtown Rats' third album, and it peaked at #103 on the US charts in 1980. Too bad my 8-track is long gone; it might be worth something to collectors since there probably weren't that many sold. The band was huge in the UK at the time, though. By one account, "...only the Police and Blondie were close in terms of stature, but The Rats were seemingly on top."

I gave Surfacing another listen (on vinyl) before writing this, and I still love it. There's a lot going on in this music. The lyrics are a little odd at times, and the breaks can get strange, but it all fits into typical pop rock song structures. Many songs are brilliantly fun and upbeat, even when the subject matter is dark: insomnia, suicide, paranoia, et al.

"Someone's Looking At You" and "When The Night Comes" are great songs, but "I Don't Like Mondays" stands out from the rest. The lovely piano introduction builds suspense, then the melody is suddenly interrupted by a rapid series of hand claps (perhaps evoking gunshots?). In the chorus, others in the band ask, "Tell me why?" and lead singer Bob Geldof responds, "I don't like Mondays." A quarter century and countless school killings later, this song is especially chilling. I listen to the song differently now than when it came out, and not just because I am older. "Tell me why?" echoes the questions asked across America in the late 1990s during the rash of school shootings that climaxed at Columbine High School.

One of my fondest Boomtown Rats memories is from a few years after I had moved on to other music. I was a notorious late sleeper, and one Sunday morning my dad decided he was going to blast me out of bed with my stereo. He popped in the Surfacing 8-track and turned it up LOUD. The joke was on him, though. I hadn't listened to it in a long while, so I stayed in bed as the walls vibrated!

For some reason, I never bought another Boomtown Rats album. I'm sure they made other good music, but I never explored it. When Geldof organized Band Aid and Live Aid to raise money for starving Africans in the mid-eighties, I was one of very few kids at my high school who knew who he was.

Surfacing was just reissued on CD last month in the UK with a few bonus tracks. I'll have to add it to my wishlist.

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