Before Bob Geldorf started saving the world, he made music. He still does occasionally, but his glory years were 1977 to 1985, when he, Garry Roberts, Johnnie Fingers, Pete Briquette, Gerry Cott and Simon Crowe took Irish new wave to the world as the Boomtown Rats. They might not be as well-remembered as some of their peers, but back in the day, they were huge, scoring major chart success with the likes of Rat Trap, I Don’t Like Mondays, and Banana Republic. Here, we look at the 10 best Boomtown Rats songs of all time. They’re a great rock music band.
10. Go Man Go
The 1979 album The Fine Art of Surfacing was a critical and commercial success, reaching No. 7 on the UK Albums Chart and spawning the No.1 hit single “I Don’t Like Mondays.” From a commercial perspective, its follow-up, Mondo Bongo, fared even better, peaking at No. 6 in the UK Albums Chart and No. 116 in the US Billboard 200. Critically, it was less successful, with the New Musical Express calling it “hollow pop” and Sounds writing it off as “self-indulgent.” Self-indulgent or not, it still managed to give us some great tunes, not least Go Man Go, a triumphant piece of pop with some killer keyboard action from Johnny Fingers and superlative lyrics from Geldof.
9. Lookin’ After Number One
Released in August 1977 as the first single from their self-titled debut album, Lookin’ After Number One was most people’s first time meeting the Boomtown Rats and the music of the 1970s that would eventually become some of the most popular of all time. According to Wikipedia, it was the first new wave single to be played by the BBC and the first to be performed on “Top of the Pops.” The band would go on to better things, but as introductions go, this sneering piece of egotistical rock was an excellent way to say hello.
8. Fall Down
The Boomtown Rats were often at their best when they were stripping things down to the bare essentials. They were a band that benefited from keeping things as close to the bone as possible, and Fall Down proves it. There’s no excess flab, no unnecessary flourishes, just Johnnie Finger’s tinkling away on the keyboard and drummer Simon Crowe giving us a rare sample of his pure vocals. It wasn’t often that Geldof relinquished the mic to someone else, but Crowe’s naive, almost childlike voice fits the moving prettiness of the song perfectly.
7. When the Night Comes
Frank is a nine-to-fiver stuck in a dead-end job and a dead-end life. He eats baked beans from the can, drinks like a fish, and has a thing for a girl at the office. He’s a loser, a loser that Geldof captures brilliantly in the dynamite When the Night Comes. The words might be bleak, but the music is dazzling, with a breezy bassline that drives the song forward to its climax.
6. Banana Republic
When Geldof decided to tell host Gay Byrne on Ireland’s “The Late Late Show” that the Catholic Church was responsible for most of the country’s problems, he caused an uproar. No Irish radio stations would play the Rats, no venue would ask them to perform, and no upstanding citizen would admit to owning their records. In response, Geldof penned Banana Republic, a hate-filled “tribute” to their homeland (or “the septic isle,” as he called it) that takes a potshot at everything from the church to the IRA.
5. Drag Me Down
The second single from the Rat’s final album, In the Long Grass, is, as johnnyvintage.com says, probably the band’s strongest pop offering, with a staggering vocal tug of war between Geldof and Crowe, some awesome licks from guitarist Garry Roberts, and, as the cherry on top, a blast of horns to pull the whole thing together.
4. Diamond Smiles
Diamond Smiles is a hauntingly sad song about the suicide of a debutante. The lyrics are vividly evocative (“She went up the stairs/ Stood up on the vanity chair/ Tied her lamee belt around the chandelier/ And went out kicking at the perfumed air”), highlighting Geldof’s genius for painting a picture with just a few well-chosen words. The music, in contrast, is buoyant, driving the story forward on a sea of jubilant keyboards and stuttering guitars.
Geldof wrote Dave for David McHale, the band’s saxophone player. McHale’s girlfriend had recently died of a heroin overdose, a situation that had pushed McHale perilously close to a breakdown. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a song, with Geldof’s passionate performance perfectly echoing the lyrical content.
2. Rat Trap
Rat Trap was the first Irish song to make it to No.1 in the UK charts. It was also the first new wave song to hit the top spot, bringing an end to the 7-week rein of Summer Nights from the “Grease” soundtrack. In his inimitable way, Geldof celebrated by tearing up a picture of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta during the band’s appearance on “Top of the Pop.” According to Song Facts, the song, which tells the story of a boy called Billy from a dead-end town he likens to a rat trap, is based on Geldof’s former job in an abattoir. Speaking to Mojo magazine, he recalled: “I wrote Rat Trap in the abattoir in 1973, two years before the Rats were around. But I wasn’t particular writing songs. I was just writing loads of words.”
1. I Don’t Like Mondays
What else could top our list than I Don’t Like Mondays? It’s the song that you don’t have to know the Boomtown Rats to have heard, the one that you don’t have to approve of Geldof’s politics to like this punk song. It chronicles the story of 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer, who, in January 1979, opened fire on a group of children at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego. Two people were killed and eight students were injured. When asked why she’d done it, Spencer replied. “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” The explanation gave Spencer 25 years in jail and the Rat’s a No.1 UK hit. Heavy, passionate, and emotionally wrought, it’s the Boomtown Rats at their finest.