Monday, August 23, 2010

The Boomtown Rats make music history

It’s unfortunate that The Boomtown Rats’ history will always be overshadowed by lead singer Bob Geldof’s profile and charity work, but don’t let that stop you from checking them out: they were a solid band that broke new ground for Irish rock – and new wave music in general.

The Boomtown Rats were Geldof, Johnny Fingers on keyboards, guitarist Garry Roberts, bassist Pete Briquette and drummer Simon Crowe.

Rock Trivia: Originally known as “The Nightlife Thugs,” the band changed their name to The Boomtown Rats after a gang that Geldof read about in Woody Guthrie’s autobiography, “Bound For Glory.”

The Rats’ 1977 self-titled debut was a suitably trashy affair, with guitars raging and a healthy does of punk rock attitude. The first single, “Lookin’ After Number One,” made an immediate impact: it hit #2 on the Irish charts and was the first of 9 straight singles by the band to go Top 40 in the UK, earning them the status of being the first new wave band to appear on Top Of The Pops (August ’77).

Check out the video for “Number One” – it’s one continuous shot by a single camera: no edits required.

Looking Looking After Number One - Great Songs of Indifference: The Best of Bob Geldof & The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats – Looking After Number One (1977)

At a time when the Irish (and world) charts were topped by acts like Carly Simon, Boney M, David Soul (“Hutch” of TV’s “Starsky & Hutch”) and The Carpenters, The Rats must have sounded like a breath of fresh air.

It was the band’s second album, 1978’s “A Tonic For The Troops,” that turned things up ten notches, putting The Rats in the spotlight just three years after forming in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

Although clearly still largely rooted in punk, The Rats’ polished their studio sound on “Tonic” with the help of producer “Mutt” Lange, delivering three hit singles: “Like Clockwork,” “She’s So Modern” and “Rat Trap.”

In November ’77, The Sex Pistols hit #1 on the album charts in their homeland, thanks to headline-making stunts, growing support for punk amongst disenfranchised British youth, and a killer album.

The rock n’ roll door had been kicked open: a year later, “Rat Trap” made history as the first rock song by an Irish band to hit #1 in the UK and – most importantly – the first new wave song to top the British charts, which it did for 2 weeks in November ’78.

And talk about fresh air: “Rat Trap” knocked “Summer Nights” from the Grease soundtrack - by John Travolta & Olivia Newton John – out of the #1 slot after a ghastly 7 weeks at the top.

In pure punk style, The Rats celebrated this fact when they appeared on Top Of The Pops: before launching into the song, the band members flashed teen magazine pictures of Travolta before yawning and tearing them up on national tv.

Rat Rat Trap - Great Songs of Indifference: The Best of Bob Geldof & The Boomtown Rats

The Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap
Top Of The Pops - November, 1978