My kid brother loved the Boomtown Rats. Lots of people slag off Bob Geldof and consider him a ‘post-punk imposter’ in the style of The Tourists. But I’m getting in here first with my views before co-blogger Polly Punkgirl calls out the Boomtown Rats.
Sure, they existed as a band before punk, and the song in question ‘Rat Trap’ was actually written in 1973. The mood of the song presages punk and is what
Neil McCormick calls:
“a Springsteen-style, shape-shifting five-minute soap operatic epic about the crushing pressures of working class life.”
Written by Bob Geldof whilst working in an abatoir, the song tells the story of Billy, his dead-end job and an aura of violence
“Billy don’t like it living here in this town
He says the traps have been sprung long before he was born
He says “hope bites the dust behind all the closed doors”
And pus and grime ooze from its scab crusted sores
There’s screaming and crying in the high-rise blocks”
It’s a rat trap Billy, but you’re already caught”
The Boomtown Rats were early enough in the punk revolution to claim some titles. They were the first Irish band to top the record charts. In the days of heavy 7″ single sales, they sold 690,000 records to get to number one, knocking John Travolta and Olivia Newton John’s seven week rule with ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease off the top spot. TheBoomtown Rats had nine consecutive top 20 singles between 1977 and 1980 – songs which had themes of punk nihilism and self-determination with a driving beat and a honky sax. Even people who didn’t like music very much loved the Boomtown Rats.
Now, I don’t care if people are egotists, hedonists or just a bit mad. Charges against Bob Geldof for cynically exploiting opportunities that have arisen through his life also don’t really convince me. Also I do love an Irish accent.
However, one of the points of punkgirldiaries is to draw knowing 21st century male and female minds to the sexism, exploitation and poor taste that went on back then. This is the kind of 1978 world that The Raincoats had to shout about, The Slits had to shock people about and Poly Styrene had to turn herself into a work of art for. Well done, Bob Geldof for writing a song in which Billy realises that he’s stuck in a dead-end world and shares his insight with a girl he meets in a cafe – Judy. I quite like the story; I like the song.
What I don’t like is how the band get the Hot Gossip girls dance act to supposedly ‘add’ something to the song in their performance on the Kenny Everett show. If you have the insight to see working class oppression and global inequality, Bob, why couldn’t you just have said ‘no’ to having gormless leggy girls watch you with adoring eyes?