Do you remember the first time?
- UK Highest Chart Position: 18
- Total number of weeks on UK chart : 11
- Entry (ENVY1/ENCAS1) : 17th September 1977
- UK Run: 53-31-18-23-23-19-27-41-46-49-58
- Lookin after No. 1
- Neon Heart
- Joey's on the street again
- Never bite the hand that feeds
- Mary of the 4th form
- (She's Gonna) Do You In
- Close as You'll Ever Be
- I can make it if you can
MERCURY / UNIVERSAL CD: 982 677-3
- Looking After No. 1
- Mary Of The 4th Form
- Close As You'll Ever Be
- Neon Heart
- Joey's On The Streets Again
- I Can Make It If You Can
- Never Bite The Hand That Feeds
- (She's Gonna) Do You In
- Oh Yeah a.k.a. Doin' It Right
- My Blues Away
- Sad Boys a.k.a. A Second Time
- Fanzine Hero
- Bare Footin'
- Mary Of The 4th Form (Single Version)
Back in 1977, a group I’d never heard of released an album that I was to hear a lot of. It wasn’t until late 1978 that I bought and heard The Boomtown Rats first LP. Maybe it was just as well, as it was the sort of album that would appeal to a fourteen year old schoolboy aspiring to a life of driving a second-hand Capri, and spending his nights on the tiles! I knew some of the songs from seeing the Rats live and hearing the first couple of singles, so it wasn’t entirely virgin territory.
Looking After No. 1 was the Boomtown Rats debut single, and ultimately proved to be the antithesis of its writer. A manifesto of selfish youth, claiming the dole and grabbing all you can. Still perhaps the most urgent song the Rats ever made from the opening drum roll to the "I’m gonna be like ME! " sign off, there is precious little time to catch breath, and the only respite from the selfishness is to put down the listener with a sneering "I don’t wanna be like YOU, at all!!" . There’s also a fabulous seamless guitar solo in the midst of a four chord romp. So now, who was it that said "Don’t give me charity!"?
Mary of the Fourth Form was the second single but differs on the album. This bluesier track centres on the teenage temptress Mary, pre-empting Don't Stand So Close to Me’s pupil-teacher affair. She also toys with the boys in the pool hall, picking her flame to keep her burning through the night. Given my experience of fourth form, this was predominately wild fantasy on the part of Geldof! A track that sleazes along like early Feelgood, it still stands out as one of the best singles of the seventies.
Joey's on the Street Again is Rat Trap mark one, a big ballad like epic, tracing Joey's life from a lad around town, through marriage, his tragic death and aftermath, whose rising crescendo leads into one of the greatest sax solos/fade outs ever captured on record. There are obvious Springsteen comparisons, but this is probably the number one record that the Rats didn't have, preferring to not follow up Rat Trap with it.
Death, or more precisely attempted suicide, rears its ugly head again in Neon Heart. Lyrically, it's all over the place, like a drunken night on the town, but has a great riff throughout and some typically Rattish answering of the verses. There was also some great guitar work by Gerry Cott, a sign of things to come.
Heavily influenced by Dr. Feelgood, (She's Gonna) Do You In is a great track which was a live favourite, when the Rats were touring with Tonic For The Troops. The comedown to near silence followed by the eruption of noise, loses a lot on record and does not have the same impact as hearing it live. Nevertheless, the sneering disrespectful attitude and Geldof's harmonica skills really make this work and its many changes of pace make it a stand out.
Close As You'll Ever Be also follows the suicidal theme, but is lightened by the thought of a perving Geldof being chased by a jealous boyfriend. Similar to (She's Gonna) Do You In, with its changes in pace and loud rocking guitars, this is another track that sounded far better live, especially when Pete Briquette's driving bass kicks in That is not to detract from the fact that this is still a great track on vinyl. A live version was captured on the B-side of Dave many years later.
Never Bite the Hand That Feeds goes off to the Dublin suburbs, not unlike (Watch Out For) The Normal People. A father's lament on his daughter growing up, but who turns out just like anyone one else. The song features another great guitar break from Cott. A more up and at them song, than many of the others on the album.
Unusually personal for Geldof, I Can Make It If You Can, is something very heartfelt. Shades of Angie by the Stones, this is one of the Rats greatest moments where you can really feel the emotion coming through. Fingers' tinkling piano comes to the fore, as does the lingering guitar solo. Only Fall Down of their later work would compare in terms of emotional exposure.
From a personal point of view, Kicks was probably the stand out track when I got the album, expressing the frustrations of a sixteen year old, finding it hard to score, wanting to be a movie, rock or soccer star, and not being able to buy smokes or drinks. Not entirely unlike my own life then! Crashing chords and a real wig-out at the end make this a fine conclusion to a great album.
There are many dark themes in this album, and although you can hear the influences such as the Stones and Dr. Feelgood, it is unmistakably the Boomtown Rats. Lacking some of the lightness of touch of Tonic for the Troops, the general rawness lends itself to a more night time and urban feel. Rat Trap and possibly (Watch Out For) The Normal People would be the only later songs that would have worked with this collection, even Living on an Island would be considered too lightweight to be on here!
This album has stood the test of time better than practically everything from the Boomtown Rats post-I Don't Like Mondays, due to it having a more classic garage rock, R'n'B feel. It certainly stands side-by-side with Tonic for the Troops as essential listening, and as far as debut albums are concerned, very few compare to this in terms of quality.
Personally, I think it’s a close second to Tonic for the Troops as greatest album of the 1970s. So much for objectivity!
Unquestionably of all the re-releases this is the most essential. The album was never released on CD until now. Though some tracks have appeared elsewhere, it is the first time stand outs like Kicks and (She's Gonna) Do You In have made it to the silver disc. There are also previously unreleased demo tracks from 1975, and two tracks from single releases. The only notable omission from the era is Born To Burn which was the second b-side on both Lookin' After No. 1 and the 1994 re-release of Mondays.
The extras from the demos unashamedly show some key influences.
Oh Yeah starts with a guitar from Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, and then turns into something the early Stones would have been proud of. That very distinct lyrical guitar solo from Gerry Cott is there as well.
Kicking in with a Wilco Johnson-like guitar riff and harmonica, My Blues Away echoes early Dr. Feelgood. Ultimately it comes out as a fast paced (She’s Gonna) Do You In even down to the Harmonica break in the middle of the song and the obligatory R’n’B guitar solo.
Another prototype here in the shape of Sad Boys which sounds like I Can Make it if you Can, more influence from the Stones this time from the Exile on Main Street/Goats Head Soup era in the early seventies. Piano and Hammond to the fore, and a great guitar solo. Plenty of nice harmonies off the lead vocal.
As urgent as Lookin’ After No. 1, Fanzine Hero launches off immediately at a breakneck speed. And then suddenly, the song comes down a honky tonk piano solo, straight out of the Jools Holland repertoire before it starts off again with an almost country-like guitar solo and then back to the relentless drive of the song.
It is extraordinary that such good tracks never saw the light of day back in 1977, though the material on the debut album is so strong, that is understandable, especially as there was no more than about 40 minutes to play with on a conventional vinyl LP.
The single version of Mary of the Fourth Form is longer than the LP version. The most notable difference is the drum roll intro, and the shortened guitar solo. There are some other subtle production differences, and if push comes to shove, it does sound better than the LP version.
Finally, there’s Bare Footin’ which was one of the B-sides of Lookin’ After No. 1. It takes the Robert Parker track and pushes it as fast as it can go. The break implores everyone to get on their feet, and it’s a great cover.
The extras combine make this an indispensable CD. Five tracks showcase the origins of the Rats sounds and the other completes the story of the Rats prior to Tonic for the Troops. Well, except for Born To Burn that is! Given that it is about twenty years since CDs became freely available, it has been a long wait. This release does justify the wait.