In part 2 of this every-so-often series of posts, we saw how The Boomtown Rats entered the world of the music video. Compared with what other artists such as David Bowie (see part 1) or Kate Bush (part 2) were doing, the live stage footage that The Rats used as a promo film for their first single Looking After Number One, seems like a relatively tentative first step. As far as I can see, there was no official promo for the second single Mary of the Fourth Form.
Things picked up a gear for The Rats with their second album, A Tonic for the Troops. In Is That it? Bob Geldof describes how The Rats saw music videos as important: “mini-movies” which allowed them to control what they looked like, “to express the band’s attitude and the spirit of the song.” But not everyone agreed. When The Rats first presented Columbia music’s vice president with a VHS of Rat Trap, it was unceremoniously thrown straight in the bin before he'd even looked at it - such was the attitude towards video at that time.
Bob describes the video for She’s So Modern as a performance video – though at one point we get images of the band draped over a pile of flickering TV screens. The set is simple and the performance typifies the bands high-energy and often light-hearted approach to their craft. Those pirouettes still occasionally get used on stage to this day!
The vid for Like Clockwork was inspired by classic films from the 1920s such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis - though in Is That It?, Bob seems to suggest they perhaps didn’t do a great job – I like this video but you be the judge.
This vid is clearly more focussed on the message and the feel of this “neurotic” song, and I think the use of depth of field – tight in-focus shots of Bob with other members of the band out of focus in the background - shows that they are starting to explore the artistic possibilities of video. Throughout the fillum, the band all simulate playing their instruments in a metronomic style, with robotic dance moves – typified by Simon’s clockwork drumming on a single skin – all of which was critical to the video performance.
Next up in the sequence of Rats’ videos is the awesome Rat Trap.
This may seem to be a fairly conventional ‘performance’ video, but increasingly we see other stuff being brought in – such as the band reading copies of the totally unconnected novel ‘Rat Trap’ – and once again the humour, for example the shenanigans with the saxophone and the candelabra!
After the Rat Trap video, we see a turning point for The Boomtown Rats – and we’ll explore that in part 4.