Tomorrow is the anniversary of day in 1978 when Rat Trap first charted.
We all know that the origins of the songlie in an abattoir in Dublin, where Bob Geldof worked for a short spell and where he met Paul, the inspiration for the character of Billy in the song.
Rat Trap had been a late addition to A Tonic for the Troops. Bob had originally thought about writing a short story about his experiences at the abattoir but - if the rumours are correct - during recording sessions for The Rats’ second album, producer Mutt Lange asked if the band had anything else.
Seems like a bit of an odd question – A Tonic for the Troops is packed with really powerful songs, so why would you need anything else? But we can all be thankful that Mutt asked, because the origins of one of the best rock songs ever written, lie in that simple question.
Rat Trap was never intended as a single, but The Boomtown Rats were developing a completely unjustified reputation as a ‘singles band’ – whatever that is? To counter this, they wanted to release the most album-oriented track off the new LP. But Ensign Records disagreed. Now I’m veering off into the realms of speculation here, but was the performance of Rat Trap on The Kenny Everett Show, a move by the band to force the record company’s hand?
Whether more by good luck or good judgement, the Kenny Everett stunt paid off, the day after that TV appearance, everyone was asking for the record - but there were none to sell….
Not that the initial hiccups harmed record sales, once copies reached the shops. The song shot up the UK charts reaching No 2 within a month. It hit the number 1 spot a week later, where it stayed for two weeks. This was the first New Wave number 1 and as we celebrated in our recent poll of Rats’ iconic moments, Rat Trap was the first song to topple the domination of songs from Grease, that had plagued the charts for much of 1978.
Rat Trap is one of the best examples of Bob’s ability to wrap a strong story into a four or five minute song, but the final word goes to Paul Gambaccini, who described the song as “pop music poetry at its finest”.