Music History #5: "I Don't Like Mondays"

“I Don’t Like Mondays”
Written by Bob Geldof (1979)
Originally sung by The Boomtown Rats

The Music

It may be the catchiest murder ballad of all time. Laced with baroque piano flourishes and a call-and-response style chorus, the song is an earworm that makes you feel a little guilty for singing along. After all, you are echoing the words of a convicted killer. “I Don’t Like Mondays” was born in January 1979, when Bob Geldof, lead singer of Irish pop band the Boomtown Rats, was in the US doing a radio interview. He noticed a breaking news story coming out of the Telex machine about a school shooting. By the time he got back to his hotel, Geldof had started writing the song. The title came from the teenage shooter’s stated motive for the killings.

Released in October that year, the song shot to #1 in the UK. Though it only reached #73 on the US charts, it became a staple on FM radio, and remains one of those day-of-the-week songs that disc jockeys love. The song has since been covered by Tori Amos and Bon Jovi, and featured in episodes of House and The West Wing.

The History

On the morning of Monday, January 29, 1979, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer took a .22 caliber rifle and opened fire on the Grover Cleveland Elementary School across from her house in San Carlos, California, killing two faculty members and wounding eight students.

Thirty police officers and twenty SWAT team agents surrounded her house. One policeman was shot and seriously injured. After six-and-a-half hours of negotiations, Spencer finally came out of the house and laid down her gun.

After she’d been taken into custody, she was asked why she did it. Her infamous reply: “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”

Spencer pleaded guilty to the crime, forfeiting her right to a trial. Because she was only 16, she escaped the death penalty. Instead, she was imprisoned in the California Institute for Women, where her sentence was 25 years to life, with the possibility of parole.

“Cos’ there are no reasons”

While Spencer wasn’t America’s first school shooter, her crime and remorseless reaction shocked the nation, and the story became the first like it to be covered exhaustively on network television. Though some neighbors and teachers described Spencer as a good student, quiet and shy, there was definitely trouble at home. Her parents had divorced seven years before, and the dad, Wallace Spencer, won custody of all three children – Brenda and her two older siblings. For a Christmas gift in 1978, Wallace bought Brenda the .22 caliber rifle, along with 400 rounds of ammunition. Brenda later said, “I had asked for a radio and he bought me a gun.”

Though Wallace says he bought his daughter the rifle so they could target shoot together, Brenda claimed that her father was trying to get her to kill herself.

In a bizarre twist, less than a year after Brenda was sent to prison, Wallace Spencer became involved with her 17-year old former cellmate, who he got pregnant. The girl split shortly after the baby was born, and Wallace raised the child. He still lives in the same house in San Carlos, and he sent his daughter to Grover Cleveland Elementary School.

Brenda Spencer has been denied parole four times, most recently in 2009. In 1993, she gave an interview where she claimed that she’d been “hallucinating” on that fateful morning, due to taking a combination of pills, alcohol and marijuana. In 1999, she revealed that she’d been sexually and physically abused by her father. Whether any of this is true or not, it has not swayed the parole board. Her next hearing is scheduled for 2019.

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Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Pop Culture
How Phil Collins Accidentally Created the Sound That Defined 1980s Music
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Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Unless your technical knowledge of music runs deep, you may have never heard the phrase “gated reverb.” But you’ve definitely heard the effect in action: It’s that punchy snare drum sound that first gained traction in music in the 1980s. If you can play the drum beat from “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince or “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen in your head, you know what sound we’re referring to.

But that iconic element of pop might not have emerged if it wasn’t for Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. As Vox lays out in its new video, the discovery was made in 1979 during the studio recording of Peter Gabriel’s self-titled third solo album (often called Melt because of its cover art). Gabriel’s Genesis bandmate Phil Collins was playing the drums as usual when his beats were accidentally picked up by the microphone used by audio engineers to talk to the band. That microphone wasn’t meant to record music—its heavy compressors were designed to turn down loud sounds while amplifying quiet ones. The equipment also utilized a noise gate, which meant the recorded sounds were cut off shortly after they started. The result was a bright, fleeting percussive sound unlike anything heard in popular music.

Gabriel loved the effect, and made it the signature sound on the opening track of his album. A year later, Collins featured it in his hit single “In the Air Tonight,” perhaps the most famous example of gated reverb to date.

The sound would come to define music of the 1980s and many contemporary artists continue to use it today. Get the full history of gated reverb below.

[h/t Vox]

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Keystone/Getty Images
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ Could Have Been a Meat Loaf Song
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Keystone/Getty Images

Imagine a world in which Bonnie Tyler was not the star performer on the Royal Caribbean Total Eclipse Cruise. Imagine if, instead, as the moon crossed in front of the sun in the path of totality on August 21, 2017, the performer belting out the 1983 hit for cruise ship stargazers was Meat Loaf?

It could have been. Because yes, as Atlas Obscura informs us, the song was originally written for the bestselling rocker (and actor) of Bat Out of Hell fame, not the husky-voiced Welsh singer. Meat Loaf had worked on his 1977 record Bat Out of Hell with Jim Steinman, the composer and producer who would go on to work with the likes of Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand (oddly enough, he also composed Hulk Hogan’s theme song on an album released by the WWE). “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was meant for Meat Loaf’s follow-up album to Bat Out of Hell.

But Meat Loaf’s fruitful collaboration with Steinman was about to end. In the wake of his bestselling record, the artist was going through a rough patch, mentally, financially, and in terms of his singing ability. And the composer wasn’t about to stick around. As Steinman would tell CD Review magazine in 1989 (an article he has since posted on his personal website), "Basically I only stopped working with him because he lost his voice as far as I was concerned. It was his voice I was friends with really.” Harsh, Jim, harsh.

Steinman began working with Bonnie Tyler in 1982, and in 1983, she released her fifth album, Faster Than the Speed of Night, including “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It sold 6 million copies.

Tyler and Steinman both dispute that the song was written specifically for Meat Loaf. “Meat Loaf was apparently very annoyed that Jim gave that to me,” she told The Irish Times in 2014. “But Jim said he didn’t write it for Meat Loaf, that he only finished it after meeting me.”

There isn’t a whole lot of bad blood between the two singers, though. In 1989, they released a joint compilation album: Heaven and Hell.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]


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