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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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images
Pop Culture
5 Killer Pieces of Rock History Up for Auction Now (Including Prince’s Guitar)
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Karrah Kobus/NPG Records via Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to own a piece of rock history, now is the time. A whole host of cool music memorabilia from the 20th century is going up for sale through Julien’s Auctions in Los Angeles as part of its “Icons and Idols” sale. If you’ve got the dough, you can nab everything from leather chairs from Graceland to a shirt worn by Jimi Hendrix to never-before-available prints that Joni Mitchell signed and gave to her friends. Here are five highlights from the auction:


Elvis’s nunchucks
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Elvis’s karate skills sometimes get a bad rap, but the King earned his first black belt in 1960, and went on to become a seventh-degree black belt before opening his own studio in 1974. You can cherish a piece of his martial arts legacy in the form of his nunchaku. One was broken during his training, but the other is still in ready-to-use shape. (But please don’t use it.) It seems Elvis wasn’t super convinced of his own karate skills, though, because he also supposedly carried a police baton (which you can also buy) for his personal protection.


A blue guitar used by Prince
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

Prince’s blue Cloud guitar, estimated to be worth between $60,000 and $80,000, appeared on stage with him in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The custom guitar was made just for Prince by Cloud’s luthier (as in, guitar maker) Andy Beech. The artist first sold it at a 1994 auction to benefit relief efforts for the L.A. area’s devastating Northridge earthquake.


Kurt Cobain wearing a cheerleader outfit in the pages of Rolling Stone
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

The Nirvana frontman wore the bright-yellow cheerleader’s uniform from his alma mater, J.M. Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen, Washington, during a photo shoot for a January 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, released just a few months before his death.


A white glove covered in rhinestones
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

A young Michael Jackson wore this bejeweled right-hand glove on his 1981 Triumph Tour, one of the first of many single gloves he would don over the course of his career. Unlike later incarnations, this one isn’t a custom-made glove with hand-sewn crystals, but a regular glove topped with a layer of rhinestones cut into the shape of the glove and sewn on top.

The auction house is also selling a pair of jeans the star wore to his 2003 birthday party, as well as other clothes he wore for music videos and performances.


A piece of wood in a frame under a picture of The Beatles
Courtesy Julien's Auctions

You can’t walk the halls of Abbey Road Studios, but you can pretend. First sold in 1986, the piece of wood in this frame reportedly came from Studio Two, a recording space that hosted not only The Beatles (pictured), but Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and others.

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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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