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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

http://youtu.be/8yteMugRAc0

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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iStock
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History
Lost Gustav Holst Music Found in a New Zealand Symphony Archive
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iStock

English composer Gustav Holst became famous for his epic seven-piece suite "The Planets," but not all of his works were larger-than-life. Take "Folk Songs from Somerset," a collection of folk tunes composed by Holst in 1906 and largely forgotten in the decades since. Now, more than a century later, the music is finally attracting attention. As Atlas Obscura reports, manuscripts of the songs were rediscovered among a lost collection of sheet music handwritten by the musician.

The Holst originals were uncovered from the archives of a New Zealand symphony during a routine cleaning a few years ago. While throwing away old photocopies and other junk, the music director and the librarian of the Bay of Plenty (BOP) Symphonia came across two pieces of music by Holst. The scores were penned in the composer’s handwriting and labeled with his former address. Realizing the potential importance of their discovery, they stored the documents in a safe place, but it wasn't until recently that they were able to verify that the manuscripts were authentic.

For more than a century, the Holst works were thought to be lost for good. "These manuscripts are a remarkable find, particularly the ‘Folk Songs from Somerset’ which don’t exist elsewhere in this form," Colin Matthews of London's Holst Foundation said in a statement from the symphony.

How, exactly, the documents ended up in New Zealand remains a mystery. The BOP Symphonia suspects that the sheets were brought there by Stanley Farnsworth, a flutist who performed with an early version of the symphony in the 1960s. “We have clues that suggest the scores were used by Farnsworth,” orchestra member Bronya Dean said, “but we have no idea how Farnsworth came to have them, or what his connection was with Holst.”

The symphony plans to mark the discovery with a live show, including what will likely be the first performance of "Folk Songs from Somerset" in 100 years. Beyond that, BOP is considering finding a place for the artifacts in Holst’s home in England.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Epic Records
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Pop Culture
How a Throwback Rockabilly Jam Made Its Way Onto '90s Mainstream Charts
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Epic Records

The '90s airwaves were full of catchy, confusing pop hits. What exactly is a "chica cherry cola"? Did anyone ever figure out the correct syncopation of "MMMBop"? Why was Deee-Lite grooving to Dr. Seuss books? And who were all those Rays that Jimmy was singing about?

It's been nearly two decades, yet 1998's "Are You Jimmy Ray?"—the one and only hit by gloriously coiffed British pop rocker Jimmy Ray—stands out as one of the more perplexing hits of the era. For starters, whose idea was it to mix twangy '50s rockabilly with the sunny '90s alt-rock style of Smash Mouth? The combo clearly worked, as Ray's retro-modern anomaly reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, earning him a slot opening for the Backstreet Boys on a 1998 U.S. tour.

And then there are the questions built into the song itself. "Are you Johnnie Ray? Are you Slim Ray? Are you Link Wray? Are you Fay Wray?" Jimmy Ray sings in the chorus, apparently echoing things he has been asked on a regular basis. The only answer he provides, of course, is another question: "Who wants to know?" Factor in the music video, wherein Ray and a bunch of hip-hop dancers cavort around outside a trailer home, and this mystery seems like something David Lynch and Carson Daly might've somehow cooked up together.

Fortunately, Jimmy Ray is on LinkedIn, and last fall, the 46-year-old London native wrote a candid and insightful article explaining how he—a guy who sounded like Sugar Ray auditioning for Sun Records—scored such a massive pop hit.

"I have been asked questions about it that surprised me," Ray says of his signature song. "Surprising considering the music press received the song as nothing more than a boneheaded piece of self-promotion."

"Are You Jimmy Ray?" might have been self-promotion, but it wasn't boneheaded. A longtime fan of '50s rock, Ray had actually gotten his start in a '90s techno group called A/V. After they split up, he landed a management deal with Simon Fuller, the guy who created the Spice Girls. Someone at Ray’s label suggested he collaborate with Conall Fitzpatrick, the pop songsmith behind the British duo Shampoo's 1994 hit "Trouble." Fitzpatrick obviously had a flair for booming drums and repetitive catchphrases, and before the two even sat down for their first writing session, he had come up with the "Are You Jimmy Ray?" hook.

Ray wonders whether Fitzpatrick might have been "subconsciously influenced" by the cryptic "Who is Christian Goldman?" graffiti seen all over London at the time. Fitzpatrick claims he got the idea from the 1988 film Midnight Run; in one scene, Charles Grodin's character asks a bartender, "Who's in charge here?" to which the fellow replies, "Who wants to know?" As for all those "Rays"—pre-Elvis teen idol Johnnie Ray, "father of the power chord" Link Wray, King Kong actress Fay Wray, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray—they were also Fitzpatrick's idea. But Jimmy Ray knew what Fitzpatrick was going for.

"Retro heroes and heroines who symbolized my own cultural interests from music, film, and … motoring haha!" Jimmy writes in summary. "I couldn't even drive a car at this time."

Portraits of Johnnie Ray, Fay Wray, and Link Wray.
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Eric Frommer, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY–SA 2.0

Fitzpatrick knew the kind of stuff Jimmy dug, but the two weren't 100 percent on the same page. Working with Fitzpatrick's gear, in Fitzpatrick's studio, Ray felt like his debut album was slipping out of his control. "Before then, I had always been in the pilot's seat making my music, so let's just say there was a teeny-weeny bit of tension right from the off," Ray wrote.

For instance, he had to fight to replace the original fake-sounding synth-bass with "a different, more realistic synth bass." He alludes in the LinkedIn piece to other battles, but ultimately, he might not have pushed too hard. After all, he didn't think "Are You Jimmy Ray?" was going to be a single.

Alas, the execs at Epic Records knew they had a hit on their hands, and just like that, Jimmy Ray was all over the airwaves with a song that "wasn't really my idea." While Ray insisted that he respects and admires Fitzpatrick for creatively handling the pressure of having to produce a hit record for a major label, the tone of the LinkedIn piece suggests that Ray might've gone a different route if he'd been in the driver's seat.

Ray actually may get that do-over, as the singer is prepping a new album on his own La Rocka Records tentatively titled Live to Fight Another Day, which is set for an October release. He has posted some demos online, including one Morrissey-esque cover of Elvis Presley's "Devil In Disguise." It’s a cool track that sounds as though he's moved beyond the "pop-a-billy hip-hop" that put him on the charts back in the day. And with other '90s acts making the most of nostalgia ticket sales (after all, Jimmy Ray's old pals the Backstreet Boys have a world tour planned for their 25th anniversary next year), it seems like the right time to revive the old question of just who this Jimmy Ray fellow is.

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