A Young Person’s Guide To “A Tonic For The Troops”

The Rats ca. 1978

The Rats ca. 1978

One of the bands that were there from the beginning for me when the New Wave finally hit my ears were The Boomtown Rats. I had actually heard the song “Rat Trap” from “A Tonic For The Troops” played on the conservative FM Rock stations where I lived during 1979. In America, the band’s sophomore album came out on Columbia after Mercury gave them a try with the first album and nothing happened. Columbia then released the rest of their albums; often in radically different forms, but that was not strictly the province of American record labels. How many distinct versions of “A Tonic For The Troops” am I familiar with?

Ensign Records | UK | LP | 1978 | ENVY 3

Ensign Records | UK | LP | 1978 | ENVY 3

The Boomtown Rats: A Tonic For The Troops UK LP [1978]

  1. Like Clockwork
  2. Blind Date
  3. [I Never Loved] Eva Braun
  4. Living In A Island
  5. Don’t Believe What You Read
  6. She’s So Modern
  7. Me And Howard Hughes
  8. Can’t Stop
  9. [Watch Out For] The Normal People
  10. Rat Trap

First, let’s get our bearings with the band’s original UK LP, released there in 1978. As we see the running order was ten songs.

Columbia Records | US | LP | 1979 | JC 35750

Columbia Records | US | LP | 1979 | JC 35750

The Boomtown Rats: A Tonic For The Troops US LP [1979]

  1. Rat Trap
  2. Me And Howard Hughes
  3. [I Never Loved] Eva Braun
  4. Living In An Island
  5. Like Clockwork
  6. Blind Date
  7. Mary Of The 4th Form
  8. Don’t Believe What You Read
  9. She’s So Modern
  10. Joey’s On The Street Again

While this album was released in early 1979, my first purchase was actually their third album, “The Fine Art Of Surfacing,” which hit retail [even in America] in the Fall of 1979. It was a winter’s day in 1980 when I was attending some scholastic event off campus with a few friends and before we returned to the campus I suggested that we stop at the Record Mart in Oak Ridge Plaza for a quick bit of shopping, so I was technically hooking school to buy records with my lunch money! That was pretty wicked of me. Speaking of wicked, how did Columbia manage to put their stamp on this fine album?

Yow! How different could they make it? Is there even a single pair of songs that followed one another from the UK running order? Just one: “[I Never Loved] Eva Braun” and “Living In An Island.” Knowing what’s best for America, Columbia removed two songs from the album, “Can’t Stop” and “[Watch Out For The] Normal People.” The closing “Rat Trap” had been brought right up front to kick the album off. Which was weird, because then they brought the “prequel” to the “streets trilogy” that followed through on the band’s first three albums to the closing position. I could almost understand putting “Joey’s On The Street Again” first and still closing with “Rat Trap,” but that’s not what we had here.

That wasn’t the only ringer from the band’s debut album substituted here. They also added the 7″ version of the single “Mary of The 4th Form.” Elsewhere, the running order was almost random, but I can understand that they probably saw single potential in “Blind Date,” the best New Wave song The Rolling Stones never recorded. Having it kick off the pole position of side two I can understand. For a decade, this was my experience of the album, until Columbia released the CD of this version in the late 80s. I purchased it, naturally. And that was what I knew for another decade.

Mercury Records | UK | CD | 1992 | 514 053-2

Mercury Records | UK | CD | 1992 | 514 053-2

The Boomtown Rats: A Tonic For The Troops UK CD [1992]

  1. Like Clockwork
  2. Blind Date
  3. [I Never Loved] Eva Braun
  4. She’s So Modern
  5. Don’t Believe What You Read
  6. Living In An Island
  7. Me And Howard Hughes
  8. Can’t Stop
  9. [Watch Out For] The Normal People
  10. Rat Trap
  11. Lying Again
  12. How Do You Do?
  13. So Strange

It was during my only trip to the Virgin Megastore in Orlando in the late 90s [1998?] when I happened across the UK CD from a few years after the US edition reached the shops. Noting that it had three bonus tracks appended to it, I bought it on the spot. It was later that I noticed that I was getting two more “new” songs to hear; the cuts lopped off of the running order by Columbia, but it was not until today that I realized that there was yet a third running order proffered by UK Mercury this time. “Island” and “Modern” have been switched in the program for reasons best left unexplained. Other than that, this was the closest thing to the original UK album on CD. Since the US CD had two tracks from 1977 that were otherwise never on CD [at that time and for years afterward], I kept my copy for a few years, though I gravitated to this pressing as my go-to copy of the album. I should mention that all of my Boomtown Rats vinyl got traded in during the Great Vinyl Purge ca. 1985. Naìvely, I had imagined that I would not have to wait 12-15 years for shiny silver discs of these albums.

boomtown rats - rattrapUK7A          boomtown rats - shessomodernUK7A          boomtownrats - likeclockworkUK7A

The B-sides were at least taken from the singles released from this album. “So Strange” was the flipside to “Rat Trap.” “Lying Again” was paired with “She’s So Modern” and  “How Do You Do?” accompanied “Like Clockwork.” All of these were strong songs; maybe even stronger than cuts like “Can’t Stop” or “[Watch Out For] The Normal People” that Columbia didn’t have much faith in. Stylistically, they stood apart from the rest of the tracks used, so I understand the decision to leave them for B-side material. It stood here until 2005 [and a few years].

Mercury Records | UK | CD | 2005 | 982 677-4

Mercury Records | UK | CD | 2005 | 982 677-4

The Boomtown Rats: A Tonic For The Troops UK DLM RM CD [2005]

  1. Like Clockwork
  2. Blind Date
  3. [I Never Loved] Eva Braun
  4. Living In An Island
  5. Don’t Believe What You Read
  6. She’s So Modern
  7. Me And Howard Hughes
  8. Can’t Stop
  9. [Watch Out For] The Normal People
  10. Rat Trap
  11. Neon Heart [John Peel Radio Session]
  12. Do The Rat
  13. D.U.N. L.A.O.G.H.A.I.R.E.
  14. Rat Trap [Live In Stoke]

boomtown rats - dunlaoghaireUKFLEXIIn 2005, after years of any Boomtown Rats CDs [there were only four of the six albums ever available] exchanging hands for sick amounts of money, UK Mercury got wise and roped in Bob Geldof and Pete Briquette to oversee “definitive remasters” of The Rats canon. Many of these DLX RMs have new running orders, this time courtesy of Bob Geldof and Pete Briquette, who had second thoughts nearly 20 years later and ran with them… but not on this issue! Yes, it actually features the original LP tracks in the same running order that the 1978 UK LP had! Where this one falls down was on the bonus tracks selected. The bonus four tracks appended were a rag-tag handful of head-scratching songs for this release. The Peel Session was for a track from their 1977 period, as was the B-side, “Do The Rat.” It hailed from the B-side to  “Mary Of The 4th Form.” By all rights, these two songs should have been on the debut CD DLX RM. “D.U.N. L.A.O.G.H.A.I.R.E.” was a 1981 flexidisc from issue 3 of the late, lamented Flexipop Magazine. In spite of remastering by Jon “Noise Reduction Abuse Poster Child” Astley it was clearly remastered from an exisitng flexi. Finally, an unreleased live take from 1978 of “Rat Trap” was added. Because. It’s spirited, but hardly necessary. The band sound like they were playing large venues by this time, remembering that “Rat Trap” made it all the way to number one on the UK charts.

So is this the “definitive remaster?” Though I consider Astley’s remastering work rigidly sterile [he won’t rest with the noise reduction until there is no longer any hiss from the master tape] there’s no denying that the intervening 13 years of technological change gave this edition far greater detail and definition… at the cost of some brickwalling, though I’ve heard worse. I had sold off my US Columbia CD of this title in 2000, but I retain the first UK edition for the B-sides. Your mileage may vary, but by all means you should own some version of “A Tonic For The Troops.” It was the album where The Boomtown Rats went from pub rockers to New Wavers with style and talent to spare. They vied with Elvis Costello + The Attractions as my go-to New Wave band for a few years.

– 30 –

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7 Responses to A Young Person’s Guide To “A Tonic For The Troops”

  1. Gavin says:

    I have to confess-I have never HEARD a BR album,I am only familiar with a handful of the singles.
    I don’t remember any friends liking them much back in the day and I think I was getting too much into the synthpop sound to care,but these days maybe a review of this situation is in order.
    As always,PPM opens my eyes and ears to brand new old stuff!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – In The Rats, they had a great keyboard player in Johnny Fingers; easily a match for Steve Nieve of The Attractions, and equally adept at traditional keys or synths. The last three Rats albums were much more adventurous than the better selling first three. Start with “Mondo Bongo” or “V Deep” [Produced by Tony Visconti] for an eclectic blend of stuff more left field than their hits.”This Is My Room” was the greatest song never included on side one of “Low.”

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      • Gavin says:

        I listened to Tonic and V Deep last night via the dreadful but occasionally useful Spotify and enjoyed them both,I will hear the others later today hopefully.There is a box set of six CDs going cheap on Amazon so I am keeping an eye on that for when my pitiful finances improve.

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  2. Echorich says:

    I have the first 3 B’Rats albums and was attracted to them as they fit well in the Costello/Lowe/Parker section of my record collection. I am a huge Graham Parker fan and The Boomtown Rats brought a good bit of Parker influence to the music. They also surfed well on the Pub Rock cum New Wave curve at the turn of the decade.
    Great mention that This Is My Room has the feel of a missing track from Low. The original name for the Boomtown Rats was Nightlife Thugs…you can’t get much more Hansa/Bowie sounding than that, I think.

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  3. Needless to say I love the Rats, though they started to lose me as they grew away from the sound of the first three albums. I still think The Fine Art of Surfacing is their best overall album, but Tonic for the Troops runs a close second, and frankly I should give the last three a fresh listen after so many years, I may change my mind about them! My memory was that Mondo Bongo was hit-n-miss, and In the Long Grass was good, at least as I recall. I have no clear memory of V Deep other than the cover, which probably isn’t a promising sign.

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  4. JC says:

    The Rats really divided opinion over here. Tony Wilson for one, really disliked them as did many ‘hip’ journalists. That Geldof became so wrapped up in Live Aid a few years later menat they were never going to get the chance for any sort of reappraisal.

    Saw them in 1979 – one of my earliest gigs – for the tour promoting ‘The Fine Art of Surfacing’ and they were very decent. Having only ever had all the albums on vinyl from the original release dates, I wasn’t aware of what had been done in the US and via CDs. Sacrilege!!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      JC – Yeah, I was aware of the polarizing effect they had on UK journalists. As an American I just judged the music. I never much saw the UK press anyway, so I just judged bands on their merits. I always linked The Rats with Elvis Costello + The Attractions in that both bands came from Pub Rock to New Wave, had a oft cutting lyricist, were wildly eclectic after a fashion, and sported a highly talented keyboardist. I think the only US LP that wasn’t messed with was “Surfacing.” “Up All Night” aired in America first on the Mondo Bongo” album in 1980 a year ahead of “V Deep!” Insane! For “Long Grass” “Dave” became “Rain” at Columbia Records’ request since a man singing about a man must be “queer!”

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