‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ is now the sort of phrase that you might find on the side of a naff secret Santa mug, but back when The Boomtown Rats reached their peak with the single in 1979, they had their mind on something far darker. At a glance the new wave pop melody and upbeat stylings make this song seem like a conventional chart hit. The story behind it is anything but chart-friendly and with only half an ear for the lyrics that becomes very clear.
Win Butler of Arcade Fire said that “songwriting is reliant on inspiration, which ideally you don’t have that much control over”. More often than not, the uncontrollable urge to put pen to paper and pick up the acoustic is driven by some deeply personal inspiration, some sort of cathartic deliverance in song. Sometimes, however, the inspiration jumps up and grabs the songwriter from an external source.
With ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, the song documents the 1979 Cleveland Elementary School shooting during which a 16-year-old girl, Brenda Spencer, who lived in a house across the street from the school, opened fire killing the school principal and a custodian and injuring eight children and a police officer. The reason that spender gave for committing the atrocity was confounding in itself: “I don’t like Mondays”.
Regarding the juxtaposition of the song’s upbeat melody and churlish lyrics and title, Geldof told BBC Radio 6 Music, “I was doing a radio interview in Atlanta with Johnnie Fingers and there was a telex machine beside me. I read it as it came out. Not liking Mondays as a reason for doing somebody in is a bit strange. I was thinking about it on the way back to the hotel and I just said, ‘silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’.”
Continuing, he said; “I wrote that down. And the journalists interviewing her said, ‘Tell me why?’ It was such a senseless act. It was the perfect senseless act, and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So perhaps I wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it. It wasn’t an attempt to exploit tragedy.”
In an almost postmodernist sense, Geldof becomes the classic unreliable narrator as he flippantly rattles off a tale of wild atrocity over triumphant major piano tones. Such an experimental songwriting approach, however, led Geldof to try and push it towards the realm of a B-side. When their Ensign label tried to push for it as a single, he remarked: “You’re mad, that’s not a hit.”
In the end, they won the battle and the track won Single of the Year at the British Pop and Rock awards.