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Rock Flashback: “The Boiler”

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It's Halloween. What scares you the most? (Getty Images/Tim Boyle)

It’s Halloween. What scares you the most? (Getty Images/Tim Boyle)

[pullquote quote="It's impossible to imagine any American radio station playing it."]Halloween horrors come in all flavors — mutants, monsters, guys in goalie masks, etc. But the horror that people inflict on one another can be the most terrible of all. Exhibit A: “The Boiler” by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Rhoda Dakar[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]the Specials[/lastfm].

I first read about “The Boiler” several years ago, when critic Dave Marsh placed it at #880 on his list of the top 1000 singles in The Heart of Rock and Soul, and despite Marsh’s graphic description, I had trouble imagining it. Then I heard it.

It seems ordinary enough. The Specials sound jaunty, although Rhoda’s thick British accent makes it hard to understand her until you get used to it. Rhoda describes herself as a “boiler,” a derogatory phrase for an unattractive, often older, woman. She gets mixed up with a man who seems to treat her well at first, before things go terrifyingly wrong.

I’ve been told that the point of “The Boiler” was to make a record people would play once and only once (although for Dakar, it was the second time around with the song, which she had originally cut with a band called [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]the Bodysnatchers[/lastfm]). Certainly some radio station music directors had that reaction, Yet even without much radio airplay in the UK, the record was a modest hit in 1982, when the Specials’ ska/punk fusion was hugely popular. It didn’t chart in the States, where the Specials didn’t translate well. And in truth, it’s impossible to imagine any American radio station playing it.

On the day when we celebrate things that go bump in the night, there’s still nothing more monstrous than our inhumanity to our own fellow creatures. In the last two minutes of “The Boiler,” you will know.

Experience more Rock Flashbacks.

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