Too Big a Country

We are winding our way to the end of our tearful musical trail, covering songs that might bring a tear to the eye of a sensitive listener, or at least to our eyes. So here’s Big Country:

Big Country’s “Big Country”

This is the long version, starting off with a sharp shout — – not a “Yeah!” or “Woo!” but a fierce “Sha!” — and the sound of it absolutely blew people away in ’83. The drums go it alone for more than 20 seconds after that, playing something between military marches and a traditional bodhran pattern, then are joined by tinky keyboards that build the tension before Stuart Adamson is heard again, twice urging us to “Come up screaming.”

The radio version starts at about :45 on the clip, and even without the powerful long intro, those wide-open, melodic guitars were a nice, distinctive element in those days of keyboard hiccups. Another “Ha!” from Adamson, then he sings:

I’ve never seen you look like this without a reason,
Another promise fallen through,
Another season
Passes by you

I’ve used the funky line enjambment (sorry, English-major word) because the lyrics don’t really fit into the melody in a logical way. Unless you know the song well, it’s easy to forget the line “another promise fallen through” is even there and just skip mentally to the rising “Passes by you” as he sets the tone. The second verse is almost equally awkward, trying to flow around the choppy melody as Adamson sings to someone disappointed by life — and perhaps by him:

I never took the smile away from anybody’s face,
And that’s a desperate way to look
For someone who is
Still a child

The famous fake-bagpipe, highly processed guitars, though they were talked about quite a bit at the time, don’t actually show up for the first time until after the first bridge, nearly two minutes into the long version and when the radio version is well underway. The effect could’ve been gimmicky from these Scots — and it is, just a bit — but those guitars winding around and poking through keep the energy moving through the rather pedestrian chorus:

In a big country
Dreams stay with you
Like a lover’s voice
‘Cross the mountainside

But the guts of this song are in the killer last verse (or whatever; it’s not a conventionally built verse-chorus-bridge kind of song):

So take that look out of here,
It doesn’t fit you.
Because it’s happened doesn’t mean you’ve been discarded.
Pull up your head off the floor,
Come up screaming,
Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted.

I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered
But you can’t stay here with every single hope you had shattered.

Whoa. This is somebody just figuring out how to handle being kicked in the head by life — being dumped romantically, but it sounds like more than that, like the helpless feeling of realizing, maybe for the first time, that wanting something really, really badly is not going to be nearly good enough. And Adamson gives it everything, in an unpolished (but also nearly unprocessed) vocal, and “Cry out for everything you ever might have wanted,” with all its adolescent disappointment and rage, hits even a grownup right between the eyes.

Adamson had a way of speaking too freely and alienated a lot of U.S. fans early on, and Big Country never again charted here. But this anthemic pop song, unhappy but far from hopeless, is still much loved and well remembered.

About Bridey

Bridey has been a music nut since falling in love with Elton John's "Caribou" album in grade school (why that one? I was nine). She's a magazine editor by trade who writes regularly about radio, music, and related industries.
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