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the bigness
this will turn your world upside down, but it's mostly about big country
by joe procopio (@jproco)

You’re not seriously going to attempt to write a column about Big Country, are you?

Yes. Yes I am.

Big Country. The Scottish musical quartet that barely mattered some 20-odd years ago.

The same.

You’re going to attempt to write a column about them?

Not attempt. Consider it in the can.

That’s nuts.

It is not.

So... is it going to be semi-ironic?

No. It’s straight-up. I did a column on Living Colour once. It got huge play.

But they had just reformed and released a new record.

Not relevant.

Neither is Big Country! Do we go back to the 20-odd years ago thing or...

Look. Big Country would have and should have been as big as U2. They’re more talented musicians and they excelled at layering a huge, important sound over huge, important lyrics. 1983’s The Crossing is -– song for song -- a beautiful, sprawling record that stands up there with War and The Unforgettable Fire. In fact, War and The Crossing were both produced by Steve Lillywhite. "Just a Shadow" from 1984's Steeltown should have been their "With or Without You." It’s haunting, beautiful, and lush with an explosive vamp at the end.

Both bands had a modern take on the classic guitar/bass/drums rock sound and both borrowed unabashedly from the traditional music of their respective countries of origin. Both had a brilliant guitarist who used his guitar to compensate for lack of other instruments. In fact, both guitarists experimented with delay, pitch transposers, and an eBow–-

An eBow.

It’s a little deal that you place up against the strings and –-

What I’m saying is no one cares.

All right then. How about this? Along the lines of an eerie friends-of-U2 trend, their lead singer committed suicide after several years of releasing albums that were largely ignored in the US.

Like Michael Hutchence?


I didn’t even know the singer guy was dead.

Stuart Adamson. 2001. And that makes it even more tragic.

But it doesn’t make them U2.

Right. They never really had the arc and they derailed in the late '80s anyway. And my question is how come. One of the reasons U2 was so successful is nobody else could even come close to being that important. So imagine it's the Big '80s, right? You’ve got your pop -– your Cyndi Laupers and your Michael Jacksons. That’s what we make fun of when we make fun of the '80s today.


But you also have your Euro-pop, Duran Duran for the scenesters and The Cure for the hipsters. And standing there in the circle of rock, holding the mantle for those of us without studded gloves and angular haircuts, is U2, with Bono singing about bloody Sundays, MLK, apartheid, Hiroshima, and heroin addiction, and the Edge laying down riffs that sounded like God strapped on a Stratocaster.

But even when U2 goes on tour there's no one for them to bring along. You've got the Alarm, Red Rockers, Lone Justice, and then when they hit it big, Little Steven, who was aping their apartheid vibe, and Los Lobos, who, from what I remember seeing three shows on that tour, just played "La Bamba" over and over again.

There was one other band who did important well. I remember loving The Crossing, and it seemed like everyone who was into that U2-40-No-More-War deal was into this record.

I remember "In A Big Country" and pretty much nothing else.

Exactly. A series of oddball circumstances relegated them to the dustbin of history. They immediately got pigeonholed by writing a song which featured their name in the lyrics -– total novelty act move. That song went on to be a monster hit and their first hit in the US. That song also happens to be one of the two songs in their entire catalogue where the guitars sound like bagpipes, but I challenge you to find a reference to Big County in print or on the web where it doesn't say "this is the group with the guitars that sound like bagpipes."

Second sentence in their Wikipedia entry.

Not only that, but at the very time "In a Big Country" is blowing up, one-hit-wonder Slade releases "Run Run Away" a similar but much sillier song that has guitars that sound like bagpipes. This creates a vortex-like instant trend that drags Big Country down with it.

Plus, they let their video director put them on ATVs for no reason. That has "career-killer" written all over it.

It's not even the cool album mix. Criminal! So you’re 900 words in and you’ve written a lovely call to arms for Big Country. Congratulations.

But what I want is a call to arms for the Bigness.

The Bigness? Great. Did you make that term up?

A little. I miss that importance, that hugeness, that urgent sound with giant, altruistic ideas underneath.

So what happened to the Bigness?

It got grunged. I loved Nirvana, but they brought with them an era that brought forth grunge and then emo and then garage –- all of which is very small and internal and… navel-gazing.

And the Bigness got caught up in the same wave that rightfully took out hair metal, Milli Vanilli, and Phil Collins. Right about the same time U2 found America and went all rootsy and bluesy, Big Country also decided to find America but, taking a cue from their name, they actually went country.

I’m just imagining what that band meeting was like. "It's right there in front of our faces, fellows!"

I guess in the end it makes sense. U2 tried to carry the Bigness into their journey through America, and it resulted in a horrible movie that no one saw. And if I remember correctly, right before Big Country went big country, they released a dismal, heavy-handed flop called Peace in Our Time.

That’s some Bigness all right.

Yeah. Then they put out a couple of crap records that included a tribute to American jokester columnist P.J. O'Rourke.

That’s actually right up your alley, isn't it?

Yeah, but it was the suck. I mean, unlistenable.

So what you're saying is maybe nobody wanted the Bigness in the first place.

I don't know. U2 is back with Lillywhite again, but I can’t tell if they're singing about hell or a disco or actual Vertigo.



You’ve totally used that line before.

You’re right. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. I should quit while I'm ahead.

I think so. By the way, killer Big Country column.



Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


drummer wanted
why you should never, ever start a band
by joe procopio
topic: music
published: 5.2.08

the dark side
join me and together we'll screw somebody up real good
by joe procopio
topic: music
published: 8.1.00


mike julianelle
11.2.07 @ 9:03a

If "The Bigness" means more songs like U2's "Peace on Earth", kill me now.

adam kraemer
11.2.07 @ 9:07a

They were Scottish? I always assumed they were from Oklahoma or Nebraska or, well, a big country.

joe procopio
11.2.07 @ 9:15a

I'd like to think the Bigness would be more like Sunday Bloody Sunday or Pride.

My brother was in my car shortly after All That You Can't Leave Behind came out, he picked it up and asked if he could burn it (I of course said NO because that's illegal and I don't do that). Then as he was reviewing the back of the CD, he said "They have a song called "Peace on Earth"? Never mind."

michelle von euw
11.2.07 @ 11:47a

A little. I miss that importance, that hugeness, that urgent sound with giant, altruistic ideas underneath.

Joe, I think you need to turn off your Pearl Jam blinders. It's so strange to me that I don't recognize the band when you actually write about Pearl Jam, but yet, they are all over this column without being mentioned.

russ carr
11.2.07 @ 2:53p

Seeing The Alarm (Cambridge Corn Exchange, 1990) remains one of the best concert experiences of my life; I still don't understand why they didn't break it open, either.

brook dain
11.2.07 @ 7:23p

how cool is this...When a friend goes and does something that epitomizes just why you care about them.

Joe, the fact that you wrote an article about Big Country is both ridiculous and cool at the same time.

joe procopio
11.3.07 @ 8:05a

I appreaciate that because that's exactly what I was shooting for.

thad southwick
11.5.07 @ 5:13p

Big Country.... Ah, memories of an under-appreciated band. The bigness was worth your time, my friend.

robert melos
11.6.07 @ 3:03a

I remember them being big when I was in college, but they suffered in U2's shadow. I think Big Country, along with Slade, are still very relevant in the music scene.

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