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The Proper Use Of The Word “Great”: Big Country’s Steeltown

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I hesitate to name any song other than “In a Big Country” as Big Country’s finest song.  I guess I have to say, grudgingly but objectively, that it probably is.  In about four minutes, that song encapsulates pretty much everything that was great (and regular readers of this site will know that I don’t use that word often or lightly) about the band.

Big Country, in its original incarnation, was one of those bands that you couldn’t imagine existing without exactly those specific musicians.  (In our time, aside from obvious ones like U2 or Rush, the best example is, I think, Coldplay.  Not many people could name the other three guys – other than Chris Martin, that is – but, by gosh, nobody but nobody could create those parts or play those parts that way, and synch the way they do, but Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, and Will Champion.)  You might think you know “In A Big Country” note for note, but please put it on again and confirm what I’m saying.  There is that band in a big, bagpipey nutshell.

But The Second Album May Actually Be Better

For all that, though, granting the inclusive excellence of that one song (and taking as granted the excellence of the whole first album), I have another nomination for Big Country’s best song.  It’s Side 1 of their second album, Steeltown.  I think that “Flame of the West,” “East of Eden,” “Steeltown,” “Where the Rose is Sown,” and “Come Back to Me” is (yes, I’m aware of the apparent grammatical and logical infelicities) Big Country’s best song.  That is, just as Side 2 of Blue Oyster Cult’s second album, Tyranny and Mutation, contains probably their best run of songs in a row (“Wings Wetted Down,” “Teen Archer,” “Mistress of the Salmon Salt [Quicklime Girl]) – and surely I’m not the only Cult fanatic to think so? –, so does Steeltown’s entire first side capture the band at its undeniable peak.

What About Side 2?

That’s the thing: Side 2 is actually almost as good – almost as good, that is, as one of the best sides of a rock record ever made.  Yes, I’m a big Big Country fan – could you tell? – but, objectively, Steeltown is one cracker of a rock-and-roll album, energetic, committed both musically and lyrically, uplifting even as it sings about some very grim subjects, simply a great, great record.  I suspect that some of this site’s readers will agree with me about the greatness of the first album but might not have given the second album as much of a chance.  Please – if you’re one of those people – do.  Steeltown is, from first to last, one of the best things we have.  Cherish it.


Check out our review of Big Country's The Journey

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