Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: BIG COUNTRY
Album: THE SEER
For most American music fans of my generation, Big Country was a one-hit wonder with their 1983 Top 20 single “In A Big Country.” To a small but devoted contingent of people like me, however, they are one of the most important artists of all time, a powerful awe-inspiring live band that released eight essential studio albums over a nearly 2-decade career prior to the death of songwriter/lead singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson in 2001. In my first Great Out Of The Gate post last year, I described their debut album The Crossing as “one of the rare albums that truly changed my life,” and I’m equally passionate about the rest of their catalog. They were much more successful on the other side of the Atlantic, with four Top 10 albums and more than a dozen Top 40 singles. Clearly their homeland embraced them more than we did, but in some ways that gave us U.S. fans the feeling of being part of an exclusive club.
Their sophomore album Steeltown was a monster hit at home, reaching the top of the charts, and it’s long been my nominee for “best album of the ‘80s.” Unfortunately, the dark & dense production and the political nature of most of the songs scared off American audiences, and by the time their third album The Seer was released in 1986, they had been forgotten by the majority of fans who were won over just three years earlier. I’ve often thought that their career would have taken on a completely different trajectory had their second & third albums been released in reverse order. First single “Look Away” was as radio-friendly as anything on The Crossing, and even managed to get some airplay on rock radio stations. Rousing tracks like “One Great Thing,” “I Walk The Hill” and “Remembrance Day” were tailor made for stadiums full of fist-pumping fans. The incredible rhythm section of drummer Mark Brzezicki and bassist Tony Butler shine throughout, but their performances are especially noteworthy on songs like “Teacher,” “The Seer” (with guest vocals by Kate Bush, her second appearance in Thirty Year Thursday after her duet with Peter Gabriel) and the majestic “Eiledon,” an epic track that’s among the best songs in their discography. The Seer even includes their first straightforward ballad, “Hold The Heart,” which should have been as successful as U2’s “With Or Without You.”
Big Country was also one of those rare artists whose b-sides were as important as their singles and album tracks. If this post inspires you to check them out for the first time, or to further explore their catalog, you’ll be well-served by expanded CD reissues that include the majority of their rarities. Their soundtrack to the Scottish film “Restless Natives” is excellent, and “Song Of The South” would have been a welcome inclusion on The Seer. Some of the production choices on this album date-stamp it to 1986, but the songs and performances are timeless and it still thrills me as much as it did 30 years ago.