In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week: Single song highlights from 1983.
Big Country was never as huge in the U.S. as it was overseas, which means the band only had one true hit in the States: “In A Big Country,” which hit No. 17 on the Billboard charts. Still, lumping the Scottish band in with other ’80s one-hit wonders seems wrong. The single’s jaunty Celtic-rock prance isn’t dependent on shtick or based around novelty (unless the band manipulating guitars to sound like bagpipes counts as a gimmick), and its relentless optimism is earnest and infectious. “Stay alive!” frontman Stuart Adamson yelps throughout the song, a rallying cry for survival that’s simple but effective.
At its core, “In A Big Country” is indeed an impassioned plea to listeners to keep their chin up and look for silver linings. But whereas other uplifting songs rely on grandiose sentiments for impact, Big Country’s approach is pragmatic. The song isn’t looking for major miracles (“I’m not expecting to grow flowers in the desert”), only small bright spots (“But I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime”). Moreover, it reminds listeners that survival is within reach, especially if they remember that there’s a big world out there—and there’s always room for more dreams as long as there are more vistas to explore.
The tragedy of Big Country is that this strain of optimism ultimately couldn’t save Adamson; he committed suicide in 2001. Still, the band regrouped in recent years and is currently touring the U.S. with Alarm frontman Mike Peters (a notoriously positive person in his own right) on vocals. But despite Adamson’s absence, the sincerity and heart of “In A Big Country” remains in good hands—and endures.