When trying to introduce a band to an international audience, there are worse strategies that releasing an anthemic single that has the group’s name right there in the title. “In a Big Country” wasn’t the first single from the Scottish band Big Country, but it was the first to get them significant attention in the U.S. (Its predecessor, “Fields of Fire (400 Miles),” was a Top 10 hit in the U.K., a level “In a Big Country” didn’t reach.) Officially considered the third single from the band’s 1983 debut album, The Crossing, the track was inspired by the plight of the downtrodden in Big Country’s native land. “The idea for ‘In a Big Country’ came from seeing the unemployed maintain their sense of humor and pride, which is hard when you’re living on fourteen pounds a week,” lead singer Stuart Adamson told Musician. “You have to have something to believe in.” Although the band espoused a preference to steer clear of the pointedly political in their music, they did have a general goal of shifting societal outlook in a dour time. “We like to make people feel important, give them hope and optimism … even if the lyrics are not always ‘up,'” Adamson explained at the time. “You see, as far as I’m concerned, people who buy our records or come to our gigs are as much a part of the group as us. Without them, there wouldn’t be a Big Country. That’s why you’ll never find us shooting off after a show and playing the horrible pop star game. Just because I’ve been on television, it doesn’t make me a better person than the next man.”
Iconoclastic British troubadour Robyn Hitchcock has enough of a reputation for penning songs about items that might cross a dinner plate that a 2007 documentary about his life and work was entitled Sex, Food, Death…and Insects. In the case of the song that probably still stands as his biggest U.S. hit — although let’s go ahead and put “hit” in quotes — food was indeed the direct inspiration. “That was based on real life: eating a falafel walking up 6th Ave from 34th to 44th in a rain storm,” Hitchcock said of the song “Balloon Man.” “You can still do that legally today.” Although the track — which was released as the lead single from Globe of Frogs, Hitchcock’s 1988 album with backing band the Egyptians — is strongly associated with the man who wrote it, his initial intent was to give it away. “Well, ‘Balloon Man’ I wrote for The Bangles, if you remember them,” explained Hitchcock. “I was in touch with a couple of them, and I sent them a quarter-inch, 7.5 IPS reel. I don’t know if they did anything with it. Probably not, I guess.” With the song sitting idle, unloved by the pop goddesses who were likely busy counting their walking Egyptian money, Hitchcock took a pass at it while revving up for his major label debut. The executives at A&M Records loved the song, urging him to record a fleshed-out version for the album.
There’s a justifiable legend around Lou Reed and his music, insisting that it’s always edgy and grim. There have been times, however, when Reed was going for something different. One of those instances came with the 1984 album New Sensations. “I wanted to have fun with it,” Reed said. “And there were certain sounds that I heard on the radio — a certain kind of bass and drum thing, for instance — that were really strong and exciting, and I really wanted hear that.” Even as Reed acknowledged the shift in his song, his prickly nature couldn’t quite allow him to say he was openly pursuing commercial success. Instead, he insisted it was close to a Velvet Underground record because he was back to playing all of the guitar parts. There was also the suggestion that he had always wanted his music to have a nice polished sound. “In the days of the Velvet Underground, recording engineers would hear what we did and leave,” he said. “They’d say, ‘I’ll come back when you’re finished,’ turn on the tape machine, and go. So I got this attitude that engineers were my enemy, and the way we recorded reflected that.” Bypassing his usual mode of making quick, dirty recordings of songs then releasing them with little studio adornment, Reed worked with producer John Jansen (who’d later preside over albums by the likes of Cinderella and Warrant) to develop tracks that wouldn’t sound wholly out of place when played in the confines of a downtown discotheque. Released as a single, lead track “I Love You, Suzanne” didn’t exactly turn Reed into a dance hall diva. About the only chart success it enjoyed — apart from college radio, of course — was in the U.K., where made some modest rumblings, becoming Reed’s first song to make any headway there in over a decade.
As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown.
The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.