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DLC Week of 12/28: Big Country and Elton John

You want catchy, lively, and iconic? Oh, have we got you covered! Big Country “In A Big Country” and Elton John “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” remain as vital today as they were when first released. Both are available as DLC this Thursday in the Rock Band Music Store.

From the 1983 LP The Crossing, “In A Big Country” by Scottish post-punk/rock quartet Big Country was a powerful anomaly on the charts when it was first released and remains one of the most memorable and beloved rock songs of the decade. 

Kicking off with an assertive barrage of drums, “In A Big Country” quickly establishes a strident, almost marching-type vibe with the full band – Bruce Watson (guitars), Stuart Adamson (vocals, guitars), Tony Butler (bass), and Mark Brzezicki (drums) – giving it their all from jump. It’s a confident overall sound – tough and punchy – that instantly embraces the listener, with the occasional “Cha!” vocal exclamation thrown in by Adamson, adding an element of both exuberance and defiance. Back to those drums: this is a prime example of the ubiquitous, heavily compressed, gated ‘80s percussion sound that was one of the defining aspects of many rock songs from the era. “Dated?” I suppose so, but to my ears a more fair assessment, in context, would be “timeless.” As for the other instruments, the intro finds Butler’s growling bass locking in with Brzezicki’s beat, and eventually an arpeggiated guitar line. At 49 seconds in (on the album version of the track), we get our first subtle hint of lead guitar – the sonic aspect which quickly came to distinguish Big Country. After a few more seconds, the first verse begins and Adamson’s voice is a melodic snarl at once both unique and familiar. Across the board, Big Country is mixing hard rock and new wave influences with the sounds of Celtic folk music, making for a distinct, signature sound that set them apart from their contemporaries. After that first section, the song treats us to an even meatier slice of that lead guitar sound – almost teasing what’s sure to eventually arrive. But when? At 1:36 the pre-chorus is here in all of its digitized, synth glory with emphatic singing and ever-building intensity and then, at 1:55… we’ve finally landed: one of the all-time most memorable, catchy, and euphoric guitar riffs in all of post-punk. The air-raid guitar riff that is “In A Big Country”’s signature element was believed by many (still *is* believed by many!) to be some type of treated/electric bagpipe – a misconception that apparently gnawed at Adamson for the rest of his days – but is, in fact, electric guitar. By using a pitch transposer stompbox and an EBow, Big Country was able to coax this instantly recognizable sound and elevate the lead line into the stratosphere and into history. A “pitch transposer” is… well, precisely what the name suggests, while an EBow is a handheld, battery-powered unit that emits a magnetic field that interacts with an electric guitar’s pickup, creating a sound not dissimilar to literally “bowing” the strings with a violin or cello bow. That’s the gear they used and how they did it, but the important thing is how it *sounds*. This is glorious, singing, soaring guitar riffage that lodges itself in your mind and heart – and you’re all the better for it.

The rest of the track is a masterfully crafted arrangement of all of the song’s now-established components that is about as close to ‘80s rock perfection as you’re gonna find. Throughout, Adamson draws upon his punk background to inject a degree of danger and energy into the vocals, while the muscular rhythm section and twin-guitar assault lay down the law amidst synth flourishes. “In A Big Country” winds down (if you can call anything this joyfully energetic “winding down”) with the repeated guitar riff and plenty more “Cha!” exclamations from Adamson until everything fades away at 4:44. As beloved as “In A Big Country” was and remains, Big Country – and even this legendary cut – are woefully underrated stateside. Do yourself a favor and dig into the early albums from this sleeper powerhouse of a rock group; There’s no better place to start than with “In A Big Country,” one of the finest moments from a singularly adventurous decade in popular music.

You’d be forgiven if you figured Elton John was an artist who traded exclusively in plaintive soft-rock ballads, but with “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting),” a full-tilt scorcher that’s all jagged edges and sharp corners, the British piano man shows that he can throw down with the best of ‘em. The first single from the iconic 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album, the song raced towards the upper reaches of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, peaking at #12 stateside and #7 in John’s homeland and remains one his most beloved tunes and a staple of live performances. The recording ensemble at the time, featuring John on piano and vocals, Davey Johnstone handling guitar duties, bassist Dee Murray, and Nigel Olsson, stirs up a lively racket that, indeed, could convincingly serve as the soundtrack to a weekend of unrestrained energy and aggression. That, in subsequent decades, “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” has been covered by innumerable metal and hard rock acts speaks to the authoritative, rebellious nature of the single.

Following a “1-2-3” rat-tat-tat snare fill, Johnstone’s overdriven crunch of a guitar riff sets the tone before, at 12 seconds in, vocals, rapid-fire piano, and a bouncy bass line round out the sonic picture for the first verse. In no time at all, following a righteous piano glissando at :40, we reach the first chorus – and it does not disappoint! Lively, catchy, and a little dangerous (but in a fun way), this refrain conjures a night out at the pub, perhaps after (or before?) heading to a football match or gig. Loose-limbed, fun, and rapturously enticing, it’s the sort of chorus legendary tracks are made of – in this case, quite literally! Following verse and chorus #2, “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” segues into an instrumental section that gives all band members space to share the spotlight equally, with Olsson adding some tasty flourishes, Murray ratcheting the intensity up to 11, Johnstone making the case for being amongst the gnarliest hard rock guitarists of the decade, and John channeling the piano wild-men of rock’s early years. From there it’s back to another go-round of the refrain – has Elton John *ever* sounded this delightfully unhinged and ballsy? Who put what, exactly, in the man’s coffee the day this song was recorded? – which then dovetails into another instro breakdown that leads to the outro vamp: “Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday! Saturday night’s alright!” Who need’s lyrical profundity when you’ve got a message so direct and timeless? From the final “Wooo!” at 4:08 through to the song’s conclusion at 4:55 it’s more euphoric band-on-fire instrumental acrobatics, this time with John’s furious keyboard work really stealing the show.

“Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)” finds one of the most legendary figures in the history of music trying on a hard rock persona he’d never before, and never would again, embrace as fully – and damn if the dude didn’t pull it off! Get ready to sing along, jump all over the room, and get rowdy!

Big Country “In A Big Country” and Elton John “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”

are now available as DLC. Both can now be yours for $1.99 each.

  • Big Country – “In A Big Country”
  • Elton John – “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”

VIDEO: Rock Band 4 DLC Week of 12/28: Big Country “In A Big Country” and Elton John “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”



*Please note that this week’s DLC tracks will be available for purchase on Thursday, December 28th.