Kronomyth 1.8: HEIRING AID. A year after Live Aid, Midge Ure and a smaller, star-studded cast returned to Wembley Arena to celebrate the 10th anniversary of (and raise money for) the Prince’s Trust Charity. This disc highlights the biggest stars from the concert, including bits by Ure, Dire Straits, Phil Collins, Tina Turner, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Sir Macca himself. As concert discs go, this one is pretty tepid; so was Live Aid for that matter. Performers don’t get a chance to set up the acoustics the way they’d like, they don’t get a chance to warm up, in some cases they’re playing with ad hoc bands (albeit with very good players), all of it conspiring toward mediocrity. The sound engineering on this one isn’t particularly good either; a lot of sound seeps out and what remains sounds thin. So if you weren’t invited to the original party, Highlights is no magic ticket. Some of the performances are good, most of them fall flat. Honestly, if you’re interested in hearing an oldies revue like this, pick up one of Ringo’s All-Starr albums. Speaking of The Beatles, McCartney does a decent version of “Get Back” with Tina taking a few lines and a short, spirited revival of “Long Tall Sally.” (The elpee version featured a bonus single with Sally and I Saw Her Standing There.) As someone who still isn’t completely sold on the merits of live albums, I’m rarely charitably disposed to these save the worldwind tours. The Trust’s Tenth is a great cast for a good cause, but a good live album it isn’t.
A new band of heroes emerged in the early ‘80s whose music seemed to bristle against English rule (of the airwaves anyway) while championing the working-class struggle: U2, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, The Alarm, Big Country. The Crossing is a powerful debut, a call to arms and a call for change, led by the intoxicating “In A Big Country.” Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson both played the e-bow, an instrument that evoked their Scottish roots with its plaintive sound. Their music was instantly identifiable and, unfortunately, just as quickly pigeonholed by American listeners. Like the work of Echo & The Bunnymen, it takes a little while for Big Country’s songs to develop their own identities, and lazy ears might dismiss their albums as so much British brouhaha. However, at the core of The Crossing is plenty of talent and tunefulness, almost a cross between The Cure and U2. Producer Steve Lillywhite understood that even alternative rock could benefit from mainstream melodies, and you’ll find that logic behind tracks like “Chance” and “Close Action.” Yet it was the anthems that won them an audience, such as “Fields of Fire,” “Harvest Home” and “1000 Stars.” The image of fire appears throughout, as working-class people are driven from their homes, crossing into an uncertain future. In a sense, the music of Big Country embodies the relentless pursuit of hardships that its characters endure. America, the land of aspiring hedonists, didn’t share the band’s dour outlook and had little long-term use for songs about life’s struggles, while in the UK this message had particular resonance. Thus the music of Big Country was a reluctant export to the US, its ethnic ardor quickly filed under “quirky foreigners” and revived only when their famous four-minute rallying cry (“In A Big Country”) proved efficacious in a parade of ‘80s anthems. The Crossing is so much more than that, of course. It’s the ardent, uncompromising voice of youth and revolution, the Scottish voice that would not be subdued, a standard under which the meek shall inherit the earth. Unchained spirits will hear this in The Crossing, and realize that no country was big enough to contain such a significant talent.
The story of the EP (in which nearly nothing is learned of wonderland)… At the tony orlando and dawn of the ‘80s, music only existed in one of three forms: cassette, elpee or single. 8-tracks were dead, reel-to-reel was never alive. Each medium had its own consumer: elpees were for the connoisseurs, cassettes for the busy masses, singles for the fickle and financially timid. And each medium had its respective place in the store: elpees in long and labelled columns (vinyl people are very organized and delight in the tactile experience of touching album spines), cassettes in bland stacks with the label clearly identified (busy, busy, got it), singles in the front of the store (since you know they’re going to walk up to the counter and immediately ask where they can find the song “I Want Candy” or whatever’s on the radio that week, which allows the clerk to simply point to the display next to the counter). All of this to set the stage for the story of the EP. You see, an EP was actually an inflated single; intermediary product marketed as a mini-album that allowed record companies to reach their most loyal consumers (elpee buyers) in between albums. Vinyl enthusiasts would encounter these in their spiny travels with a giant sticker that said $4.99 or $5.99, almost half the price of an elpee. While EPs have added greatly to the work of discographers ever since, they haven’t accounted for much great music. Take Wonderland, for example. It’s only half new: “Wonderland” (in case you didn’t make the connection) and “All Fall Together.” The second side of Wonderland consists of two old (relatively speaking) B sides, “Angle Park” and “The Crossing” (which actually did not appear on the album of that name, in case you made the connection). They’re fine, insofar as any four songs from the band’s early albums burn with the same fire, but Wonderland the EP can’t hold company with The Crossing and Steeltown. It’s an appetizer, half of it made from leftovers. Steeltown, now that’s a meal.
Men made in the crossing, their anthem rising over the highlands and drifting toward us on the same tide that brought the call and the alarm. Definitely one for the fresh new sounds of 1983, they made a fan of me in the moment I heard this song. The single version sounds like a different mix than the elpee version, smoother and shorter where the latter was edgy. You’d sell your soul (metaphorically speaking) to write a song like this, and for an instant it looked like they might make it big in this country. But Americans didn’t seem to be hungry for more, instead content to gnosh on an alternative sampler plate that included Madness, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Split Enz, etc. If you tuned in for Wonderland and Steeltown, give yourself a gold star for loyalty. The B side is a nonalbum track, “All of Us,” that features the same idiosyncratic sound but in a less-pressurized setting. It was later added to the 1996 Mercury remaster.