Big Schools

Depending on which generation you more strongly identify with, you’ll consider “Big Schools” a colossal rip-off of either Bruce Springsteen or the Hold Steady. Where do I stand? Well, as much as I love the Boss, I think this song bites the Hold Steady (particularly last year’s phenomenal “Stuck Between Stations”) even harder. That being said, Roy Bittan of the E-Street Band remains one of my all-time rock piano heroes… just a few notes from him, and my eyes are filled with tears. The intro and bridge sections are a sincere tribute to him.

For you statistics nuts out there, this track is the largest file ever uploaded to this blog — a whopping six point seven megabytes, and clocking in at almost six minutes in length. Overall, I think the song structure justifies its big waistband; it doesn’t feel particularly long to me. Is it too ambitious lyrically? Well… is it too much for a verse-chorus-verse pop song to follow its hero from his collegiate bliss to his suburban victory lap, through his tempestuous relationship with his three unappreciative, Atlantic Monthly-reading children, all the way to his eventual concession that his college days really were the best years of his life? I’m gonna say maybe so.

But enough with the caveats… overall, I consider this one of the better songs I’ve posted here, and worthy of your six minutes. This song is dedicated to my favorite big school, the University of Louisville, as the Cardinals steamroll their way into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Can they keep the dream alive this week?

12 Responses to “Big Schools”
  1. The epic length and days-gone-by subject matter also calls Jim Steinman’s collaborations with Meat Loaf to mind (as would most any Roy Bittan piano, I suspect). The backing vocals on the chorus are most wicked. Dare I say, some of your vocal cadences in this remind me of (what little I know of) Adam Duritz’s.

    I bet my friend Bill would like this cut (and really any of your others), he likes to cover some of the same “Glory-Days”-style subject matter in his own songwriting, as any fan of Springsteen and Steinman (as he is) would, I reckon. I’ll be passing it along accordingly!

  2. Abraham says:

    P M S: This comment was very much on point. I was thinking after I submitted that post, “Ah, I should’ve written about Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf.” But I was too tired. I can see the Adam Duritz thing, I must admit, although I think that I was aiming with the phrasing more for Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy! But, what’s the saying… reach for the sky and end up with a handful of stars? We are coming to see your opera on Saturday night by the way!

  3. Judah says:

    Finished. Perfect. Stadium-ready. Mass produce, release as single (including cassingle, if possible). Live version should be 10-12′ long with additional verses that continue the story; it would absolutely hold up. Also a Clarence Clemons guest solo.

    I’m making all of these half-jokes, which shouldn’t for a second undercut how much I immediately loved this song. In fact, all of the above are full-on compliments, they only became kind of jokey when I wrote them down in sequence.

    You totally make the anthemic nostalgia vibe your own. Tom Petty, who you’ve acknowledged on the blog before, is here too, especially in the above-cited backing vocals on the chorus. Also, somewhere, Jon Bon Jovi is inexplicably turning green with envy.

  4. Ooh, Lynott, Petty, Clemmons, and Bon Jovi. This thread is becoming a little super-star-saturated. Agreed on all counts, incidentally.

    Awesome about Saturday and see’z ya there, now you’ll get to experience the brusque staccato and/or embellished theatricality of one brief song I’ve written after all this time I’ve spent enjoying your tunes? Or something. But there will be singing and voicing and other such tomfoolery for sure.

  5. Emilie says:

    I wish that this song could fuse with my heart-wall and pump its rhythms through my bloodstream for the rest of my life.

  6. Abraham says:

    Judah: Thank you so much!! The specificity of the lyrics is probably a double-edged sword… I could either go further and write more verses that get even more detailed, or try to keep the story a little more general — like the lyrics of the chorus — in order to broaden its appeal. It’s probably still a little egg-headed to hit the arena mark that it aims for. I’m glad the backing vocals (“oh-way-oh”) are such a hit… that was definitely one of my favorite parts of the arrangement.

    P M S: Indeed! I eagerly await.

    Emilie: Well, I take it that means you liked it??? But seriously… thanks!

  7. Jon Y. says:

    Hey, this is great! I second Judah on all of the above, and can see it as the Cardinals’ victory song upon winning the NCAA. Love the “Oh-wo-oh-oh.” And if I may geek out for a minute (well, not that I ever ask permission), the background vocals even remind me of–*gasp*–Elvis Costello, who’s fond of singing those vowels on the same scale degrees (1-6-5). How’s that for a non-Jersey musical element?

    It’s interesting — you could have ended the song midway through, when the introductory piano riff comes back, but you took it out longer and, better still, you made it work. I was glad to get the chorus again. So, from one “big school” grad student, congrats! Shall we drink from the two untapped kegs?

    I’ll be singing “Oh-wo-oh-oh” all day long.

  8. James Smythe says:

    That piano breakdown is wonderful. It makes me think of The Wonder Years for some reason. This song is amazing, Abraham: it makes me proud to listen to this blog.

  9. Abraham says:

    J Y: Well, the Cardinals are still alive as of this evening! Thanks for your praise and your points about the old 1-6-5. I guess the Costello always comes out, even when I’m going for some good old red-state rock.

    James: Good to hear from you…. your comment made my day! Cheers.

  10. Mickey says:

    This exact situation happened to me on my first day at college at Western Michigan University. I cried when my mom left me in the dorm room and then made out with a latino chick on the porch of a frat house later that night. It’s amazing how quickly you get over things. They were absolutely the best days of my life and I will never regret that/

  11. The Bubble King says:

    This one might be my favorite on this entire blog. Sorry it took me so long to listen.

    See, I know you like to look at the business model, strip down your lyrics and structure for maximum airplay… but damn dude, the true music enthusiasts will always desire elaborate structures and illustrious lyrics. I am still a firm believer in the album, the concept album, the epic song. Freebird alone proves that while the masses seem to foolishly go through millions of 3:05 tracks… an epic can indeed endure for decades.

    Growing up a Pumpkin fanatic, an album just doesn’t seem complete without at least one 7+ minute cornucopia.

    But yes this one is really up my alley, great tune, great arrangement, great redefinition of the emotions through the lyrics and the story. Just great man.

  12. Abraham says:

    Mickey: That’s a beautiful story and exactly the kind of scenario I was picturing when I wrote this number.

    B B King: Thank you good sir!! I definitely value your saying it’s your favorite, since I know that you’ve actually listened to each and every one of these digital chocolates. Good point about epic songs… I guess that my business side says that you “break in” with the 3:05 jam, and then once you have a foothold, you start churning out the epics as you see fit. But of course I haven’t broken in, and I still can’t help writing the epics anyway!!

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