Finally! Bob Seger has always been one of the more vocal streaming holdouts but today some of his most beloved albums – including the Bob Seger System’s 1969 LP Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, his 1976 classic Night Moves and his two volumes of Greatest Hits – finally made their way onto Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Napster and Slacker Radio. We’re still waiting for some very fine records to see the light of digital day (Mongrel, please!). But we’re psyched all the same. Here’s a quick guide to the finest moments from what’s available.
Before it was immortalized as the soundtrack to Tom Cruise sliding his socks across Risky Business’ hardwood floor, “Old Time Rock and Roll” was a hit single in 1979, a slice of nostalgia that still seems unmoored from time, but was yearning for a past not even 20 years in the rearview. The song was co-written by Muscle Shoals pen George Jackson (alongside songwriter Thomas Jones), and its funky old sound was actually a demo courtesy of the actual Muscle Shoals Swampers. “Seger liked the song so much he tried to cut it himself, but after numerous tries, with the Swampers and with his band, he finally gave up,” Muscle Shoals engineer Jerry Masters told SongFacts.com. “He and [producer] Punch Andrews decided to buy the demo track from us and put his vocal on it, and that ended up being the record. It’s a classic.” CW
Bob Seger had been knocking around the Detroit rock scene for seven years by the time he cut this garage rock classic with his teenage buddy Glenn Frey on background vocals. It got him onto a couple of TV shows, which helped drive the single to #17 on the Hot 100. It seemed like he was on the verge of becoming a big star, but it would take seven years of relentless road work before he’d be seen as anything but a half-forgotten One Hit Wonder. The song remains the only 1960s song he plays in his live show, and it’s been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Black Keys. –AG
This 1969 protest rager (Jack White’s favorite Bob Seger song) wasn’t a hit outside of Michigan, but it’s one of Seger’s great early gems – a common man’s questioning of the absurdity of the Vietnam War that recalls John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” in its helpless working class rage. Seger was obviously thinking of the Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” but his version of the sentiment is much rawer and more visceral, with a vicious fuzz riff and steel-belted Motor City drum charge.
A homesick star writing a sad ballad about the rigors of the road is the ultimate rock cliche, but it was still novel in 1972 when Bob Seger wrote “Turn The Page.” Saxophonist Alto Reed had just joined the Silver Bullet Band two weeks earlier when the song was cut at Leon Russell’s studio. “Tom Weschler, the assistant manager at the time, said to me, ‘Picture it’s late at night in a black and white movie,'” Reed told Rolling Stone in 2011. “‘There’s some rain coming down in the ally. You’re standing by the street lamp and there’s a light mist and off in the distance you hear this plaintive wail. What does that sound like?'” He then produced one of the most iconic sax parts in rock history, though the song wouldn’t get a mass audience until it appeared in Live Bullet in 1976. –AG
Seger’s escapist ode to the capital of Nepal is more than a goofy, nonsensical riff on his unhappiness with the USA during the Ford administration: It’s a nostalgic journey through rock & roll’s great tongue-in-cheek boogie-woogie travel tunes like Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA,” the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” and the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR.” It’s lighthearted, illogical and totally fun, right down to a Berry-esque guitar riff in the middle.
The leadoff track to 1976’s Night Moves is one in a series of Seger classics about the ongoing power of rock & roll – in this case, for “sweet sixteens turned 31,” Seger’s age when the song came out. Less nostalgic than “Old Time Rock N Roll,” it’s an argument for finding rock wherever it lives (the concert hall, the local bar) and letting it be whatever you need it to be: a salve after a hard day of work, a renewable source of euphoria. The sound – no-bullshit, horn-slathered Silver Bullet crunch with a nod to Chuck Berry (who’s name-checked in the last verse) – makes the case for rock’s longevity as well as the lyrics do.
No one does melancholy nostalgia better than Bob Seger, and “Mainstreet” dives hard into it, from the plaintive guitar intro to the lyrics, which are like Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” in song form: “In the pool halls/ the hustlers and the losers/ I used to watch ’em through the glass.” -BH
The tumultuous mid-1970s was packed full of TV shows and movies like Happy Days, American Graffiti and Grease that pined for the innocent days of the 1950s and early 1960s. The best song in this vein is the title track to 1976’s Night Moves, in which a 31 year-old Seger reflected on his carefree teenage years where he made “front-page driving news” by hooking up with a “black haired beauty with big dark eyes” in the back of a 1960 Chevy. At the end, a thunderstorm wakes him up and he begins humming a song from 1962 as he thinks about the period where he didn’t “have as much to lose.” (He claims the song is “Be Me Baby,” and we’ll forgive him that it’s actually from 1963.) The song was as #4 single, finally launching him as a major rock star 15 years after he started out. –AG
One night Seger was driving around the Hollywood Hills when a chorus came into his head. When he got home, he developed it into a song about a Midwestern boy who moves out to Los Angeles and “gets caught up in the whole bizarro thing” that may have had echoes in his own experience as a transplanted Michigander on the West Coast. Propelled by two drummers, the finished product became the opening cut on 1978’s Stranger In Town, a top 20 hit.
Seger knocked out “Still the Same” with just Chris Campbell (bass) David Teegarden, the rhythm section of the Silver Bullet Band, and based it around a composite of people he met after he moved to Los Angeles. It’s one of his finest soft-rock moments, and a top five hit. In a classic bit of Seventies serendipity, the song’s raggedly lovely melody is eerily similar to Brian Eno’s “On Some Faraway Beach.” -JD
Seger’s career reached its commercial peak with 1978’s Stranger In Town. The track listing practically reads like a greatest hits package, though the mournful “We’ve Got Tonite” on side two is the saddest of the lot. It’s the tale of two former lovers contemplating the possibility of a final evening together before parting forever. It became a hit again in 1983 when Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton and turned it into a duet. –AG
Seger hits often look back ruefully on the ones that got away, but this Top 20 single from Against the Wind takes a more optimistic stance on love. “I’ll take my chances, babe, I’ll risk it all/I’ll win your love or I’ll take the fall,” Seger sings, leading into the upbeat, gospel-tinged chorus. “I love the confidence in that song,” said country artist Frankie Ballard, who covered the tune last year.
Much like “Night Moves,” the title track to 1980’s Against The Winds finds a 30-something Bob Seger reflecting on the cruel passage of time. “And the years rolled slowly past,” he sings. “And I found myself alone/Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends/I found myself further and further from my home.” People all over America tapped into his sense of displacement and frustration, helping the sing reach #5 on the Hot 100. A lot of 1970s rock giants would struggle in the 1980s, but this was the beginning of a new decade of huge success for Seger. Today, however, the song may be best known for appearing in Forrest Gump during his cross-country run. –AG
One of Seger’s most quixotic lyrics, “Fire Lake” comes off like an allegory about heaven and hell, complete with a reference to Wild Bill Hickock’s “dead man’s hand” (eights and aces), which he was holding when he got shot in the back. Regardless of its meaning, it was catchy enough to be the first single from Against the Wind, thanks in part to an assist from The Eagles’ Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy B. Schmit, who sang backup on the tune a year after Seger gave them the chorus to “Heartache Tonight.”
Some of the production may not have aged all that well, but if you’re willing to surrender yourself to it, this road tale is one of Seger’s most exhilarating moments. It’s all about borrowed E Streeter Roy Bittan’s lyrical piano and the spectacular bridge, where Bob remembers the moment his “soul began to rise” after he spotted a hawk in the sky. -BH