1968 – Present

Bob Seger

Track analysis for “Turn the Page

Bob Seger recorded seven albums from 1968 through 1974, none of which are broadly available today. During this time he was a regional favorite in Detroit, Michigan and the Midwest. It wasn’t until he put together the Silver Bullet Band as a regular backing group that he began to achieve commercial and artistic success on a larger level.

Probably the closest comparison to Seger in the world of rock is Bruce Springsteen. Both have gravelly voices, both have worked as solo artists with consistent backup bands, both bands have had very similar instrumentation (including keyboards, guitar and saxophone), both revived the energy and innocence of earlier rock music at a time when other musicians were becoming jaded and affected, both are known for their empathy with the working class, both have become well-known for their hard work and ability to please crowds in live performances, and both sing honestly about real people and real experiences, in a way that strips away romantic illusions.

There are important differences too, of course. Springsteen has the typical flair for dramatic extremes that comes from growing up in and around New York, while Seger betrays his plain-spoken Midwestern roots. Springsteen is known for his inventive and poetic lyrics, but while Springsteen songs often run the risk of sounding like poetry set to music, Seger writes lyrics that are meant to be sung. As an example, take the line, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then,” from “Against the Wind.” As words on a page, they look so irredeemably awkward that Seger himself confesses that the line “bothered me for the longest time....” (Seger, Greatest Hits) But the line works beautifully in the recorded song, as a heartfelt, conversational, confessional aside. It worked so well, in fact, that Seger said “everyone I knew loved it,” and “it has since appeared in several hits by other artists.” (Seger, Greatest Hits)

Comparing Seger’s lyrics to Springsteen’s is a bit like comparing Hemingway’s prose to Faulkner’s: It takes a while to realize the degree of artistry required for words that seem so conversational, so much like everyday lines spoken by real people.

What makes Seger so rich for me is a combination of unsensational honesty and deeply felt emotion. Many of his best songs are retrospective, looking back in time and comparing the way things were with the way things are. “Night Moves,” for example, is a great example of Seger’s talents. The song starts with an honest recollection of sexual adventures while growing up. Seger admits, “I was a little too tall, could’ve used a few pounds.” He is also honest about the nature of his relationship with the girl that he is remembering.

We weren’t in love, oh no, far from it.
We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit.
We were just young, restless and bored....

Yet nothing in the lyrics sensationalizes the events. Nor is he callous or unfeeling about the girl or the time. He recalls, “She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes,” and remembers that he knew her “in the sweet summertime.”

Then the song makes a beautiful segue. Seger recalls, “We felt the lightning, and we waited on the thunder, waited on the thunder!” The music and Seger’s vocal rise to a crescendo that peaks on the second “thunder.” Then the music stops. The bass re-enters, repeating slow, isolated notes. Then Seger sings conversationally, quietly:

I awoke last night to the sound of thunder.
“How far off?” I sat and wondered.
Started humming a song from 1962.
Ain’t it funny how the night moves...
When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose?
Ain’t it funny how the night moves...
With autumn closing in.

With a beautiful visual image, supporting music, and a bare minimum of words, Seger perfectly captures this feeling of looking back on one’s youth, remembering the timeless feeling of being stuck somewhere between childhood and adulthood, yet now being aware that time is moving on, carrying him ever farther from that period of his life.

Ultimately, the most moving thing for me about Bob Seger is the way he tells a story without giving any impression of story-telling: that is, the way he conveys his innermost thoughts without embroidery, exaggeration, or any apparent awareness of an audience. The sensation is that the listener is being allowed to eavesdrop on the innermost thoughts of a man who has learned to be particularly honest with himself. It is a rare privilege, in art as in life.

Recommended CDs

Album Title: Greatest Hits

Original Release Date: 1994

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

This is a beautiful package. The songs are all great, cover a broad range of themes, and span the full sweep of Seger’s career up through 1994, when the compilation was originally issued. Lyrics, personnel listings, and some personal notes from Seger are included for each song. Photos of Seger and long-time band members, accompanied by their children, are included as well. The whole package, like Seger’s music, gives the impression that the listener is a trusted companion. This is a great place to start, and a package worth having even if you acquire a good collection of Seger’s other CDs.

 

Album Title: Beautiful Loser

Original Release Date: 1975

Rating: 3 Stars (Worthy)

Good collection of solid material, including the title track, “Nutbush City Limits,” “Katmandu,” “Jody Girl” and “Travelin’ Man.”

 

Album Title: Live Bullet

Original Release Date: 1976

Rating: 4 Stars (Recommended)

This was recorded at Seger’s first headlining appearance at a major hall in his hometown of Detroit, after years of playing in smaller venues. Seger and the Silver Bullet Band are in great form, have something to prove, and prove it beyond all reasonable doubt. This was originally a double album and has a generous collection of 14 tracks. Includes “Nutbush City Limits,” “Travelin’ Man,” “Beautiful Loser,” “Jody Girl,” “I’ve Been Working,” “Turn The Page,” “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” “Heavy Music,” “Katmandu,” “Get Out Of Denver” and “Let It Rock.”

 

Album Title: Night Moves

Original Release Date: 1976

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

A great album. Includes the title track, “Rock And Roll Never Forgets,” “The Fire Down Below” and “Mainstreet.”

 

Album Title: Stranger in Town

Original Release Date: 1978

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

This could well be Seger’s high water mark in terms of complete albums. Great songs, great music, great production, lots of variety, honest, heartfelt lyrics: this one has it all. Includes “Hollywood Nights,” “Still The Same,” “Old Time Rock & Roll,” “Till It Shines,” “Feel Like A Number,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Brave Strangers” and “The Famous Final Scene.”

 

Album Title: Against the Wind

Original Release Date: 1980

Rating: 4 Stars (Recommended)

Another solid effort with some great tracks. Seger got some help from the famed Muscle Shoals band on roughly half of the tracks, with the usual Silver Bullet Band pulling their weight on the rest. Includes the title track, “The Horizontal Bop,” “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” “Her Strut,” “Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight” and “Fire Lake.”

 

Album Title: Nine Tonight "Live"

Original Release Date: 1981

Rating: 3 Stars (Worthy)

This is another live album, containing great performances, 16 tracks, and most of his best-known songs released since Live Bullet.

 

Album Title: The Distance

Original Release Date: 1982

Rating: 4 Stars (Recommended)

Another solid performance. Includes “Roll Me Away.”

 

Album Title: Like A Rock

Original Release Date: 1986

Rating: 3 Stars (Worthy)

The title track has been over-exposed due to its use by Chevrolet in its commercials for years now, but it is still one of Seger’s best. The rest of the album is a little uninspired compared to previous efforts.

 

Album Title: The Fire Inside

Original Release Date: 1991

Rating: 3 Stars (Worthy)

The title track is the best-known song from this collection.

 

Album Title: It's A Mystery

Original Release Date: 1995

Rating: 3 Stars (Worthy)

This is Seger’s latest effort, and he seems to struggle a bit for subject matter that he can inject with the same emotional intensity as his earlier efforts.

 

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