Rock Steady, July 21, 1983
Having just recently recorded parts of Bob Seger’s latest album, “The Distance,” some comments on one of rock’s elder statesmen are in order.
Seger emerged from the same Motor City millieu that gave us Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, the MC 5 and a bunch of lesser-known lights like SRC. His music reflects that heritage — it’s pretty basic rock and roll — and he’s known as one of the hardest-working performers; he tours a lot, and gives an energetic show.
Seger toiled in relative obscurity for years, plugging away at his music but only occasionally coming close to a hit record. “Ramblin’, Gamblin’ Man” was about all he had to show for about a decade’s worth of work.
Then he put out “Night Moves” late in the 70s, and turned his career around. The title song from that disc had a lot to say to listeners my age and older, besides being a well-written and catchy tune. The rest of the album was decent, too, one side backed by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the other by the Silver Bullet Band, Seger’s regulars.
Several albums, including “Against the Wind” and “The Distance,” have followed, and the latter made me realize something: although he writes some good tunes, and puts on a good show, ole’ Bob is doomed to being one of those middle-echelon rock stars.
That’s because, while he can rock it hard and write a good song now and again, Seger has basically three licks. Style Number One is the Night Moves Mode: a slower talking blues kind of style; “Main Street,” “Against the Wind” are in that vein, as is “No Man’s Land” off the “Wind” album and “Shame on the Moon” from the latest disc.
Style Number Two is the churning, driving sound of “Even Now” off “The Distance,” “Hollywood Nights” and others. Style Number Three is the rock-till-you-drop stuff of “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” “Sunspot Baby” and “Betty Lou is Gettin’ Out Tonight” and “Horizontal Bop.” Other than an occasional oddment, like “Her Strut,” most all of his songs fit under one or another of those headings.
This is not said to run Seger down; if you like “rock” music, he’s one of the few who still carries the torch. “The Distance” does show some slight crossover country tendencies, though, and maybe that’s what Bob needs to revive his creativity. (I don’t expect any duets with Dolly Parton or Crystal Gayle, though — and hope nothing like that takes place!) And regardless, he has written some lines, like in “Night Moves” and “Against the Wind,” that can move us more than a little.
The bottom line, I guess, is that those of us who have followed rock and pop music for the past couple decades or more realize that there have been some significant artists whose reputations will last. Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and others will be remembered for years to come because they explored many different themes and ideas in making their music.
Artists like Bob Seger will be cherished by a smaller group, for perhaps a shorter time, because they were faithful to a feeling. That’s all right; every army must have its enlisted men, as well as it