From the Record Crate: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves (1976)

night-moves

Growing up a small area of Michigan, it’s easy to feel like you’re cut off from culture. Personally, I lived in the Upper Peninsula for 11 years, rarely seeing concerts and feeling isolated from music and art.

Once my interest in music got to the point where I began researching heavily, I began to discover Michigan’s importance in musical history. Obviously, there’s Motown, but also Funkadelic, early punk acts MC5 and The Stooges, and major modern artists like Eminem and The White Stripes. And beyond the obvious stuff, Michigan also gave us smaller local hits like Gino Washington’s “Gino is a Coward,” one of the best and most underrated songs of the 1960s.

Bob Seger is a difficult artist to define, at least if you know the full story, but he falls somewhere in between all of those artists: a local success in Detroit who slowly built a national audience over the course a decade before blowing up, and who ultimately became defined by his weakest hits. Seger’s early work was a critical success, largely due to the Detroit-based Creem Magazine. To this day, critics continue to hold Seger’s early work in high regard. On his 2010 Pazz & Jop ballot, music critic Chuck Eddy named the fan-made compilation Never Mind the Bullets, Here’s Early Bob Seger as his favorite album of the year.

Indeed, Seger’s early work is essential, and if you haven’t heard songs like the top 20 hit “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and the anti-war masterpiece “2 + 2 = ?” (the latter an influence on Seger fan Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army” riff), you should get on that. But today is the 40th anniversary of Seger’s 1976 release Night Moves, an album that was somehow both his best album and the beginning of his artistic downfall.

Night Moves came two years before Stranger in Town, which featured Seger’s signature song “Old Time Rock and Roll.” For years, I avoided acknowledging Seger as a great artist because of that song, along with the Chevrolet-ad favorite “Like a Rock.” “Old Time Rock and Roll” is a smug, conservative love letter to an earlier time that manages to weave anti-disco sentiments and “American Pie”-esque hypocrisy into the mix.

Even worse, the song is irrelevant, since Night Moves opened with “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” a song that essentially has the same message, but delivered in a better, less self-important tone. It shifts the perspective to third-person, seemingly bringing The Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll” a few decades into the future. The same girl whose life was saved by rock and roll is now “a little bit older, a lot less bolder than you used to be.” But, as the title says, the music never forgets.

The rest of Night Moves follows suit. It’s no less traditional than the records Seger would release later, but it handles its subjects well. “The Fire Down Below” initially seems like a same-old take on prostitution, but by giving the women names while keeping the men nameless, he manages to craft a song about exploitation and abuse that’s unique in its empathy.

The album is consistent, but it’s also overshadowed by two masterpieces, the title cut and “Mainstreet.” Both songs made it to the top 40, with “Night Moves” making it all the way to #4. Since “Night Moves” was written at an A&W in Ypsilanti, where I’ve lived for the past four years, and “Mainstreet” details Ann Street in Ann Arbor, I’ve grown even more connected to these songs in recent years than I was previously. The beauty in “Mainstreet,” driven by its guitar hook, is still a perfect summation of a night in Ann Arbor, while “Night Moves” evokes Michigan without ever tying itself to it specifically.

“Night Moves” remains the best song Seger has ever written, demonstrating tremendous self-awareness about the same nostalgia that made “Old Time Rock and Roll” so unbearable. It details Seger’s fling with a girl in his teenage years. “I used her, she used me/But neither one cared/We were getting our share,” he sings, making the relationship sound painful. Then comes a bridge that, despite being ridiculously cut from the radio edit, gives the song its meaning. The singer wakes up in the middle of the night, hums a song from 1962, and thinks about his past, ending on “Ain’t it funny how you remember?” Indeed, it’s funny, not to mention tragic, to hold onto the memory of desperate teenage fucking as a high point in your life.

The nearly flawless first side closes with “Sunburst,” a minor classic, before getting into a more flawed second half. “Sunspot Baby” and “Ship of Fools” are solid filler, while the album hits its weak point with “Come to Poppa,” a song that’s somehow grosser than the title suggests (the word “satisfier” is rhymed with “pacifier,” making the “poppa” concept too literal for comfort). The song nevertheless survives due to its chugging riff.

“Mary Lou” closes Night Moves on an underwhelming note. A widely covered ‘50s tune, the song’s lyrics are typical enough in their gender politics and rhyme schemes to make covering it pointless without a unique musical take, which Seger unfortunately doesn’t have.

Despite these two weak cuts, Night Moves remains the best studio LP of Seger’s career, a tribute to the music of his youth that is musically diverse and thoughtful about his sentimentalizing. Forty years later, it’s still a strong example of how to pay tribute to the music you love without the air of superiority.

Matt is 23 years old, and lives in Ypsilanti, MI. He recently graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a double-major in Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies. He is a pop culture geek, obsessively consuming music, film, and T.V. Since he was 16, he has wanted to be a cultural critic, and he spends most of his free time listening to music, watching films, researching, and writing. Tumblr: http://memorize-your-lines.tumblr.com/
  • Just My Opinion

    This is crap. That’s the best way I can put it. Uninformed crap from a 22 year old who hasn’t lived long enough to understand and appreciate Bob Seger.
    As someone who was there in the beginning, as someone who watched Seger go from local ( playing Aquinas H.S.) to regional status, to hitting the big time, I can say his work only improved. In the early days Bob often gave uneven poor performances with his bands, The Last Herd, and The Seger System, He just wasn’t good live in those days. It wasn’t until he formed The Silver Bullet Band did he become such a great live act. The songs he has taken the time to disparage are all rock standards.

    It doesn’t matter, I’m probably the only person who read it anyway.

    • postimo

      Yeah you’re absolutely correct.

    • bluzrider

      Nope, I read it also, and I agree with you. How does a snot nose kid get the idea, that he has any insight about who Bob Seger is?

      • Just My Opinion

        You have to cut him some slack, probably his first writing gig and he’s trying to rile up the older Seger fans. The fact of the matter and real music critics will agree, Seger’s work got better and better as he matured. Although I love his very early stuff ( “Lucifer” is my favorite) it was rough and not on par with his later music.
        That said, I’m grateful Bob is still around and putting on fantastic shows.

    • Hi guys, I’m Ryan Gibbs, the music editor for The Young Folks.

      You’re going a bit too far in here with dismissing Matt exclusively for his age. I don’t understand why you think that disqualifies him from writing about this album, one he personally enjoys, no less. The Young Folks’ target demographic is teenagers and young adults, and the From the Record Crate series is intended to introduce records like “Night Moves” to that demographic.

      You can read our comments policy here: http://theyoungfolks.com/review-policy/general-comment-policy

      • Just My Opinion

        My comment had more to do with the writers cynical view of Seger and “Night Moves”, than his age. There are many fine writers that are under 25. I also understand it’s a different world today and Seger’s nostalgic take on his younger years may not appeal to todays youth.
        This may be corny and will give our young writer a laugh, but I’m going to quote one of Bob’s early songs, “Back in 72”.
        “…it was so hip to be negative, so square to try and believe….”

        Keep on writing Matt, and F what anyone says.

      • Just My Opinion

        I didn’t realize this was teen age driven. I won’t comment and will never read anything on this site again.