By Pete Williams
This is a blog about endurance sports in Florida, so it might seem an odd place to celebrate today’s 70th birthday of Bob Seger.
But Seger knows a few things about endurance and Florida and not just because he ran a 5:05 mile in high school. He spent much of his twenties trying to build a following outside of his native Michigan, touring endlessly before building some traction in the Sunshine State. He continued his marathon travels in the 1980s and marked his 50th year in music with a tour earlier this year with three stops in Florida.
Seger’s music resonated with me as a 10-year-old living in Richmond, Virginia in 1980. This was a transitional period in American music, right after disco and before the dominance of Michael Jackson and Madonna. So my formative years of music fandom could have gone in many directions.
Thankfully Seger was there on my FM dial with his bluesy-rock-country sound delivered in a high-testosterone voice that was warmer and rangier than contemporaries like Neil Young and John Fogerty. He was Springsteen before Springsteen, a gifted songwriter and blue-collar commentator. You could understand and sing along with his ballads and hard-charging songs about picking yourself up, learning from experience, dealing with regret, and forging ahead. Seger was just 35 in 1980, his best-selling album sales behind him, but his songwriting showed the wisdom of a much older man.
Like my all-time favorite athlete, Dale Murphy, Seger enjoyed his best years from 1976-1983 and made another strong push from 1986-87. Seger didn’t always make the best career decisions. He turned down both Woodstock and a chance to play halftime at the Super Bowl. His longtime manager Punch Andrews has made some puzzling moves over the release of his music on iTunes and elsewhere.
But Seger has remained true to his core values. He let himself go gray and heavier and embraced the old guy look. He became a father later in life and basically took a decade (1996-2006) off when his kids were little. At a time when many of his contemporaries rake in millions with endless touring, he’s hit the road sparingly over the last two decades.
For 35 years, he’s provided the soundtrack to my life and those of many others, something I was reminded of in February when I saw him in Fort Myers on what might have been his last tour. If so, it’s been a helluva ride, with so many memorable songs.
In honor of his 70th birthday today, here are my 70 favorite Bob Seger tunes.
(70) – Shakedown (Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack, 1987) – A very un-Seger sounding song but, like all Seger movie music, it fit perfectly with the film and the era. Given the man’s incredible body of work and how many of his songs appeared in movies, it’s odd that Shakedown is both his only No.1 hit and his only song nominated for an Academy Award. Even diehard Seger fans struggle to come up with that trivia answer.
(69) – The Horizontal Bop (Against the Wind, 1980) – One of Seger’s few cheeky double entendre songs – “Grass is good as carpet. Anyplace is fine” – it probably belongs higher, but we’ll stick it at 69.
(68) – Sock it to Me Santa (A Rock and Roll Christmas, 1995) – Not as awkward as the Bon Jovi “Back Door Santa” tune, but definitely an unusual offering from Seger. Still, it has its moments and always good to hear Seger in Christmas rotation, especially where “Little Drummer Boy” has been deemed too slow.
(67) – Blue Monday (Road House soundtrack, 1989) – Written by Dave Bartholomew and popularized by Fats Domino, Seger covers this well for the movie “Road House” starring Patrick Swayze at the height of the late actor’s chiseled, mullet-headed fame. Seger has contributed to a lot of great films. This isn’t one of them, but his Blue Monday is memorable.
(66) Wreck This Heart (Face the Promise, 2006) – Leadoff song on Seger’s first new album in a decade, it’s a catchy tune about dealing with pressure and finding the time for what’s important.
(65) East Side Story (1966) – One of Seger’s first singles, recorded with his band The Last Heard, it sounds a little ‘60s psychedelic, but the 21-year-old’s powerful voice resonates. Seger made his first TV appearance to perform this song on the show “Swingin’ Time” hosted by Robin Seymour.
(64) – Tightrope (Like a Rock, 1986) – Like Shakedown, a very un-Seger sound more reflective of the ‘80s than Seger’s career. But this song about drug culture is a powerful one. I was mesmerized as a 16-year-old watching Seger’s female backup singers on the American Storm tour gyrate on stage during this song. They sounded awesome, too.
(63) Downtown Train (Ultimate Hits, 2011) – Seger recorded this Tom Waits cover in 1989, but didn’t release it since Rod Stewart had just done his own version. Seger and Stewart have somewhat similar voices and Seger’s Downtown Train, included in his Ultimate Hits album in 2011, furthers that comparison.
(62) Lucifer (Mongrel, 1970) – You can hear the future Seger sound developing in this tune, released with his Bob Seger System band in the pre-Silver Bullet era. It peaked at No.80 on the charts, one of his first top 100 hits.
(61) Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey! (Going Back to Birmingham) (Ultimate Hits, 2011) – Seger covered this 1956 Little Richard song in 1989 in the same session that produced Blue Monday for the Road House soundtrack but didn’t release it until 2011. Seger gives it his own bluesy, rollicking twist.
(60) Heavy Music (1967) – Released as a single with The Last Heard, it later appeared on the popular Live Bullet album. Many thought it had sexual connotations – especially the many references to going deeper – but Seger maintained it was just a song about the power of music.
(59) – No Man’s Land (Against the Wind, 1980) – This was the B-side of the first 45 I ever purchased, the title track of the Against the Wind album. It’s a shame we no longer have 45s, which inspired us to examine under-the-radar songs we otherwise would have ignored. No Man’s Land, deep on the bench of a great album, is such a tune.
(58) Brave Strangers (Stranger in Town, 1978) – Overshadowed by megahits on perhaps Seger’s best-known album (though Against the Wind was his only No.1 disc), Brave Strangers is a signature Seger song of brief romance that starts slow before building to a crescendo.
(57) Little Victories (The Distance, 1982) – Seger said this song is “about those first couple of days after something falls apart, when you’re close to a bad, almost suicidal depression… That’s when you’re just determined, and you think, ‘How am I gonna get through this?’ Okay, I got up today, that’s a little victory.” Familiar Seger themes of picking yourself up and being stronger from the experience.
(56) Take a Chance (The Fire Inside, 1991) – Seger never has whiffed in the Silver Bullet era with the first song on an album and this cautionary tale about not being honest and genuine is no exception.
(55) East L.A. (1984) – B-side of the single Understanding recorded for the “Teachers” movie soundtrack, this is about living a low-key but satisfying existence in Tinseltown. “We’re just cross town, a couple million miles away.”
(54) Lookin’ Back (1971) – A non-album single about political conservatism, it later appeared on Seger’s Live Bullet album.
(53) Let it Rock (Nine Tonight, 1980) – Seger is one of many to cover Chuck Berry’s 1960 classic and it’s a strong tribute. This is one of four songs on the Nine Tonight album recorded on my 11th birthday at the Boston Garden. I wish I could have been there.
(52) The Fire Inside (The Fire Inside, 1991) – Title track of a disappointing album by Seger standards, it seemed like a stretch to include it later in the Greatest Hits collection, especially since Seger mentioned that he rewrote the original lyric many times. “I’ve never done that before or since.” Seger always does a great job with his first lyrics and this song has grown on me.
(51) Fortunate Son (Like a Rock, 1986) – Seger’s live version of the CCR tune is one of the best of the off-covered, anti-war anthem. Though recorded 17 years after the original, it still struck a chord.
(50) Wildfire (Early Seger Volume 1, 2009) – Recorded in 1985 and once considered for the title track of what became the Like a Rock album, it ended up on the cutting room floor. Seger dusted off this moving Roll Me Away-sound-a-like for his first Early Seger album, released in 2009.
(49) Can’t Hit the Corners No More (Unreleased, late ‘70s) – Springsteen has “Glory Days.” John Fogerty has “Centerfield.” It’s too bad Seger, a big Detroit Tigers fan, left this one off the Against the Wind album. It’s a quintessential Seger tune about getting older through the eyes of a pitcher. It was supposed to appear in the Tom Cruise/Paul Newman movie “The Color of Money” but didn’t make it. Oh well. Maybe it will end up in a boxed set some day.
(48) American Storm (Like a Rock, 1986) – It sounds like “Even Now,” the leadoff song of his previous album (The Distance). But this song might best showcase Seger’s howling, breathless range. I’m guessing he can’t hit some of these notes anymore. Then again, most of us have never touched cigarettes and can’t begin to sing along with this one. American Storm was a great name for a concert tour, and the 106-show voyage from 1986-87 was Seger’s last extended road trip.
(47) – Real Mean Bottle (Face the Promise, 2006) – Most memorable song from the only new album Seger released in an 18-year stretch (1996-2014), it pairs Seger with friend and fellow Michigan native Kid Rock.
(46) Miami (Like a Rock, 1986) Once used in an episode of “Miami Vice” at the height of that show’s popularity, it’s a vivid, haunting song where Seger voices concern about the treatment of Cuban refugees.
(45) – Detroit Made (Ride Out, 2014) – Faster cover of a track written by John Hiatt, another gifted songwriter, who opened for Seger on his 1996 “It’s a Mystery” tour.
(44) – The Fire Down Below (Night Moves, 1976) – Somewhat overlooked on Seger’s breakout studio album, this tale about prostitution – later covered by Bette Midler and Tina Turner – showcases Seger’s songwriting talents.
(43) Betty Lou’s Getting’ Out Tonight (Against the Wind, 1980) – Fast-paced, funky tune used during encores on several concert tours, its lyrics have always puzzled me. Is Betty Lou getting out of jail? Rehab? House arrest? Being grounded?
(42) Good for Me (Against the Wind, 1980) – Overshadowed on an album full of signature Seger ballads, this song is a typical Seger reflection showing respect, admiration and bewilderment over women. “She’s no good at being phony. She never tells a good lie.”
(41) Makin’ Thunderbirds (The Distance, 1982) – You’d think Ford would have contacted Seger to use this song about the heyday of its ’55 Thunderbird and the Detroit auto industry, inspired by Seger’s three-week stint working at Ford as a young man. Instead it was Chevy that came along after the 1986 Like a Rock album and built a memorable campaign.
(40) I Can’t Save You Angelene (It’s a Mystery, 1996) – One of Seger’s more unique sounding songs, with lots of piano and a slow but powerful beat.
(39) Nine Tonight (Nine Tonight, 1980) – Another hard-charging song, it was supposed to be on the Against the Wind album but ended up the title track of a live album shortly thereafter. Interesting Seger trivia: It’s the first of many Seger songs to appear in movie soundtracks (John Travolta’s 1980 “Urban Cowboy,” which includes a who’s who of talent, including Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, Kenny Rogers, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, and The Charlie Daniels Band.)
(38) Nutbush City Limits (Beautiful Loser, 1975) – Cover of Tina Turner hit about her rural Tennessee hometown, Seger kicked off many ‘70s concerts with this upbeat tune, most famously for the Live Bullet album. Interesting trivia: Nutbush does not have city limits.
(37) Ain’t Got No Money (Stranger in Town, 1978) – I’ve always liked that Seger rarely uses improper grammar unless it makes an impact – i.e. “today’s music ain’t got the same soul.” This song was written by Scottish rocker Frankie Miller, who Seger cited as an influence in 1978. The opening lyrics of this song sound like something Seger might have written: “Well I’m looking for a woman about five foot six, who ain’t into glamour, she’s just into kicks.”
(36) Railroad Days (Brand New Morning, 1971) – Beautiful acoustic song, just Seger and his guitar. It’s about the glory days of youth and touches upon some of his interests (trains, baseball). The song, like the album, is only available in vinyl.
(35) The Ring (Like a Rock, 1986) – Another classic Seger ballad about lost hopes and dreams. “Now twenty years have gone. And her kids have moved on. And she’s still on the far end of town.”
(34) Comin’ Home (The Distance, 1982) – One of Seger’s longest (6:08), slowest, and most downtrodden songs, it’s about returning home after struggling to make it in the big city. “Lots of dreams that all went wrong. You’ll just tell them what they want to hear. How you took the place by storm. You won’t tell them how you lost it all. You’ll just say you’re comin’ home.”
(33) Manhattan (It’s a Mystery, 1996) – Seger didn’t write this one, but he’s the right voice for this dark song about the New York drug culture.
(32) Satisfied (Greatest Hits 2, 2003) – What a versatile tune. It’s a beautiful love song with a rhythm that makes it sound like it belongs in a strip club. Usually when an artist tacks a couple of previously unreleased tunes to a Greatest Hits album, it seems like a reach. This one sounds like signature Seger. “All of the others, just stood around and lied. If I had you, babe, I’d be satisfied.”
(31) Come to Poppa (Night Moves, 1976) – Seger didn’t write this one – Earl Randle and Willie Mitchell did – but he puts his bluesy-rock stamp on it. Maybe Seger’s most high-testosterone song, it too sounds like it belongs in a strip club, though maybe as part of a male review.
(30) It’s You (Like a Rock, 1986) – Maybe Seger’s most underrated love song, another beautiful ballad of enduring love. “I don’t really claim to understand it. I just know the way you make me feel. No one has to tell me I’m a lucky man. No one has to tell me that it’s real.”
(29) Fire Lake (Against the Wind, 1980) – Another slow, powerful ballad on an album full of them, this song seems to go perfectly with Jim Warren’s album cover art of horses running through the surf. If it sounds a bit like an Eagles tune, that’s because Glen Frey, Don Henley, and Timothy B. Schmit provided backing harmony vocals.
(28) Sunspot Baby (Night Moves, 1976) – Seger had two brief early marriages and you get the impression he met some interesting women along the way before getting married for a third time and having kids later in life. This song, like many Seger tunes, starts off strong. Like a novelist or journalist, you can tell the guy works hard on his leads: “She packed up her bags and she took off down the road. Left me here stranded with the bills she owed.”
(27) Get Out of Denver (Seven, 1974) – Oft-covered, most successful track from the underrated Seven album, the first with the Silver Bullet Band, it helped bring Seger out of obscurity as he approached 30 and had a successful tour as the opening act for KISS. (I was only 4 when this tour took place. Can someone put a 2016 KISS/Bob Seger tour together? Tell me this wouldn’t be huge!) I saw Seger perform this song in Denver on Valentine’s Day on the 2007 Face the Promise tour. He hadn’t played it often but he introduced it with, “Well, you know I’ve gotta play this here!”
(26) Even Now (The Distance, 1982) – Another Seger song that captures the uneasiness of growing older. Perhaps appropriately, The Distance was the last album by a major American recording artist to be released on 8-track. Seger requested it knowing many of his fans still listened to the format. As someone who drove a 1977 Pontiac station wagon with an 8-track deck through high school graduation (1987), I appreciated the gesture, buying old Seger 8-tracks in thrift stores.
(25) Little Drummer Boy (A Very Special Christmas, 1987) – So many rock versions of Christmas classics seem tailor-made for holiday movie trailers. Seger’s beautiful rendition of this song, which features Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren helping out the Silver Bullet Band, is low-key but powerful.
(24) – We’ve Got Tonight (Stranger in Town, 1978) – Seger has marveled at how so many couples have told him they chose this as their wedding song. It’s about a one-night stand.
(23) – Her Strut (Against the Wind, 1980) – Nobody can underestimate the impact of the 1960s-70s Jane Fonda, no matter how polarizing her political views. This aggressive guitar number, released several years before ol’ Barbarella became a fitness icon, captures her perfectly. “In spite of all her talking. Once she starts in walking. The lady will be all they ever dreamed.”
(22) – Shame on the Moon (The Distance, 1982) – This slow Rodney Crowell cover, for which Seger earned a Grammy nomination, makes me feel like I should be riding horseback single file through a mountain pass. I’d hum this while traveling through Europe by train after high school graduation playing endless games of Spades with my buddies as I tried to “shoot the moon.”
(21) – Katmandu (Beautiful Loser, 1975) – Ca-ca-ca-ca-catchy tune with a great backstory. Seger would look at National Geographic as a young boy and was fascinated by far-off, exotic places. In the early 1990s he visited Nepal for the first time and then-King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah asked him what inspired him to write the song. Just another example of amazing songwriting. “ I got no kick against the west coast. Warner brothers are such good hosts. I raise my whiskey glass and give them a toast.” Great stuff.
(20) Rock & Roll Never Forgets (1976) – Another powerful retrospective, wisdom-of-age song, this has appeared in a couple of recent movie trailers and has served as Seger’s final concert encore for more than 20 years. “So now sweet sixteen’s turned thirty-one. You get to feelin’ weary when the work day’s done.” Seger was 31 when that song came out and already showed a lot of wisdom. A perfect Seger-in-microcosm song. No wonder it’s the title of his “Ultimate Hits” album released in 2011.
(19) Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man (1968) – Everyone has a song from childhood that inspired them to lock the bedroom door and lip sync repeatedly, pretending to be a rock star. This was recorded before I was born, but it was that song for me. Set the tone for Seger’s muscular lyrics that appear in so many of his later tunes: “And I was just thirteen when I had to leave home. Knew I couldn’t stick around, had to roam. Ain’t good lookin’, but you know I ain’t shy. Ain’t afraid to look a girl in the eye.”
(18) – Mainstreet (Night Moves, 1976) – Another great single from the Night Moves album, Seger wrote it about a pool hall in his native Ann Arbor. Features some of the best sax work by Alto Reed, the longtime Silver Bullet showman with the most fitting stage name ever.
(17) Hollywood Nights (Stranger in Town, 1978) If you haven’t driven 90-plus on the freeways around Los Angeles late at night with this blaring, preferably after just getting into town and enduring one of those only-in-L.A. experiences, add this to your music device for the next visit.
(16) You’ll Accompany Me (Against the Wind, 1980) “A gypsy wind is blowing warm tonight. The sky is starlit and the time is right. And still you’re tellin’ me you have to go. Before you leave there’s something you should know.” That’s just the first 33 words of the song. Why can’t anyone write like this anymore?
(15) Night Moves (Night Moves, 1976) – In high school, I had a teacher give us a week to memorize a lengthy song or poem and present it to class. The only catch? We couldn’t miss a word. One guy didn’t wait a week, standing right up and delivering Night Moves, already a decade old at that point. The tune includes some of the more offbeat Seger phrases – tight pants points, trusty woods, etc. – and makes me regret never learning to play the guitar.
(14) Roll Me Away (The Distance, 1982) – This makes me want to go out and buy a Harley. My buddy Jonny Simpkins helped me appreciate it more by quoting it on Facebook for a week before heading out cross-county on his bike last year. It’s Seger at his best, changing speeds like a pitcher between ballad and up tempo until it reaches a crescendo, hitting all the Seger themes of life on the road, brief romance, and picking yourself up. “Stood alone on a mountain top starin’ out at the Great Divide, I could go east I could go west it was all up to me to decide.” This song seems to have risen in stature over the years as Seger has opened concerts with it for two decades – deservedly so.
(13) The Real Love (The Fire Inside, 1991) – One of Seger’s best straight-up love songs, this highlighted one of his least successful albums. “I long to see you in the morning son. Everyday – everyday.” Probably the highest ranking this song will get by any Seger fan, but I’m placing it here since it served as such perfect intro music for our wedding video, which did not include “We’ve Got Tonight.”
(11-12) Travelin’ Man/Beautiful Loser (Beautiful Loser, 1975; Live Bullet, 1976) – Technically two songs, but often performed live and recorded together, most memorably on Sept. 4-5, 1975 for the Live Bullet album released the following April. This pairing is a pretty good summary of Seger’s work between the haunting ballad of Beautiful Loser and the upbeat but retrospective Travelin’ Man.
(10) – Tryin’ to Live My Life without You (Nine Tonight, 1981) – This sounds like it should be a Seger song between its opening lyrics about smoking five packs of cigarettes a day and theme of enduring love. But it’s actually a Eugene Williams cover that pays tribute to the Memphis horn style. There’s a great story about how Seger recorded this (memorably live at the Boston Garden on Oct. 6, 1980) to poke fun at his friends Glenn Frey and Don Henley for ripping off Williams’ opening notes for The Eagles song “The Long Run.”
(9) – Lock and Load (It’s a Mystery, 1996) – Underrated, hard-driving song about getting over regret and getting off your ass. “Mediocrity is easy, the good things take time, the great need commitment – right down the line.” Seger, who became a first-time father later in life, recorded this album around his 50th birthday and pretty much took the next decade off to spend time with his young kids. Pretty cool.
(8) Still the Same (Stranger in Town, 1978) – Seger wrote this about the Type A characters he met upon moving to Hollywood. There’s a great mid-80s interview between Seger and Bob Costas (available on YouTube) where Costas talks about how this song resonated with him because of his father’s gambling addiction.
(7) Chances Are (Hope Floats soundtrack, 1998) – Beautiful duet with Martina McBride that highlighted film starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. You could fill an album with Seger movie music, both original and adapted. Seger’s music has long benefitted from powerful voices of female backup singers, most notably Shaun Murphy, Marcy Levy, and Laura Creamer.
(6) Like a Rock (Like a Rock, 1986) – If you watched televised sports from 1991-2004, you listened to this song thousands of times in Chevy truck commercials. And you know what? It never got old. Name another tune that carried an ad campaign for more than a decade. Heck, name another ad campaign that lasted 10 years. Another of Seger’s great reflections-on-getting-old tunes; he wrote this around his 40th birthday. “Twenty years, where’d they go? Twenty years, I don’t know. I sit and I wonder sometimes, where they’ve gone.”
(5) Feel Like a Number (Stranger in Town, 1978) – Though written long before robo calls and customer service numbers that take you to India, this high-adrenaline tune that showcases Seger’s songwriting chops still resonates today. “I took my card and I stand in line, to make a buck I work overtime, Dear Sir letters keep coming in the mail…To teachers, I’m just another child. The IRS, I’m another file.” As with “Hollywood Nights,” I always find myself driving really fast on the highway whenever I’m in the car and this song is on the air.
(4) Old Time Rock N Roll (Stranger in Town, 1978) – Perhaps the most played song of the jukebox era, made famous by Tom Cruise’s tighty whitey breakout role in “Risky Business” in 1983. Not even endless wedding reception play could ruin this anti-disco tune, released at the peak of the Bee Gees and The Village People.
(3) Understanding (Teachers soundtrack, 1984) – Somewhat unnoticed until it appeared on Seger’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 in 2003. Written for the underrated movie “Teachers” starring a deep ‘80s cast of Nick Nolte, Judd Hirsch, Laura Dern, Ralph Macchio, Morgan Freeman and others, it’s another great Seger retrospective tune that also hit the message of the movie perfectly. “It always seemed like no one cared. Then you took the time. And now everything seems clear.”
(2) Turn the Page (Back in ’72, 1973) – Haunting classic from 1972 about life on the road, highlighted by the signature sax of Alto Reed. Later covered by Metallica and also the inspiration for Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive. Among Seger’s oldest and most critically acclaimed hits, one of the great concert sing-a-long tunes of all time, Turn the Page has stood the test of time.
(1) Against the Wind (Against the Wind, 1980) – Title track of an album featuring cover art by Jim Warren. It’s the best of Seger’s wish-I-knew-now-looking-back ballads, though written when he was only 34. Used appropriately in “Forrest Gump” as Forrest ends his three-year running saga after Jenny breaks his heart. This was the first 45 record I bought and I’ve owned it in LP, cassette, 8-Track, CD and digital download. Not sure why it grabbed the attention of a 10-year-old with his first stereo in Richmond, Virginia, but it continues to resonate with me. About 10 years ago, I found an oversized 1980s-era record store poster of the album cover on eBay and later traded it to Warren – who had a studio near me – for one of his prints. Seger brought Against the Wind full circle by putting the Arizona desert scene from Forrest Gump on the cover of his latest album, Ride Out.