Those who associate the Silver Bullet-era Seger with senior proms and tailgate parties of their youth will gulp down Early Seger: Volume 1 like so much spiked punch and PBR.
Strange to think back on the work of certain musical artists and consider how much they can be both a part of one’s teenage life, and yet have nothing to do with it at all. Bob Seger in his mid-to-late '70s heyday fronting the Silver Bullet Band, for this reporter, was one such artist.
Back then, like any number of adolescents, I was in a high school rock band. My role -- when not keeping band members from getting too swacked to practice, mediating arguments between the guitarists as to who should turn whose amp down, and trying to encourage doing covers as daring as cuts from Rock and Roll Animal -- was to stand still and croon, to the best of my teenage ability, songs like Bob Seger’s "Main Street" and others from his 1976 platinum breakout disc Night Moves.
For the most part, though, I didn’t relate to Seger or his brand of alpha-dog arena rock. It seemed too much like the soundtrack for people who had given up. Post-teens who led a wild youth, saw a proper adult life of blue collar/9-to-5 drudge rising to meet them, and resignedly gave over to it. People who bottled it up during the week and spent weekends doing their heads in at some bar, or someone else’s in the parking lot, only to dutifully clock in on Monday. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Bob Seger and his ilk was the palliative audio backdrop to weekend rebellion; the teenage me dreamed of more than a weekend’s worth of freedom. How could I relate, with neither car nor girlfriend and wanting a life beyond my boondock hometown? (This is probably why I’ve also never cared much for Springsteen.)
Thing is, Seger wasn’t always the guy for whom the Adult-Oriented Rock genre may well have been invented. Coming up in Detroit’s high-energy rock scene of the late '60s, his band the Bob Seger System spat out a consistent run of soul-tinged garage rock. The singles they cut (for Cameo-Parkway and later Capitol) made for a sublime barrage of suburban teenclub get-down: the melodrama of "East Side Story"; the intense antiwar-themed "2+2=?"; the self-explanatory "Heavy Music"; or "Rambling Gambling Man", with its tectonic thump and uberpunk lyrics like “I don’t care if you wanna put me down / You can have your funky world, see ya ‘round!”
Each one a Midwest AM radio monster, they made the System the envy of local upstarts like the MC5 (who weren't shy about aspiring to Seger’s level of regional fame). To pick up on this side of Seger years later, in the course of trawls through '60s nuggets and pebbles, was a minor revelation.
So I was jazzed to read that Seger’s own label, Hideout Records, was putting out a collection called Early Seger. Just as sadly, I have to report that, knowing what one knows, ultimately the title is a misnomer. The oldest tracks here date, in fact, from Seger’s transition to being a solo act during the early '70s, accompanied by four previously unreleased tracks primarily from the '80s. In addition, all the tracks have been either remixed or sport recently added overdubs.
It’s not necessarily a bad selection, as such. The disc kicks off with a competent, confident pair of covers, one being a funky gospelized take on the Allmans’ "Midnight Rider" from Seger’s Back In ‘72. Songs like "U.M.C.", and especially the motor-mouthed "Get Out of Denver" from 1974’s Seven LP (later covered by both Dave Edmunds and Eddie and the Hot Rods), provide evidence that Seger still had a premium of Motor City octane fueling his music. For contrast, there’s also a somber yet hopeful piano-and-strings ballad, "Someday" (from 1972’s Smokin O.P.’s), that foreshadows later Silver Bullet Band chestnuts like "Turn the Page".
The rest of this disc, though, is more indicative of the sound that made Seger a classic rock mainstay. Politely randy rockers ("Gets Ya Pumpin’") alternate with mildly emotional, countrified ballads ("Days When the Rains Would Come"), all as polished and well-constructed as the Chevy trucks that his "Like a Rock" would eventually serenade in TV commercials.
All told, those who associate the Silver Bullet-era Seger with senior proms and tailgate parties of their youth will gulp down Early Seger: Volume 1 like so much spiked punch and PBR. For fans of the wild, woolly Seger of his youth, however, this stuff is strictly O‘Doul’s.
And for those in disagreement with the above, may I genially but firmly invoke the man himself when I say to you: I don’t care if you want to put me down … you can have this funky disc.
See you around.