I grew up in the Midwest, the breadbasket of the US. In those days, one name was synonymous with rock and roll and that was Bob Seger. He was bigger than US Steel in the Midwest. I think they coined the term “heartland rocker” for Bob Seger. He was to the Midwest what Springsteen was to the East coast back then. Of course Springsteen went on to be bigger than anybody. I love what I heard Dylan say about the two of them one day on Theme Time Radio Hour: “They say Seger is a poor man’s Springsteen but I think Springsteen is a rich man’s Bob Seger.” My friend Jeff, Nancy’s brother, who I like to call Dr Rock, always likes to remind me that he thinks Springsteen ruined Seger with a lot of bad advice, which I think is spurious. As usual, I think I’ve digressed here… Suffice it to say, Seger’s music was ubiquitous when I was young. Listening to Seger was like saying the Pledge of Allegiance, it was something you did every day before school.
Most people, when they think of Seger, think of his albums released between his two great, great live albums “Live Bullet” and “Nine Tonight.” What they don’t realize is that the albums, “Night Moves,” “Stranger In Town” and “Against The Wind” are really actually late period Seger. Well, I guess now they’re mid-period Seger, but I don’t want to get lost in the details. Seger really hit it big when “Live Bullet” came along. I don’t think anybody did the math and realized that those songs on “Live Bullet” had to come from somewhere. Most people were unaware that Seger had eight albums out before he got big. I don’t know if the guy just had bad luck, shitty support from his record label or bad producers but he never got a break. His first studio album to really have an impact was “Night Moves.” Prior to that he wasn’t very well known outside of his native Michigan, which is a shame.
We live in an era now where most artists’ back catalogs are curated with more care than the art held at the Louvre. There are giant, deluxe box sets of unreleased material. There are constant re-releases of remixed versions of our favorite albums. The Stones remaster their records almost every year in what I believe is a marketing ploy. Zeppelin just issued yet another series of remasters with unreleased material on each studio album they released in their heyday. Many artists are doing this with an eye toward their place in history. Some artists, including the aforementioned Springsteen, have done box sets consisting of remasters of their original albums only, no bonus material, just the old records in a new package. “Oh well, I guess I’ll be buying “The White Album” again…” At the very least you see the old albums “remastered for iTunes.”
The one notable exception – and this is where the conspiracy theory comes in – is Bob Seger. Not only can you not find his first eight albums, you can’t even buy his biggest albums on iTunes. He’s released his two must-have live albums on iTunes and a couple of greatest hits packages but not his actual albums. He did release the curious “Early Seger Vol. 1” which was great but it sort of leaves you wanting “Vol 2” which is nowhere in sight. You can still buy his late period records on CD but not on iTunes? You can’t find his early records on CD either? WTF is going on here? Who’s responsible? I suspect some sort of arch villain has the master tapes locked in a vault, guarded by a giant octopus. As usual, I suspect the corporate thugs at Capitol Records, his record label for all these years, are behind this somehow. There must be something I’m missing here. There is some rumor that Seger just doesn’t care about his back catalog or he thinks those records are substandard, probably because the listening public was too daft not to buy them by the millions. Some of the production was substandard but there are records missing that are screaming for release.
At a bare minimum Seger, or somebody, needs to see to the remastering and release of these following records… If you can find these on vinyl in a used record store, do yourself a favor and buy them. They may be scratched or have more pops and hisses than the bacon grille down at the local Waffle House, but they are not only worth it, they are all we have until someone, for the love of God, releases these albums properly:
- “Ramblin Gamblin Man” 1968 – this was Seger’s first release. It’s under the name “The Bob Seger System.” The title track was the only really big hit. It’s a part of his live set to this day… The world needs the Bob Seger System, people.
- “Mongrel” 1970 – I have a copy of this, and it’s in pretty bad shape, but it rocks in a “rawks” kinda way. Seger howls the vocals. He even does a cover of “Mountain High, River Deep.” This is just a super, overlooked album.
- “Smokin O.P.’s” 1972 – I’m not usually a fan of covers albums (the title supposedly means smoking other people’s songs) but this is a great set of tunes. I really like his versions of “Bo Diddley” and “Love The One Your With.” His version of “Let It Rock” the ol’ Chuck Berry chestnut was his encore, show ender for years.
- “Back In ’72” 1973 – There’s a moment on “Live Bullet” before (I think) “Turn the Page” where Seger says to the crowd, “this is from back in ’72.” I always thought he was merely referring to the year the song was released. I had no idea this album even existed. It’s the pick of the litter here. There is not a bad moment on this album. He even covers “Love the One Your With,” a ballsy move in those days. How this album didn’t make it big is a mystery to me. Seger has to put this album back out.
- “Seven” 1974 – Seger’s creatively named seventh album… This album doesn’t have any hits but it’s also one of my personal favorites. The original version of “Get Out of Denver” which is so wonderfully performed on “Live Bullet” is on this record. It’s simply the best Chuck Berry song not by Chuck Berry out there… with all due respect to the Stones, who have been doing Chuck for years.
- “Beautiful Loser” 1975 – This album is the one right before “Live Bullet” and had the biggest impact on that live record. This is another sensational album that I defy you to find a copy of.
The only early Seger album I’d warn you away from is “Noah.” Seger didn’t even do much singing on that record. There were rumors of depression and of course the famous false rumor of him having throat cancer. The guy just dropped out of the band for a while folks. Anyway, I beseech the powers that be, whoever is holding up the release of these albums and his more popular records on at least iTunes, please put this music out. I’m not usually a “second shooter on the grassy knoll” type of guy but this ranks up there with Amelia Earhart’s disappearance in terms of world mysteries for me…
Look for these records in your local used vinyl store and rock out people.