Bob Seger’s other greatest hits

Bob Seger released a new greatest-hits record earlier this week. Most of “Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets” is songs from 1976 or later.

Those of us who dig Seger’s early work, recorded before he hit it big with Silver Bullet Band, are feeling a little left out. Yes, he did release some of those songs last year on “Early Seger, Vol. 1,” but that never made it into wide release. Many of the early songs we so dig weren’t among its 10 songs.

So with the help of some friends and fellow bloggers, here’s a greatest-hits compilation from the days when Bob Seger was a rock powerhouse largely known only to those of us in the Midwest.

“East Side Story,” Bob Seger and the Last Heard, from the Hideout 7-inch, 1966. Out of print.

Larry from Funky 16 Corners: The greatest moment from Seger’s garage punk years with the Last Heard, “East Side Story” was a fairly big regional hit. rising to the Top 10 in Detroit, Windsor, Ont., Cleveland and Columbus. Released locally on the Hideout label and picked up for national distribution by Cameo Parkway, the record is a hard-charging, fuzzed-out tale of street violence that rolls on a “Gloria”-esque riff, bongo drums and Seger’s impassioned vocals. Though it didn’t break nationally, the song was covered in the following year by bands in California (the Caretakers) and the UK (St Louis Union). Interestingly, Seger wrote the song for another local band, the Underdogs (who eventually recorded for Motown’s VIP subsidiary), and apparently dissatisfied with their version, recorded it himself.

“Heavy Music (Part 1),” Bob Seger and the Last Heard, from the Cameo Parkway 7-inch, 1967. Out of print.

By popular demand: Bruce from Some Velvet Blog thought this smoking, scorching single ought to be included. Larry digs it over at Funky 16 Corners, calling it “powerful soul-influenced garage.” Derek from Derek’s Daily 45 thought so much of it that he wrote: “(Seger’s) early Detroit singles are legendary and the stuff of wonder.” My only problem, then, is sorting through the three versions I have. There is “Heavy Music (Part 1),” the A side of the single; “Heavy Music (Part 2),” the B side (they’re slightly different versions); and the cut off the 1972 LP “Smokin’ O.P.’s,” which edits both sides of the single into something that’s not really as good as either side of the original. Part 1 it is.

“2 + 2 = ?” the Bob Seger System, from the Capitol 7-inch, 1968. Also on the “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” LP, 1969. Both out of print.

Terry A., friend of the blog: In the late ’60s, I was part of the anti-war movement in Indiana, but I wasn’t a peacenik. My relatives and my friends were being dragged into a war that didn’t make any sense. I remember Wayne Taylor, a senior who sat next to me in geometry. In spring, he was joking and cheating off of my homework. By late summer, his picture was in the Michigan City News-Dispatch, a Vietnam casualty. I think that’s why the Bob Seger System’s “2 + 2 = ?” appealed to me from the first listen. It was about Wayne and all those guys who were being whisked away to combat for no good reason (and if my draft number had been lower it would have been about me). It was a muscular, blue-collar song that appealed to confused kids from The Region.

“Noah,” the Bob Seger System, from “Noah,” 1969. Out of print.

JB from The Hits Just Keep On Comin’: “Noah,” Seger’s second album, might be the strangest item in his catalog, because it featured a second lead singer, Tom Neme. Stories vary on what happened. Either Seger’s longtime producer, Punch Andrews, brought Neme into the band, or Seger hired Neme. Reasons vary, too. Either Seger believed he couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time, or he’d had some sort of breakdown and wanted the help. Some sources claim Neme tried to take over as bandleader after that. Others, including Neme himself, say he was merely filling a void that Seger was unwilling, or unable, to fill. In any event, Seger briefly quit his own band shortly after “Noah” was released, but quickly returned to fire Neme and restore the natural order. The title song is one of four Seger wrote or co-wrote for the album. It briefly bubbled under the Hot 100 in September 1969, but deserved a better fate. In some alternate universe, it’s a concert encore with the audience singing along.

“Looking Back,” Bob Seger, from the Capitol 7-inch, 1971. Out of print.

Mark E., friend of the blog: Seger has been one of my favorites since I was in high school. One of my best friends first introduced me to his music in 1975 when “Live Bullet” was released. His parents lived in an A-frame house outside of town and on summer nights, we would hang out on the deck with other friends listening to “Live Bullet.” When I began my college radio career in 1977, I discovered other great music from Bob Seger. One of my faves was “Looking Back,” which never made it on a Seger album, except for the live version on “Live Bullet.” The single was a huge hit in Detroit. I just love that spooky organ intro … and those lyrics! They still hold true today!

“Love The One You’re With,” Bob Seger, from “Smokin’ O.P.’s,” 1972.

My selection: I was going to write about “Get Out Of Denver” off 1974’s “Seven” LP, but I’ve done that already. Besides, that’s one of the cuts on “Early Seger, Vol. 1.” Then I realized we had no selections from what has been my favorite Seger record ever since I found it at a record show in Minneapolis. So here’s a cover of the familiar Stephen Stills tune that has some nice Bo Diddley guitar and Hammond organ. After getting things revved up, Seger steps aside and leaves the lead vocals to Pam Todd and Crystal Jenkins. This is so good, you wonder why he didn’t do so more often. According to Scott Sparling’s fine Seger File website, Seger and his band mates (two of whom, drummer David Teegarden and keyboard player Skip Knape, were the one-hit wonders Teegarden and Van Winkle in 1970) had been together for about a year, but spent only about six weeks with backup singers Todd and Jenkins. I can’t think of too many other Seger tunes with female singers so prominently featured.

“Midnight Rider,” Bob Seger, from “Back in ’72,” 1973. The LP is out of print, but the song is available on “Early Seger, Vol. 1,” a 2010 release.

Whiteray from Echoes in the Wind: The track I’d insist on being included in this mythical anthology of Seger’s early work would be his take on Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” which was the opening track on “Back in ’72.” From the start of the thumping piano-and-drum introduction that leads into the nearly-spoken first verse, the listener knows that although the tale may have originated from somewhere near Macon, Georgia, this track is not some slice of languid Southern mythology. Right at that thumping start, Seger’s version of “Midnight Rider” rolls with the sound of a Rust Belt bar band, which is exactly where one would place the early Bob Seger. But then, as the second verse sounds, there’s a cluster of female background voices that sounds like it was pulled in from a 1967 Aretha session. Then follows a guitar solo that from its first shadings is coming unmistakably from the fretboard of J.J. Cale, and you begin to realize what Seger has done. He’s taken the power of Great Lakes rock and combined it with the soul and sass of Southern rock into a synthesis that’s lifted that mythical rider from the back roads and swamps of the South and placed him in a slowly decaying working-class neighborhood of the industrial Midwest. What matters most about Bob Seger’s version of “Midnight Rider” is that it kicks ass.

“So I Wrote You A Song,” Bob Seger, from “Back in ’72,” 1973. Out of print.

Rob from Popdose: When Seger sings a ballad — I mean really sings it, pushing that upper register a few dozen miles into the mesosphere — it can wobble buildings, give brave men chills, and make statues cry. Think “Somewhere Tonight,” the heartbreaking coda of “Like a Rock,” if you dare (batten down the hatches first).  That kind of balladry pretty much starts here, with a simple piano figure and a straightforward lyric about finding love. “I’m no longer alone,” he sings, “Think I’ve found me a home / And I think it’s real.” Were you or I to say something like that, we’d sound silly.  When Seger sings it, it sounds like a profound truth we are fortunate to hear, and lucky to understand.

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6 Comments

Filed under November 2011, Sounds

6 responses to “Bob Seger’s other greatest hits

  1. I really enjoyed your Bob Seger post. It was a FUN and informative read! Thanks for turning me on to some deep-cut Seger tracks! Good stuff!

  2. Great idea. (And some good choices from the other guys.) Thanks for letting me be a part of it!

  3. Pingback: More More More | The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

  4. Thanks for this! I’m a big Seger fan, and I’ve been hunting those old singles for a while now. Still looking for The Lonely One, TGIF, Ballad of the Yellow Beret, Persecution Smith, and Vagrant Winter. He’s talking about eventually releasing his entire catalogue on iTunes – wonder if he’ll ever get to these…

  5. Brilliant post, thanks for going to the trouble! I’ve only recently become aware of Seger’s earlier, pre-Live Bullet period (I’m not from MI). His enthusiastic leanings toward Wilson Pickett aside, his late 60s/early 70s period has been sadly underappreciated. It’s some blistering sh*t!

    Great blog. Best.

  6. Worth noting that “2+2=?” was the first overtly anti-war song released on a major, beating CCR’s “Fortunate Son” by several months.

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