May 042011
 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I’m finally ready. Ready to take a bold stand in shallow waters. Ready to ask for a massive critical upgrade for Bob Seger‘s “Night Moves.” This song — this grossly overplayed FM rock radio staple, this iconic coming-of-age saga, sung by Rock Town Hall’s gravel-throated patron saint of unintentional Rock mediocrity, Bob Seger — people, this song is Great!

I ain’t lying, and I ain’t crazy. The length of my years has taught me to open my eyes and ears to many things I sneered at as an ignorant youngster: funk music, lefty politics, agnosticism, and now this. And why not? Can you find any real, substantive flaw in this song? More to the point: can you name a song that covers the same lyrical ground better?

Let’s pause for a moment and consider just how hard it must be to write a song that involves wheat fields, Chevys, and young love. I point you in the direction of the collected works of John Cougar Mellencamp to see how not to do this. But Seger’s “Night Moves” is different.

There are so many — oh, how do I say it — moments in this song that just don’t sound like utter bullshit, when they otherwise totally should. You’ll find a few in the first half of the song: “we were just young and restless and bored”; “out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy” — Alex Chilton, eat your heart out!

Then, we grow up: “I woke last night to the sound of thunder. How far off, I sat and wondered.” Ow! Seeg, you got me again! This is followed by one of those minor miracles in performance that turn into private “wait for it” moments — the way dude sings the next line: “starting hummin’ a song from nineteen sixty two…” when the song comes full circle, eventually blossoming into one of Rock’s great everymanworkingbloke outchoruses — “workin’ and practicin’.”. Just workin’ and practicin’. Isn’t that all we ever do?

Come on, people — we make a lot of good-natured fun of Bob Seger ’round these parts. Can I at least get an “amen” on the Greatness of his “Night Moves”?

HVB

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  63 Responses to “I’m Totally Serious: I Love Bob Seger’s “Night Moves””

  1. Didn’t you just get married less than a year ago? And now you come clean with this? Talk about a bait and switch! This is the kind of info you should have disclosed long ago so that your bride could have made an informed decision. Uncool, man…

  2. When it comes to “working class” arena rock, I’ll pretty much take Bob Seger over Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp any day. Bob was a better singer than Bruce (yes, really!), he was less pretentious, and he seemed to have an authenticity that the others lacked. However, he grew soft after Stranger In Town and there will forever be a huge black mark on his permanent record for the execrable, horrible “Old Time Rock and Roll”.

  3. Laying the groundwork for a cliché does take some talent.

  4. I’m behind you, HVB. “Night Moves” and – I know this verges heavily into the sap – “Running Against the Wind” – work for me. They’ve got a solid soul basis that works within the Classic Rock model. “Night Moves” isn’t forced, which is remarkable, because it’s the kind of song a lot of artists would want to force down their audience’s throat. Imagine the pomposity The Boss would apply to that number.

    “Workin’ and practicin'” is one of my favorite responses when an old friend like Andyr or Sethro ask me “What’s up?”

  5. hrrundivbakshi

    Tonyola, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’d go further to say that — in general — Bob Seger really is the most mediocre figure in the history of rock and roll. Bad Company is definitely worse. But he has flashes of brilliance — and, of course (beating thew nerds to the punch) his super-early singles are pretty awesome in a garage kind of way. But this song is a stone classic.

  6. hrrundivbakshi

    Hank Fan, I know that coming from you, those words mean something. Hank himself may have been the greatest single cliche’ bricklayer ever — and that’s almost always a very good thing!

  7. Leaving aside the fact that Chilton would never have had the slightest interest in saying hokey shit about cornfields, so that his songs are vastly superior, I’m with you in liking this song. For me it comes from the tail end of anything worthwhile by Seger, and predates a bit his most unbearable phase. I think it’s as good as the best Eagles songs, although I also think it’s his Eagles moment; in fact its point of view is more theirs than his, given the whole arc of his career.

    Running Against The Wind though: sucks, because the cliches override the not terrible soul elements.

  8. shawnkilroy

    amen

  9. How about this: “Night Moves” fulfills the promise of “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay” – or at least runs the course of what Otis Redding and Steve Cropper set out to accomplish with that song.

  10. Bakshi, I remember when Bob won our RTH vote/discussion of Most Mediocre rock and roll musician–and that vote and its results is a story that works well at parties when conversation is flagging.

  11. Seger’s early singles like “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and “Lucifer” were quite decent radio fodder in the late ’60s. But his best and most astonishing early single was the gutsy, powerful anti-war song “2+2=?” that actually got some AM airplay in 1968. There’s no question that Bob ended up being mediocre but he started off as a contender.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=487t88pz-2Y

  12. I don’t know about that, Mod…..
    Does anyone remember a black & white film set to this song that was shown on SNL back when this was new? I think it was one of those “Schiller’s Reel” things, but I could have that wrong; very much a music video, just a little more artfully executed. I’ll admit, I always liked this song, and another slower one off that album, if I remember correctly, “Down On Main Street” (kind of a watered down Tom Waits-type of thing, but I still like it – had a memorable melodic guitar line going through it).

  13. BigSteve

    I’m on board with the early Seeg singles, but this song is icky. It embarrasses me. Tight pants points hardly reknown? The rhymes — heavy/Chevy, thunder/wonder. Worst of all:

    We weren’t in love oh no far from it
    We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit

    Is he even trying? He thinks using ‘moves’ as both a noun and a verb is deep. And the music is such a Van Morrison ripoff I can’t stand it.

  14. BigSteve

    Btw did no one mention this song in the thread about the Sweet Jane riff?

  15. “Against the Wind” — he must sing that line 100 times in that song. I remember thinking when it came out “Geez Bob, I get it! — you’re running against the wind!”

  16. I have Night Moves and Live Bullet (somewhere), so I appreciate him to a point, but I can’t go as far as tonyola.

    Bob comes in a distant third in the working class arena rock category in my book.

    1. Mellencamp (still putting out relevant music– also, did you see the picture of him in LA tooling around on a Harley with Meg Ryan on the back this week? That’s the off-field activity I want from my rock stars, working-class or not!)

    2. Springsteen (listened to The Promised Land odds & sods he put out last year just this week)

    3. Seger (I will admit — I still like Turn the Page, a little)

  17. alexmagic

    I have no problem placing this in the upper echelon of The Seger Songbook, though it would rank below the previously mentioned “2+2=?” (on which I have already written, I believe, the definitive Seger essay here at RTH and urge and Seg-ologists to seek out), as well as “Last Song (Love Needs To Be Loved)”.

    That said – and I apologize in advance for playing this card, HBV, but it needs to be discussed:

    More to the point: can you name a song that covers the same lyrical ground better?

    I’d argue that Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” has remarkable lyrical kinship with Seger’s “Night Moves”. Both feature our heroes as young men meeting fantasy women, taking them to a rural location (the woods past the cornfields for Seger, the horse barn on Old Man Johnson’s Farm for Prince) where they clumsily experiment (workin’ and practicin’ on “mysteries with no clues”, per Seger, while Prince partially cops that “They say the first time aint the greatest”) and in each case, the woman is positioned as an equal, if not more experienced (Seger: “I used her she used me”, Prince: “She knew how 2 get her kicks”). Also, each song takes place in the summer during a thunderstorm.

    So what I’m asking is, are you saying that Bob Seger is better than Prince?

    Also, are Prince and Seger a lot more lyrically in tune than anyone has ever realized? This could be a huge, game-changing discovery if it turns out to be true.

  18. misterioso

    Brother, you CAN get an Amen. This may not be the greatest compliment that can be issued, but given how many times I have heard this song, how insanely overplayed it has been for a large part of my life, I almost never switch away from it if I encounter it on the radio. Even with the “icky” aspects that BigSteve pointed out (“tight pants points…points all her own…”–though I am more forgiving in the rhyme department) I think it is a great song. Always have.

    Tonyola is dead on about the crime that is “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which was already a crime even before Tom Cruise grabbed hold of it, but all in all, Stranger in Town–and, I think, most of Seger’s work in his “classic” period (which, I think, means from Beautiful Loser through, say, Nine Tonight or at most The Distance), if looked at in its proper context of mainstream, singer-songwriter-y Top 40 music of its era, holds up very well. Now, maybe that is damning it with faint praise, but I will always have a soft spot for Seger.

    Rock on, Seeg! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H0ma6BQa-w&feature=related

  19. misterioso

    Oh, it’s a total cop from Van, no question, but Seger wore his Van-isms on his sleeve. I keep meaning to compile a list of my top 10 Van rip-offs (Copycats ripped off my songs…) of the 70s. Rip-offs but not necessarily bad songs. Starting with Wet Willie’s Keep on Smilin’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tg0BNTebcbY

  20. No! And that reminds me of one more song that references both “Sweet Jane” and “Night Moves”.

  21. “We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit” — that’s what he’s singing? All these years, I never knew, nor ventured to find out. You may have closed the case here.

  22. misterioso

    alexmagic, great stuff. 2+2=? is a killer. And the Raspberry Beret parallel is an interesting one! The song Raspberry Beret always conjures up for me, also in the hitherto largely undocumented genre of Songs About Flings with Fantasy Women in Rural Settings, is Jay Ferguson’s unresistable Thunder Island. This gives me an excuse to provide a link to a remarkable like performance for additional close study http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdfyUZUllLI

    After the band intros, around the 1:05 mark, note the excellent use of the towel as a prelude to sprinting to the piano, then, just after the 4:00 mark, the seamless transition to cowbell for the doo-doo-doo-doo singalong part. (And by using “seamless” I am, in fact, suggesting that there may well be no seams in his outfit.) Then, at 4:50–as if this were not enough by now!–he moves back to the piano, kicks over the bench!, and plays while running in place before the big rockin’ finish. Whew! And the hair. And moustache. This performance has so much going on one hardly knows where to stop.

  23. misterioso

    You know, I apologize for commenting on my own comments here, but the more I think about it, the Jay Ferguson Thunder Island clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdfyUZUllLI and the Seger Hollywood Nights clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H0ma6BQa-w&feature=related need to go head to head somehow in some sort of late 70s mach schau head-to-head arena rock Texas death match.

  24. I can’t do so at the moment, but I look forward to joining the analysis of this video! I dug that song as a kid and came real close to buying the album. Then I saw the cover and shied away from it, not trusting where the guy’s Look might lead me.

  25. misterioso, I’ll bring this to The Main Stage for you. Hold on a few minutes…

  26. Misterioso and Tonyola touch on something here that I think needs to be fleshed out a bit. I think we can all agree that Old Time Rock and Roll is a fairly egregious Rock Crime in and of itself but its use in Risky Business should subject Seger to the musical equivalent of the Felony-Murder Rule, which essentially says if someone happens to die while you are committing a felony, you are subject to being changed with murder even if act itself was not intended. Seger may not have been able to foresee that his song would result in an overly enthusiastic teen dancing around in his tighty-whiteys, but that doesn’t lessen the impact that it had on the rest of us who can never un-see it.

  27. Brilliant legal analysis! We may have to make you the Hall’s version of Greta van Susteren.

  28. That song Smoke of a Distant Fire would surely be in the number one spot.

    I’ve brought this up before but I think that the bulk of Van’s post-Astral Weeks output uses this song as the template:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGlR6oFjC3A

  29. I’m both honored and appalled.

  30. King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight”!

  31. misterioso

    The court summons Robert Clarke Seger….

  32. misterioso

    By the way, if wikipedia can be trusted, tomorrow is Seger’s 66th birthday.

  33. hrrundivbakshi

    Yeah — “Against Her Chin” is a big turd for me. Sorry, Mod — wish I could have your back on this one, but… uh-uh.

  34. You’ll come around yet.

  35. hrrundivbakshi

    For me, the bigger mystery is:

    Looked and saw, could’ve used a few pounds
    Tight pants, points, hauling it down
    She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
    And points on her own, sittin’ way up high.

    I mean, the song ain’t perfect. But it’s pretty darn good!

  36. You get an “Amen” from me as well. I heard this song 1,00,000 times blasting out of my dad’s 1980 Tornado 8-track player as a kid and always got a little choked up. It’s no Backstreets but it gets to me.

    As an adult it reminds me of that time (late 70-early 80s) as well as a few years later

    “tryin to lose (my ) awkward teenage blues (in the pursuit of) gettin’ our share (and) mak(ing) some front page drive-in news…in the sweet summertime.

    See, that sounds like every teenager in the world

  37. I thought the song sucked the proverbial hippo weenie right from the start – long before Risky Business. The felony was right from the start.

  38. misterioso

    “Little too tall, coulda used a few pounds / Tight pants points hardly renowned.”

  39. Agreed. But in the commission of that felony, a much more egregious act was committed and Seger bears some responsibility for it even if he did not commit the act himself.

    In the same way that the driver of the getaway car in a bank robbery is responsible if a bank teller is killed during the robbery, so too is Seger responsible for unsuspecting movie goers having to endure Tom Cruise in his Fruit of the Looms dancing with a fireplace poker to the sounds of OTR&R. Seger might not have foreseen that specific result, but he was playing with fire and should not be able to wriggle free from the consequences of his actions.

    Now please elaborate on the proverb about the hippo weenie. I’m not familiar with that one.

  40. I’ll throw out an almost belated “amen.” My mom got this cassette tape in the 80s from Ye Olde Record Club and we used to listen to it on road trips. Naturally, I bought the CD years later and still love it. “Come To Poppa,” “Sunspot Baby,” “Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” “The Fire Down Below,” “Mainstreet,” and the title track. All of these are stone-cold classics to my young ears. I know it has something to do with youth and whatnot. It’s definitely a favorite Seger record for me.

    TB

  41. misterioso

    Smoke of a Distant Fire and Dancing in the Moonlight are #s 2 and 3 (after Keep on Smilin’) on my list. I know there are other obvious ones but I cannot call them to mind.

  42. Yep. It can’t become a cliche without some initial appeal.

  43. BigSteve

    It turns out that the Seeg is playing in my town tonight! He’s in the middle of a big nationwide ‘help fund my retirement’ tour. When I say nationwide I mean Kansas City is the farthest west he’s playing. I guess it makes sense that his fanbase is in the east. Would any of you go see him now? What if it was free?

  44. misterioso

    Wow! I would so totally think about going to see him but not actually go and, instead, watch that clip of Hollywood Nights about 20 times!

  45. On behalf of the Hall I would see him play if the show were free and/or I could attend it with fellow analysts from the Hall, especially HVB and alexmagic. I had no idea he was touring. He was in Atlantic City a week or two ago, and I had no idea. It was then that I read about this possibly being his last tour, which really hit home. Do we have a contingency plan if Seger leaves The Road?

  46. COMMENT OF THE MONTH contender!

  47. How about a lot of early Graham Parker, like “White Honey”?

  48. Are these actual lyrics you guys are quoting from that song? All I ever know is the “Woke last night to the sound of thunder…” verse and the “workin’ and practicin'” ad lib.

  49. alexmagic

    Kid Rock has figuratively been grooming himself for this scenario for the past few years.

    I question whether Kid Rock has literally been grooming himself for the past few years.

  50. We can’t let that happen, alexmagic. How would Jack White look in a hockey jersey?

  51. tonyola

    OK, the lyrics might not be wonderful, but they’re better than some of Springsteen’s mock-Dylan blather:

    “Madman drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat.
    In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat.”

  52. [STANDING OVATION!] Thanks, tonyola, it’s about time someone calls bullshit on early Boss lyrics.

  53. BigSteve

    Jesus, everyone’s been calling bullshit on those for years, including their author.

  54. tonyola

    For me, Springsteen comes close to topping the list of Grossly Overrated Major Artists. I’ll grant Bruce occasionally cranked out a decent tune and his early live shows were deservedly legendary. However, I’ve heard every one of his classic albums and haven’t found a single one I’d like to buy. Bruce bellows like a spavined cow, most of his songs and arrangements are clumsy, and he’s every bit as pretentious in his own way as, say, Jon Anderson of Yes. The difference is that Jon is more honest in that he’s never tried to be a populist “man of the people”.

  55. Tonyola, I couldn’t agree more.

  56. As an aside, it seems to me that the Springsteen Wars illustrate the divides in RTH as vividly as the wars we’ve fought over the Beach Boys, Big Star, Costello, etc. etc.

  57. It’s a beautiful thing, Oats, knowing that there are still artists grown men are willing to fight over.

  58. It’s a very good song that is foiled by “points of her own set way up high”. That’s what comes to mind when the song is mentioned. It’s such an overwhelmingly poor line, that it dominates the whole song. Too bad. Good singing and excellent acoustic guitar sound.

    It’s easily in the as bad category as Rod’s “my love you didn’t need to coax”.

  59. Good point. And its cringe-worthyness is increased when he follows that up with the phrase “way up firm and high”… you know, just in case the listener didn’t catch it the first time.

  60. Bob was here in Atlanta a week or two ago and they had 4 for $100 rafter seats. I almost went (though another $20 for parking and yet another $20 for two budweisers turns it into an expensive night.

    I saw Bob in 1986 and he did a cool show. At that point I had seen Hall & Oates, Chicago, Beach Boys, Julian Lennon, Fabulous Thunderbirds and Springsteen, so I didnt have too much to compare it to (and I was 15). I think The Georgia Satellies were the opening act (I think they opened for every band in 1986-87 in the south though)

  61. And when you say, Good Point, did you know, it’s a point of my own, settin way up high.

    That’s right; way up firm and high.

 
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