'Lookin' Back'

Compilation reaches into Seger's rich past ... but no 'Heavy Music'

Dec 9, 2009 at 12:00 am

For decades, interviewers have been asking Bob Seger when he's going to release a box set or, at the very least, a compilation of material from his early, rockin', pre-superstar years. He's released two "greatest hits" collections but neither reached back beyond his 1975 breakthrough Beautiful Loser album to spotlight the tunes that made him a Midwest sensation long before the rest of the country caught on. He did once tell this writer that maybe he'd release a compilation of "12 or 14 singles, make it real cheap and release it right around Christmas."

Well, it took him 25 years to do it, but Early Seger kinda fulfills that promise; at least it's a pretty fair start, even if it only features 10 tracks, most of them not singles and none predating the Capitol era. Seger's early Capitol albums are all out of print in this country again, commanding big bucks from sellers on the Internet. So it is nice to have the original (albeit remastered) versions of the boppin' "Get Out of Denver" and the jazzier, blues-ish "U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)" — both from his 1974 album, Seven, but familiar to millions more from their inclusion on Live Bullet (which remains the only place some of Seger's greatest early tunes can still be found). It is rather curious, however, that he kicks off the disc with two cover versions — the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider" (from Back in '72) and Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" (from Smokin' O.P.'s), even if the first (featuring J.J. Cale on lead guitar!) has always sounded so little like the Allmans' version that it might as well be a Seger original.

Aside from "Someday," a ballad from Smokin' O.P.'s, that's it for authentic old material, though. In what some historians might consider controversial if not a travesty, Seger took new musicians into Kid Rock's studio and rerecorded a great portion of Seven's "Long Song Comin'" for this release. This isn't the first time this has been done to classic material; Zappa rerecorded a lot of We're Only in It for the Money for that album's original CD release, to use an example, although many felt not for the better. Actually, this updated version rocks just fine and doesn't detract from the Seger catalog at all. But, historically speaking, it's a little inauthentic. Rock aficionados who hate the fact that, say, the original Bowie-mixed version of Raw Power or the original mixes of the Doors albums haven't been available for years may view this as something of a cheat.

The album is rounded out by four previously unreleased tracks, spanning from the early '70s to the '80s, that Seger also rerecorded brand-new parts for this year. Authenticity is less of an issue here, since (aside from a 1985 cover of "Start Tonight" by, um, Don Johnson; hey, Miami Vice was big back then) these songs are "new," even to fans. And they're also fine contributions to the catalog — especially the hard bluesy "Gets Ya Pumpin'" and "Wildfire," a nostalgic look back that is reminiscent of "Night Moves," both musically and thematically, and probably would have fit quite well on that album or one of its immediate successors.

The album ends with "Days When the Rain Would Come," a pretty song that wouldn't sound out of place next to something like, say, "Against the Wind." But that also illuminates that, again, while this is a start, Early Seger isn't nearly enough, especially at this late date. One can't help wondering if Bob's slightly ashamed of those early tracks (perhaps because they didn't take him to the international acclaim his later music did) and that's why they've basically been buried so long. But damn! There may be a licensing issue at play here (the Cameo-Parkway material was controlled by the recently deceased and tough-negotiating Allen Klein, after all), but we still want a box, or at least a compilation, with stuff like "Lookin' Back" (one of rock's best tracks by anyone anywhere ever), "2 + 2 = ?," "Heavy Music" and "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," of course, even "Persecution Smith" and "Sock It to Me, Santa." Maybe next year. … —Bill Holdship

Early Seger, Vol. 1 is available at Meijer stores and at bobseger.com.

Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].