Before the Bullets
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 23:09
I never thought twice about Bob Seger. After hearing “Night Moves” and “Stranger in Town,” I figured I knew everything I needed about the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. He was nostalgic and noncontroversial. His signature sound could be cross-referenced with any Top 40 hit made between 1974 and 1978—restrained, standardized quasi-blues/rock.
Seger’s aesthetic seemed blatantly packaged. He was an artist ready-made to be consumed by the general public, churning out songs that would undoubtedly be heralded by middle-class America. Everything was generalized. A lot of pieces surrounding the topic of rock in and of itself (“Rock and Roll Never Forgets,” “Old Time Rock and Roll”,) an easy sell. His image was clean, but not too clean, as if he had something to hide.
Turns out, he did.
Before Bob Seger teamed up with the Silver Bullet Band (formed in 1974,) he was a well-known artist on the Detroit music scene, rubbing elbows with bands like The MC5, The Stooges and The Rationals. In this time (1961-1974,) Seger recorded several albums and singles.
Unfortunately, in an interview with the Pittsburg Post-Gazette where Seger was asked if he planned on reissuing some of his early work, he replied, “Well, if you’re talking the pre-Capitol stuff, I have no control over it.”
That didn’t stop Seger fans from stepping in. In 2009, a diehard group on the I Love Music message board decided to take the process into their own hands, creating a bootleg collection of Seger’s early singles.
That compilation, titled “Never Mind the Bullets: Bob Seger 1966-1974” (colloquially referred to as “Never Mind the Bullets… Here’s Early Bob Seger,”) fell into my lap on Sunday while I was browsing AquariumDunkard.com. I downloaded the 27-track, 79-minute compilation and clicked the first song, waiting for an anticlimax.
Instead, I saw a side of Seger that I never knew existed. Gone is the studio gloss that fine-tunes “Night Moves.” “Never Mind the Bullets” is a category all its own. Seger’s political prowess shines on “2 + 2 = ?,” a psychedelic Vietnam protest piece. “U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class”) satirizes the audience Seger and the Silver Bullets would later go on to tailor-make albums for. “Lookin’ Back” is a foil to Seger’s 1978 hit, “Feel Like a Number.” Here, Seger is proudly reaffirming his originality, whereas “Feel Like a Number” is a generalized hit about feeling like a cog in the wheel.
However, what really separates pre-Bullet and post-Bullet Seger is the presentation. There’s a sense of urgency on every single “Never Mind” track. Seger has something to say, something he feels thoroughly passionate about. He’s loud and aggressive, which is shocking considering his career after “Seven” worked off of an intentionally un-artistic passivity.
In his 1978 essay “Growing Up True Is Hard To Do,” Lester Bangs cited the music industry as the reason for Seger’s demise, saying, “Seger knows he needs that radio play, and he also knows that in 1978, “Looking Back” won’t get it. So in a sense he’s bowing before the Beast and I don’t know whether I blame him or not.”