I was actually kind of surprised at how angry people were about my “Bat Out of Hell Is Better than Born to Run” article. I didn’t even say I didn’t like Born to Run, just that I liked Bat Out of Hell better. A friend of mine asked if my Hot Water Music knuckle tattoos burst into flames when I wrote that one. They didn’t. Well, hang onto your hats, kids, because I’m about to talk about another record I like more than Born to Run.
Night Moves, man. I think the only record that sees more time on my turntable is Hysteria. Night Moves is one of those records that I pick up whenever I don’t know what else to put on. There’s no time of the day or night when Night Moves isn’t the right sound. I wouldn’t put it alongside Appetite for Destruction, …And Out Come the Wolves and Boston on my list of totally perfect records, but it comes damn close.
It might also be the last great rock & roll record. Yeah, I know I said that about Appetite for Destruction, but I’m talking about two different things here. When I say that Night Moves was the last great rock & roll record, I mean the kind of rock & roll that Chuck Berry and Johnny Burnette played. To a certain extent, it’s the same kind of rock & roll Bruce was playing, too. It’s the kind of rock & roll built around three chords, the blues scale and the occasional sax solo.
“Rock and Roll Never Forgets” set the template for an entire crop of rock bands that came 30 years later, for grizzled, tattooed men growing out of punk. I’m talking about bands like The Gaslight Anthem, Lucero, The Hold Steady and the aforementioned Hot Water Music. You might have gotten older, you might have slowed down, and your problems might be a little bigger than they used to be — but rock & roll is still there to help you pick up the pieces.
“Night Moves” is, of course, a classic rock-radio staple, and this is the case for a reason. It’s the story of being young, as told by a man for whom youth is a distant memory. The song was inspired by American Graffiti and it’s every bit the classic that the film is. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t know all the words to this track.
When I worked in a pizza shop many moons ago, everyone there was a big fan of “The Fire Down Below.” This was mostly because we all got a kick out of the line about “the blue-blood streets of Boston.” Is the song about prostitution or syphilis or both? Who cares? Just crank it up when you roar down a wide American highway on your way to what counts for a killer night in your mid-30s.
“Sunspot” is the sweet spot between Elvis and James Brown and Bob Dylan: a rock & roll rhythm with soul-tinged vocals and a slice-of-life story ripped right out of Seger’s own life — or at least something close to it. It’s a song as old as R&B: Your woman takes off and takes all kinds of your shit with her. Seger updates the sound for the 1970s, throwing a little bit of everything into the pot.
The two covers of R&B classics, “Mary Lou” and “Come to Poppa,” fit in so seamlessly that you might not even know they were old classics.
Ultimately, Night Moves is a record with one foot in the past and one foot in its own present. I’d argue that it has a third foot in today, and that’s why some of the only rock bands worth listening to in the present bear its unmistakable stamp.