Bob Seger

C’mon, Bob Seger, We Want To Buy Your Old Time Rock And Roll Records

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C'mon, Bob Seger, We Want To Buy Your Old Time Rock And Roll Records

Cre­ative peo­ple, regard­less of their cho­sen ves­sel, almost unan­i­mously share two com­mon traits. They are to some degree unbal­anced (more on that in a future post), and they are inept at judg­ing their own work. A prime exam­ple is Robert Plant’s unshak­able belief that Phys­i­cal Graf­fiti was Led Zeppelin’s best album. Um, sure.

Another trap into which artists often fall is dis­miss­ing, with­out a sec­ond thought, their audience’s dis­cern­ment regard­ing their work. While pop­u­lar­ity (or lack thereof) can never be taken as sole or pri­mary indi­ca­tor of cre­ative qual­ity, it pos­sesses at the least some cre­dence when cal­cu­lat­ing art’s worth. The Bea­t­les haven’t sold, depend­ing on who you ask, some­where in-​between six hun­dred mil­lion to over two bil­lion records – that’s bil­lion with a B – strictly because teenage girls in 1964 thought the four mop­tops were cute.

Artists under­value their work as often as they over­es­ti­mate its worth. The bet­ter the artist, the more likely he or she is to low­ball his or her accom­plish­ments. The late Irish blues gui­tar mas­ter Rory Gal­lagher twice threw away com­pleted records that, upon res­cue by third par­ties, showed them­selves eas­ily up there quality-​wise with approved releases. For exam­ple, con­sider this track which, were it not for Rory’s brother Donal’s efforts at keep­ing Rory’s legacy alive, would have remained for­ever unheard.

Tak­ing this into the land of the liv­ing, not one but two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees care not a whit about their recorded her­itage. Steve Miller’s cat­a­log is avail­able on down­load sites, but any­one pre­fer­ring some­thing with actual sound qual­ity, i.e. com­pact disc, will quickly dis­cover most every­thing has been out of print for close to a decade. Yet this pales in com­par­i­son to Bob Seger. Want any­thing prior to his break­out 1976 live album Live Bul­let? Other than one thin com­pi­la­tion, it doesn’t exist. No CDs, no down­loads, noth­ing. There are a few scat­tered CDs released in the 1990s and a hand­ful of some­what dubi­ous legal­ity ones from a decade ago, all long out of print and cor­re­spond­ingly now exchang­ing hands for a king’s ran­som. But read­ily avail­able? Ain’t happening.

This scarcity of prod­uct, as a recent NPR arti­cle notes, is serv­ing two pur­poses, nei­ther of them good. It is alien­at­ing Seger’s large fan base, and it is blunt­ing his legacy on clas­sic rock radio. Seger flat out owned main­stream (now clas­sic) rock radio from 1976 for­ward until well into the 1990s, crank­ing out hit after hit super­glued onto playlists across the land: “Night Moves,” “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Still The Same,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” etc etc etc and sev­eral more etc after that.

Fast for­ward to today. When by all rights and logic he should be sim­i­larly promi­nent on clas­sic rock radio, Seger sel­dom gets air­play. Why?

There’s no rea­son to play his music. There’s noth­ing to sup­port it. Remem­ber, the music indus­try and ter­res­trial radio have a very cozy rela­tion­ship. Record labels pro­vide the pro­gram­ming, a/​k/​a music, to the radio sta­tions for free. Radio sta­tions play the music. Licens­ing fees and artist roy­al­ties? What’s that then? Song­writ­ers get roy­al­ties from when­ever one of their songs are played on a ter­res­trial radio sta­tion. Per­form­ers do not. They are pla­cated by the notion of hear song/​like song/​buy song via CD or down­load or vinyl. Hence the eager­ness for all involved par­ties to play what peo­ple want to, and can, pur­chase. Remem­ber, cat­a­log sales (music released more than eigh­teen months prior to the cur­rent date) are run­ning higher than new music sales, and by an ever-​increasing rate. There’s gold in them thar repack­aged, remas­tered rere­leases of albums fans more than likely already own, but are even more likely to pur­chase again if there is suf­fi­cient added value in the new package.

Seger isn’t part of this sce­nario. He has none of the rere­leases con­stantly refresh­ing the cat­a­log other artists enjoy. In many cases, a release period. There are no “oh man, I haven’t heard this song in ages — I love this song — I have got to buy a copy while it’s fresh in my mind” moments for an audi­ence that still buys music in lieu of stream­ing pop puff pas­try with­out fill­ing today and for­get­ting it this after­noon. If it’s not on Seger’s most recent (now six years old) great­est hits com­pi­la­tion, which while okay is hardly com­pre­hen­sive, and you’re not will­ing to go on a very well-​financed musi­cal arche­o­log­i­cal expe­di­tion, not only will you not be fol­low­ing up on your impulse … you can’t.

It’s tempt­ing to attempt a dra­matic over­lay here, using Seger’s story as a grand alle­gory for some deep polit­i­cal or soci­etal tale. But no. Art needs no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, and not every­thing has to have a moral of the story attached. Some­times, and put plainly far more often than not, the story stands on its own mer­its. So c’mon, Bob. How about you and your man­ager — mostly your man­ager, since appar­ently he’s the (quote) brains (end quote) behind all this — get it together, respect your fans, reclaim your right­ful her­itage in rock’n’roll roy­alty, and make avail­able some new copies of those old records we can each take off the shelf and lis­ten to by our­selves should we choose to do so? Today’s (again quote) music (again end quote) ain’t got the same soul. We like that old time Bob Seger rock and roll, and we want to be able to get our hands on it. Please.

PS: A fun exam­ple of older Seger:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WWHdBuOC6Q

Creative people, regardless of their chosen vessel, almost unanimously share two common traits. They are to some degree unbalanced (more on that in a future post), and they are inept at judging their own work. A prime example is Robert Plant’s unshakable belief that Physical Graffiti was Led Zeppelin’s best album. Um, sure.

Another trap into which artists often fall is dismissing, without a second thought, their audience’s discernment regarding their work. While popularity (or lack thereof) can never be taken as sole or primary indicator of creative quality, it possesses at the least some credence when calculating art’s worth. The Beatles haven’t sold, depending on who you ask, somewhere in-between six hundred million to over two billion records – that’s billion with a B – strictly because teenage girls in 1964 thought the four moptops were cute.

Artists undervalue their work as often as they overestimate its worth. The better the artist, the more likely he or she is to lowball his or her accomplishments. The late Irish blues guitar master Rory Gallagher twice threw away completed records that, upon rescue by third parties, showed themselves easily up there quality-wise with approved releases. For example, consider this track which, were it not for Rory’s brother Donal’s efforts at keeping Rory’s legacy alive, would have remained forever unheard.

Taking this into the land of the living, not one but two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees care not a whit about their recorded heritage. Steve Miller’s catalog is available on download sites, but anyone preferring something with actual sound quality, i.e. compact disc, will quickly discover most everything has been out of print for close to a decade. Yet this pales in comparison to Bob Seger. Want anything prior to his breakout 1976 live album Live Bullet? Other than one thin compilation, it doesn’t exist. No CDs, no downloads, nothing. There are a few scattered CDs released in the 1990s and a handful of somewhat dubious legality ones from a decade ago, all long out of print and correspondingly now exchanging hands for a king’s ransom. But readily available? Ain’t happening.

This scarcity of product, as a recent NPR article notes, is serving two purposes, neither of them good. It is alienating Seger’s large fan base, and it is blunting his legacy on classic rock radio. Seger flat out owned mainstream (now classic) rock radio from 1976 forward until well into the 1990s, cranking out hit after hit superglued onto playlists across the land: “Night Moves,” “Old Time Rock and Roll,” “Still The Same,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” etc etc etc and several more etc after that.

Fast forward to today. When by all rights and logic he should be similarly prominent on classic rock radio, Seger seldom gets airplay. Why?

There’s no reason to play his music. There’s nothing to support it. Remember, the music industry and terrestrial radio have a very cozy relationship. Record labels provide the programming, a/k/a music, to the radio stations for free. Radio stations play the music. Licensing fees and artist royalties? What’s that then? Songwriters get royalties from whenever one of their songs are played on a terrestrial radio station. Performers do not. They are placated by the notion of hear song/like song/buy song via CD or download or vinyl. Hence the eagerness for all involved parties to play what people want to, and can, purchase. Remember, catalog sales (music released more than eighteen months prior to the current date) are running higher than new music sales, and by an ever-increasing rate. There’s gold in them thar repackaged, remastered rereleases of albums fans more than likely already own, but are even more likely to purchase again if there is sufficient added value in the new package.

Seger isn’t part of this scenario. He has none of the rereleases constantly refreshing the catalog other artists enjoy. In many cases, a release period. There are no “oh man, I haven’t heard this song in ages – I love this song – I have got to buy a copy while it’s fresh in my mind” moments for an audience that still buys music in lieu of streaming pop puff pastry without filling today and forgetting it this afternoon. If it’s not on Seger’s most recent (now six years old) greatest hits compilation, which while okay is hardly comprehensive, and you’re not willing to go on a very well-financed musical archeological expedition, not only will you not be following up on your impulse … you can’t.

It’s tempting to attempt a dramatic overlay here, using Seger’s story as a grand allegory for some deep political or societal tale. But no. Art needs no justification, and not everything has to have a moral of the story attached. Sometimes, and put plainly far more often than not, the story stands on its own merits. So c’mon, Bob. How about you and your manager – mostly your manager, since apparently he’s the (quote) brains (end quote) behind all this – get it together, respect your fans, reclaim your rightful heritage in rock’n’roll royalty, and make available some new copies of those old records we can each take off the shelf and listen to by ourselves should we choose to do so? Today’s (again quote) music (again end quote) ain’t got the same soul. We like that old time Bob Seger rock and roll, and we want to be able to get our hands on it. Please.

PS: A fun example of older Seger: