This Is Not What I Meant

It has been the official position of this blog for a long damn time that there’s no artist of major reputation who needs the comprehensive box-set treatment more than Bob Seger. Six of his first seven albums are out of print (all except Smokin’ O.P’s, released in 1972). Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Mongrel, and Seven got a brief CD release in the early 90s before slipping back out of print; as far as I know, Noah, Brand New Morning, and Back in ’72 have never been released on CD. Even his most famous early single, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” is out of print.

Seger has released two best-of collections. Taken together, they’re an adequate overview of his work from 1975 to 1988, but only just. Greatest Hits Volume 1 featured the singles you’d expect from Night Moves on; Greatest Hits Volume 2 picked up the missing singles from Volume 1, 80s movie-soundtrack singles, plus some 70s album cuts that had become FM radio staples. Both volumes included some previously unreleased material, but Seger has so much previously-released-but-unavailable material out there that the new stuff was almost a waste of effort.

So when I first read about an album called Early Seger Volume 1, I thought—finally. Except it ain’t what it could be. It contains two songs from Smokin’ O.P’s, which are already available. It contains three songs from Seven, although one of them, “Long Song Comin’,” is a new version recorded last year, and “Get Out of Denver” features a new guitar solo also recorded in 2009. It contains a single song from Back in ’72, a live recording of the Allman Brothers’s “Midnight Rider.” The remainder of the album is made up of either new recordings of old songs or session outtakes, one from 1985, which doesn’t strike me as particularly “early.” Given that the original plan was to release material exclusively from Smokin’ O.P’s, Back in ’72, and Seven, the fact that Seger decided midway through the project—which includes only 10 songs to begin with—to include unreleased, reworked, and later material feels like a cheat.

Early Seger Volume 1 got its first release last November as an exclusive for Meijer, a big-box chain based in Michigan, and is also available at Seger’s website and Amazon.com. Last week, Walmart began selling it, so it’s out there if you want it. Allmusic.com gives the album a kindly review, and I’ve got no reason to doubt that some of it sounds pretty good, Bob Seger being Bob Seger and all. (I haven’t heard any of it.) But that doesn’t change the staggering disappointment of it. Given that its likely audience is hardcore fans, is this scattershot compilation really going to sell better than re-releases of Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Noah, or Mongrel might?

A few tracks from those albums, as well as some other early Seger rarities, are available at YouTube, such as “Noah” (which is absolutely terrific), the antiwar single “2+2 =?, the non-album single “Looking Back,”  the title track from Back in ’72, and “Heavy Music,” which most people know in the version from Live Bullet. Maybe some of these will eventually surface on later volumes of Early Seger. We’ll be waiting.

Thank goodness for the Internet—through the efforts of various music bloggers, I’ve been able to acquire Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, Noah, and Mongrel. On the latter, Seger recorded the ass-kickin’est version of “River Deep, Mountain High” imaginable, 7:24 of extreme rock and roll that makes you wonder why he wouldn’t want the whole world to hear it. Now, at least you can.

“River Deep, Mountain High”/Bob Seger (out of print)

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