No Man’s Land

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(Pictured: Bob Seger, 1980.)

When I was a teenager, I adored Emerson, Lake and Palmer. But then I put their albums on a shelf for years, and when I finally listened again, I didn’t like them nearly as well. All that stuff about mythical beasts and sentient computers, which was right in the wheelhouse of a 17-year-old nerd, sounded different to the older me. It didn’t sound bad, necessarily, but it also didn’t tickle the ol’ amygdala the way it used to do.

We’ve all revisited an album or an artist we used to like a lot and found that it just doesn’t turn us on anymore. The style loses its appeal, or the songs burn out. Or maybe we just don’t need the album as an album anymore. It happened to me with Tapestry the last time I listened to it; it’s not bad, and the individual songs remain very good, it’s just that I don’t think I need to hear all of them together anymore.

Bob Seger’s Against the Wind came out in 1980, during the year I was program director of my college radio station—which, I remind you, was a straight-up album rock station with little interest in finding or promoting new acts or alternative music. So we loved it, and I’m pretty sure that every cut found its way onto the air at one time or another. I’ve returned to it frequently over the years, but I liked it a lot less when I heard it the other day. Listen here while I rank the tracks.

10. “Good for Me.” I can’t say whether this is a good song or a poor one; whenever I listen to the album it comes and goes without making an impression.

8. (tie) “The Horizontal Bop”/”Betty Lou’s Gettin’ Out Tonight.” I loved these cuts 40 years ago, but they sound like cartoons to me now, goofy and overblown.

7. “Long Twin Silver Line.” Gains points for being a train song, which is not something you heard much in 1980. Loses them for being performed with the same cartoony gusto as the previous.

6. “Shinin’ Brightly.” Against the Wind is billed to the Silver Bullet Band but only three of Seger’s musicians are on it, and on only five tracks. On the others, including “Shinin’ Brightly,” Seger is backed by members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. “Shinin’ Brightly” has as empty a lyric as you’re ever going to come across, but such a great group of musicians is incapable of sounding bad.

5. “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.” I detest that apostrophe, and the fact that Seger felt like it needed to be there should have told him that “accompany” might not be a word you want in the lyrics to your song. (“Someday lady you will ride with me” was just sitting there.) I’m surprised to find “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” up this high, as it’s something I never need to hear again.

4. “No Man’s Land.” Bob Seger, rock ‘n’ roll existentialist: this is not the only song he ever wrote in which a lone man fights against the world and time and is destined to lose but perseveres nevertheless. (It’s not even the only one on this album.) Thanks to its medium-tempo lope, Seger is not exactly laughing at fate, but he’s definitely smiling at it.

3. “Her Strut.” We were amused back in 1980 by the skillfully timed pause in the line “They do respect her but … they love to watch her strut.” (Hey Beavis, he said “butt.”) Decades later, “Her Strut” is a condescending, sexist mess, but it rocks harder than anything else on the album.

2. “Fire Lake.” This was a song Seger had in the can for years before 1980, and it not only features the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section but three Eagles. It was an immediate smash on the radio but didn’t stay in anybody’s music library long-term.

1. “Against the Wind.” As on “No Man’s Land,” your level of appreciation for this song probably corresponds to how seriously you take Bob Seger as a heartland philosopher, or how deeply you can see into your own navel. But if you stick around for session man Paul Harris’ piano and the long fade, with Seger testifying as his backups sing “against the wind,” you’ll hear what might be the loveliest thing he ever made.

I won’t mind hearing these songs in the future, one at a time via the gods of shuffle. But do I need to hear the whole album all at once ever again? Probably not.

If you’ve had this experience with some formerly beloved album or artist, do tell.

8 thoughts on “No Man’s Land

  1. mackdaddyg

    A country station I worked at had “Against the Wind” in the music library. Playing that song was a great intro to the top of the hour news since you can fade it anywhere in the last three minutes or so.

    I really dig pre-“Live Bullet” Seger, but everything after that is so cue burned in my brain, I could go for a decade without hearing any of it. Same applies for Steve Miller with “Joker” being the breaking point, although some of his hits I can tolerate.

  2. Scott Bennett

    I LOVED the Use Your Illusion albums when they came out. They were doing Aerosmith better than Aerosmith was at the time. But Axl’s whiny voice and grating persona have soured me.

  3. I remember being in Canada near Ste. Saint Marie and hearing an AM station playing “Long Twin Silver Line” by Bob Seger. Yeah, the album “Against The Wind” was a really good album, but the songs may not have been as strong the ones on “Stranger In Town” and “Night Moves.” I only saw Bob Seger in concert once—that was in 1978—I wish I had seen him a few more times.

  4. T.

    I hated Guns & Roses with all the hate I could muster when they first appeared, but as the years go by and I reflect on my younger days, I find that now I hate them even more.

  5. mikehagerty

    I like to hear where certain artists are/were coming from at certain points in their lives and careers, so listening to those albums all the way through, in sequence, works more than once for me. Off the top of my head, Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” and “Hejira”, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Steely Dan’s “Aja” are ones that immediately spring to mind.

    Beyond that, though, most pop artists really didn’t break out of the “a couple of hits and some filler” formula. The filler just was of better quality.

  6. Scott Bennett

    I think it was local to Michigan. The story is often told of how he played in front of 60,000 one night at the Pontiac Silverdome and 1,000 the next night in Chicago.

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