Roll Me Away
Peak of success: 1976–1987
In 1977 Seger finally achieved his commercial breakthrough with his October 1976 album Night Moves. The title song “Night Moves” was a highly evocative, nostalgic, time-spanning tale that was not only critically praised, but became a #4 hit single on the Billboard pop singles chart as well as a heavy album-oriented rock airplay mainstay. The album also contained “Mainstreet” (written about Ann Arbor’s Ann Street), a #24 hit ballad that emphasized Seger’s heartland rock credentials as well as guitarist Pete Carr’s haunting lead guitar. The album also featured the anthem “Rock and Roll Never Forgets”. Night Moves was Seger’s first top ten album in the Billboard album chart, and as of 2006 was certified at 6 million copies in the United States alone – making it the biggest-selling studio album of his entire career. Furthermore, it activated sales of Seger’s recent back catalog, so that Beautiful Loser would eventually sell 2 million and Live Bullet would go on to sell some 5 million copies in the United States. Indeed, Live Bullet stayed on the Billboard charts for 168 weeks and it remains one of the ten best-selling live albums of all time.
The following year, original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin was hit by a car from behind while walking on a service road, and was left unable to walk. David Teegarden, drummer for Seger on the Smokin’ O.P.’s album, replaced him. Despite the loss, Seger followed up strongly with 1978’s Stranger in Town. The first single, “Still the Same”, emphasized Seger’s talent for mid-tempo numbers that revealed a sense of purpose, and reached #4 on the pop singles chart. “Hollywood Nights” was an up-tempo #12 hit rocker, while “We’ve Got Tonight” was a slow ballad that reached #13 on the Hot 100. (The latter became an even bigger hit when country music superstar Kenny Rogers and pop singer Sheena Easton teamed up for a 1983 treatment of it that topped Billboard’s Country and Adult Contemporary charts.) “Old Time Rock and Roll”, a song from George Jackson and Thomas E. Jones III that Seger substantially rewrote the lyrics for, was not a big pop hit initially, but achieved substantial album track airplay. Moreover, it would later become one of Seger’s most recognizable songs following its memorable Tom Cruise-dancing-in-his-underwear use in the 1983 film Risky Business. Indeed, it has been ranked the second-most played Jukebox Single of all time, behind Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. The iconic recording of “Old Time Rock and Roll” was named one of the Songs of the Century in 2001. (Seger has ruefully remarked that not taking one-third writing credit on his recording was “the dumbest thing I ever did” financially.)
Seger also co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit song “Heartache Tonight” from their 1979 album The Long Run; their collaboration resulted from Seger and Glenn Frey’s early days together in Detroit.
In 1980, Seger released Against the Wind (with ex-Grand Funk Railroad member Craig Frost replacing Robyn Robbins on keyboards) and it became his first and only #1 album on the Billboard album chart. The first single “Fire Lake” featured Eagles Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit, and Glenn Frey on backing vocals and Muscle Shoals guitarist, Pete Carr, on 12-string acoustic. Fire Lake reached #6 on the Hot 100, while the title song “Against the Wind” reached #5 as a single and even crossed over to the Top 10 on Billboard ’s Adult Contemporary chart. “You’ll Accomp’ny Me” became the third hit single from the record, reaching #14. Against the Wind would also win two Grammy Awards. As of 2006, both Stranger in Town and Against the Wind had sold over 5 million copies each in the United States.
The live 1981 album Nine Tonight encapsulated this three-album peak of Seger’s commercial career. Seger’s take on Eugene Williams’ “Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You” became a Top Five hit from Nine Tonight and the album would go on to sell 4 million copies.
Seger released the acclaimed The Distance in the final days of 1982. During the recording of this album, Silver Bullet guitarist Drew Abbott left the band due to his frustration with Seger’s frequent use of session musicians in the studio, and was replaced by Dawayne Bailey. After the album’s release, David Teegarden also left the band due to internal conflict, and was replaced by ex-Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer. Critically praised for representing a more versatile sound than that of his recent material, The Distance spawned numerous hits beginning with Rodney Crowell’s “Shame on the Moon”. It was the biggest hit of the Silver Bullet Band’s entire career, hitting #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and holding at #2 for four consecutive weeks – behind Patti Austin and James Ingram’s “Baby, Come to Me” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” – on the Hot 100. It also crossed over to #15 on Billboard’s Country Singles chart. The follow-up single, “Even Now”, just missed the Top 10 and “Roll Me Away” peaked at #27. The driving album track “Making Thunderbirds” was a popular music video filmed in Detroit and well-received on MTV. Seger’s multi-platinum sales dropped off at this point, with The Distance peaking at #5 and selling only 1.9 million copies in the United States. (This album was belatedly released on 8 track tape; Capitol reportedly had no plans to do so, but Seger, guessing that a good many of his fans still had 8 track players in their vehicles, prevailed upon the label to release the album in that discontinued format as well.)
In 1984, Seger wrote and recorded the power rock ballad “Understanding” for the film soundtrack Teachers. The song was another Top 20 hit for Seger in late 1984. In 1986, he wrote and recorded “Living Inside My Heart” for the film soundtrack of About Last Night….
Seger was no longer as prolific and several years elapsed before his next studio album, Like a Rock emerged in the spring of 1986. The fast-paced “American Storm” was another Top 20 single aided by a popular music video featuring actress Lesley Ann Warren, and “Like a Rock” followed, reaching #12 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Later, it would become familiar to many Americans through its association with a long-running Chevrolet ad campaign (something Seger explicitly chose to do to support struggling American automobile workers in Detroit).Seger’s 1986–1987 American Storm Tour was his self-stated last major tour, playing 105 shows over 9 months and selling almost 1.5 million tickets. Like a Rock reached #3 and eventually sold over 3 million copies although it has never been certified above platinum.
The following year Seger’s “Shakedown”, a somewhat uncharacteristic song off the 1987 film Beverly Hills Cop II’s soundtrack, became his first and only #1 hit on the pop singles chart. The song had originally been intended for Seger’s fellow Detroiter Glenn Frey, but when he lost his voice just prior to the recording session, Frey called in Seger to take his place. Seger changed the verses of the song but kept the chorus the same. The song earned Seger an Academy Award nomination as co-writer in the Best Original Song category the following year.
Roll Me Away Live: