The Seger File

An unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger
Last updated May 1999
Edited by Scott Sparling
sparling@segerfile.com


The Distance

December 1982
Produced by Jimmy Iovine

Data

Reached 5 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.


Background

The Distance took 14 months to record. Most of that time was spent waiting around for Seger to write the songs. The actual sessions went relatively fast. Seger spent tabout three weeks in the studio recording, cut demos for about 25 songs, and recorded 17 tracks.

"Near the end of the album I was almost looking for excuses to keep it going, touching up things that nobody heard, just being stupid. For me, the two big traumas in making a record are doing the lead vocals and doing the mix. The writing can be fun, the solo and overdubs are fun, the rest is hell. I was worried about the album right up until the time I played it for Springsteen. He loved it, and I felt it was okay." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."

"We could have gotten this record out in late November, but we stopped dead for Thanksgiving. Punch was not into that, but I had to yank him away and go home. Guess it's age, mellowing out. 'Love's the Last to Know' reflects that especially. The first verse deals with the wanderlust that's always in the back of your mind in a relationship; the second verse deals with the realization that you get used to treating strangers better than the people who are closest to you -- you take advantage of them. I've been preaching this to Punch, who's a solid workaholic." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Almost A Double Album

For a while, Seger wanted The Distance to be a two-record set -- despite his belief that most studio double albums would be better as single albums. The Distance was delayed three weeks while Seger argued with Punch and Capitol, and in the end, they talked him out of it.

After The Distance was finished as a single album, Seger told Springsteen he had wanted to make the album a double, and Springsteen said, "Why didn't you?"

Seger: "So I called Jan this morning and said, 'You know what Bruce said about the double album?' And she said, 'Yes, I know what he'd tell you to do.'" Seger broke into a loud chuckle. "She said to me, 'Someday you'll have the guts he's got. Someday you'll stand up to everybody too.'" ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."

"I don't think I've ever heard a great double studio album beyond the Beatles White Album that couldn't have been a better single album...There were three factors involved in my choice: ego, creativity and the actual price of the record. The last one won out. I want my fans to get what I'm doing and it's a bad time economically to put out a double album. If we had kicked and screamed, we could have sold it for $11.98 or $12.98, but records cost too much now anyway." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Creativity vs Ego

Seger: "Most of the stuff I left off was real uncommercial; it was me stretching my songwriting talents. It was strange tracks and strange feels...

"I've always thought that double studio albums were egotistical -- until this album. I've never bought a double studio album that knocked me out. It's just too demanding for the fan, who doesn't want to listen to two records. I had to reconcile that in my mind; it was really creativity vs. ego.

"The bottom line was in this economy, the fans can't afford to go buying double albums. We didn't want to make it difficult for people to get the album, or make it impossible for them to buy it. It kills me that I couldn't get this all out. Heck, the next time I make an album will be 1984; they (the songs) might not make any sense then." Gary Graff, March 28, 1983, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger at Home: No Need for Pretension."


The Concept

The album was inspired by the movie Annie Hall, which led Seger to write about relationships. "After seeing that movie, I wanted to write an album about relationships. I wanted to look at relationships in different ways. I've had the same relationship for 11 years. So I thought maybe I could touch people who had been through the relationship struggle. I was aiming at long-term people, not the one-night-stand people. I was really committed to that concept." Dennis Hunt, January 16, 1983, L.A. Times. "Seger: Hard Work and Low Profile"

"My band's been together for nine years, my lady and I have been together twelve years, and my manager and I have been together eighteen years. I thought I'd delve into that. But as I got deeper into it, I realized it was impossible not to make it maudlin." ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."

"Boomtown Blues," became an exception. "I love the song, but it's not about relationships. So the concept was broken. I wrote about other things, but I still kept the title because I love it. I loused up the concept, but at least the album was started." Dennis Hunt, January 16, 1983, L.A. Times. "Seger: Hard Work and Low Profile"

As the concept began to change, Seger changed the mix of songs on the album. At one point, he considered changing the title of the album, but everybody loved The Distance as a title. "Love's the Last to Know," "Little Victories" "House Behind a House," and "Even Now," remained from the original project. ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."


Seger on the harder-rocking sound of The Distance: "I've never consciously tried to make an album of anything but the best songs I had. This time those best songs were mostly rock 'n' roll. My manager, Jimmy Iovine -- they wanted to hear rock 'n' roll." Gary Graff, March 28, 1983, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger at Home: No Need for Pretension."


Tracks

Shame on the Moon

The song charted at #2, Seger's highest-charting song at that point. Seger received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance for "Moon."

Seger wanted to avoid writing any medium-tempo songs for this album. "They're my trademark, but I just got tired of writing them. They're easy for me to write, and I wanted to get away from the easy approach." Dennis Hunt, January 16, 1983, L.A. Times. "Seger: Hard Work and Low Profile"

"I wanted to write stuff that was hard for me to write, and rock 'n' roll is hard for me to write. It's a limited format. You have less time to say what you want to say, and it's hard to say anything meaningful in that context. People aren't listening to the words much in that kind of song." Dennis Hunt, January 16, 1983, L.A. Times. "Seger: Hard Work and Low Profile"

Seger solved the problem of not writing medium tempo songs by covering Rodney Crowell's "Shame On the Moon."

Don Henley originally turned Seger on to Crowell. Seger was buying a Rosanne Cash album, so he bought a Crowell album too. (Cash and Crowell were married at the time.)

Seger: "I was knocked out by his record, with "Stars on the Water" and "Until I Gain Control Again"...I took the Crowell album over to Alto Reed's house to play it for him, and his girlfriend Monica was knocked out by "Shame on the Moon." I thought it was a man's song, but she made me play it four times." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."

"We cut it in six hours and got a miracle track. That and "Even Now" are the best tracks on the album -- you can't find a hole in them, they're flawless" Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."

Shame on The Moon became the first single off the album.

"It was a big battle between that ["Shame on the Moon"], "Even Now," "Thunderbirds" -- and actually they really wanted "Coming Home" for the Christmas Season. Steve Meyer, the Capitol singles guy, thought "Home" was a number one record, but that was if the album had come out in November. [It came out in December.] I wanted "Thunderbirds," Iovine wanted "Even Now." Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty all wanted "Even Now" when Iovine played it for them, screaming that it was a number one single...Capitol didn't want to go that hard for a first single, we didn't want to go that soft with "Coming Home," so we compromised on "Shame on the Moon," which I felt might be a single somewhere down the line, but I didn't want it to be the first one." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Roll Me Away

The song charted at #27.

Seger: "That was written about a motorcycle trip I took to Jackson Hole, Wyo. I wanted to do that for a long time. It was fascinating being out. The first night it was 42 degrees in northern Minnesota; the second day it was 106 in South Dakota and all I had on was my shorts, and my feet were up on the handlebars to keep them from boiling on the engine. It was just silence and feeling nature." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."


Coming Home

The song was written for Against the Wind; Seger rewrote the lyrics for The Distance. Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Even Now

The song charted at #12.

"Even Now" contains the line that Seger says he used "to set up the whole album": "Out in the distance, always within reach/ there's a crossroads where all the victims meet." [Who are the victims? Is he one of them?]

"The idea is that there's always a way you can screw up when you're in a relationship. There's always that little thing in the back of your mind saying, 'I'm gonna screw up, I'm gonna go out with somebody else and lie, or whatever. Whatever it takes to mess up a relationship.'" ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."

"'Even Now' is the closest one to my bone, 'cause it's about me and Jan and tells about our near-breakup last year -- a week and a half during which I thought the bond might be broken and I sat around devastated...we've been together eleven years, since around the time just before the Smokin' O.P.'s album." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Little Victories

"I wrote that to be a harrowing song. It's about those first couple of days after something falls apart, when you're close to a bad, almost suicidal depression. That happened to me and Jan a few times, but we got it together.

"There was a harrowing moment this year -- as a matter of fact, that's what the song's about. I went away for ten days and really thought it was over. That's when you're just determined, and you think, 'How am I gonna get through this?' Okay, I got up today, that's a little victory. I made myself a cup of coffee and I didn't cry. I went out and jogged two miles..." ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."

"I was really destroyed when it happened. I thought, 'There's no way I can put this back together. My great love and my best friend are gone. I was sitting in a truck with my dog. Somewhere in Nebraska, as a matter of fact." ?, February 3, 1983, Rolling Stone. "Life in the Nasty Lane."


House Behind a House

The song refers to "this little place behind my new house where I keep my gold records." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Making Thunderbirds

Seger worked for General Motors for half a day, putting rubber around windshield glass, but he cut his hands, so he quit. He worked for Ford for three weeks. "I was so poor I didn't have a car and I was hitchhiking to work. I had wanted to write a song about the production line in Detroit and make it a blues song, 'cause I remembered how blue I was. You'd become a robot, and nobody would ever talk to me at work because of the plant noise. You couldn't use earplugs because you had to hear bells for when the line would stop." Timothy White, 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."

"When 'Thunderbirds' was originally written it was a slow blues, and if there's one thing Punch hates it's slow blues -- I could never get one on a record of mine -- so I was punking around with the Linn and I got a real great fast shuffle feel, so I put it on tape and started playing 'Thunderbirds' with it, using the vari-speed, and that's how it came about. Before that, I had always liked the lyric but not the overall song...I set the Linn to sixty degrees off the beat with a heavy accent on two and four." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."

"I wrote 'Thunderbirds' around 1978, during the time of Stranger in Town. I had only the first verse and parts of the second verse. When I got into it this last time, I wrote the third verse about the plants being closed and people out of work." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."


Recorded but Not Used For This Album

"East L.A" and "Wounded Angel," among many others.


Reviews

"(The Distance) is also intimately involved with creating the kind of characters Seger offered in Night Moves and Stranger in Town: working- and middle-class Middle Americans struggling against their emotional and economic circumstances, not always winning but never ceasing to fight." Dave Marsh, 1983, The New Rolling Stone Record Guide

"It's hard to think of any performer in rock history who has flirted with commercialized mediocrity as fully as Seger did in the late '70s and rebounded with such striking artistic power." Dave Marsh, 1983, The New Rolling Stone Record Guide

David Fricke, writing in Rolling Stone, gave The Distance five stars. Fricke said the album was "Not a very happy album, but ultimately, it is an encouraging and at time, triumphant one...About the lives, mistakes and promises at either end of the highway."

Fricke compared the album favorably to the "mawkish campfire sentimentality that plagued Against the Wind."

Dennis Hunt, writing in the LA times, described the album as "loaded with robust rock 'n' roll and is nearly equal to his phenomenal 1977 album, 'Stranger in Town.'"


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