The Seger File

An unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger Last updated November 27, 2005 Edited by Scott Sparling sparling@segerfile.com


Night Moves

Released October 1976. Reached #8 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.

"Night Moves," the single, was named Rolling Stone's Best Single of the Year for 1977. The song was inspired by the film American Graffiti.

According to Punch, Night Moves was originally rejected by Capitol because it was not as exciting as Live Bullet.


The cover

"It was funny because a lot of people thought I was trying to do a Springsteen. It just happened to be that the photo I chose for the cover was an old photo and I was wearing a leather jacket. At that point in time it looked Like I was tying to be Springsteen. That, plus the fact that a few of the songs -- such as 'Mainstreet' -- were being compared to Springsteen.

"Other than that, I never thought too much about my image at all. I have been aware of Springsteen for about two years or so, and he has been an influence on me from that time." Jim Girard, May 26, 1977, Cleveland Scene. "Bob Seger: Beautiful Loser on a Winning Streak."


Suicide Streets

Missing from the album was a song Seger loved, called "Suicide Streets." The band and the Muscle Shoals players didn't like the song, however.

Seger: "It was called 'Suicide Streets' and it was the one song I was positive about. It was about crime in the streets, sort of a Springsteenish thing but with real ominous lyrics. And I was gonna name the album after it, the album would have a concept about night life in general. When nobody liked that song, it sort of blew the whole thing away, and I was back to square one. I thought 'Night Moves' made a better title anyway, though I still wanted 'Suicide Streets' on the LP.

"Then I got to thinking that maybe 'Suicide Streets' was a little too down. Frankly, I was afraid people might have thought I was writing about Detroit, which I wasn't. There's enough bad stuff said about Detroit in all the media. So I tried to build the album around 'Night Moves,' the song.

"That's the way I like to do an album. Like when I wrote 'Beautiful Loser,' then I wrote 'Katmandu.' A song like 'Night Moves' can really justify something like 'Fire Down Below,' which really has nothing to it by itself. But it makes sense next to 'Night Moves,' and I try to write an album the way some try to build singles, because I don't consciously try to write singles anymore...The night life theme is still there, but you can't really call it a concept album; only about half the songs fit a concept." John Morthland, July 1977, Creem. "Bob Seger Conquers the World (And About Time!)"


"We were in the studio probably more than the last five albums combined. And we just learned so much -- about the way people work, about how to work with other people. And those things weren't available to us, because we didn't have the money to fly back and forth until Night Moves." Dave Marsh, June 15, 1978, Rolling Stone. "Bob Seger: Not A Stranger Anymore."

"We almost called the Night Moves album Rock and Roll Never Forgets...the original title was Night Moves and then everybody was getting really nervous...saying 'I don't know if you should title your album after a ballad'...but in the final analysis I felt that Night Moves was a far better title, it has a lot more wide ranging meaning...and then I started thinking I should save 'Rock and Roll Never Forgets,' because that could be a real cool album, too....but I've always been one to try to use all the best I've got at the moment. I don't like to hold anything out." Late1981 radio interview.


Night Moves

Seger: "'Night Moves' is my favorite song overall. You have one of those tunes a career...I milked 'Night Moves' a little bit after that with 'Brave Strangers' and 'Against the Wind,' but material of that nature became a problem for me. I kept trying to out-write 'Night Moves' and finally said 'No more. I'm not gonna try to out-write it.'" Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken."

Seger: "It still has the exact meaning it's always had for me -- the freedom and looseness I had during high school. That romance actually took place after high school, and it actually was about a real person. Her boyfriend was in the service, and when he came back she married him (laughs). My first broken heart." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."

Yet Seger has also described the "black-haired beauty with big dark eyes" as an Italian girl that he knew in high school. He has said the same girl inspired his first song, "The Lonely One." I wonder what she's doing now. Does she know the song is (in part) about her?

"Started humming a song from 1962" -- In a 2004 radio interview, Seger said the song was Seger's answer: "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes.

I don't doubt it for a minute, though I do note that "By My Baby" was recorded in the summer of 1963. But then Seger probably didn't do a Google search (like I did) before writing the lyric, since the Internet hadn't been invented yet.

He said, in the same interview, that he was a huge Phil Spector fan and still is. (Spector produced "Be My Baby.")


The Making of Moves, Part 1

Seger: "In Toronto, it's 2 in the morning. We recorded three other songs that never saw the light of day. We were with a producer named Jack Richardson who had done Alice Cooper...and we were trying to simply come up with one that might sound like a single. That's why we hired the producer and were paying him points and stuff like that...

"I pulled out this song called Night Moves. Two of the guys had already gone home. Alto was sitting around but I said 'Don't play sax on it yet," and ultimately he never played sax on it. It was me, Chris and Charlie. And the three of us recorded it.

I sang it, played acoustic, Chris played bass, Charlie played drums, and then about ten minutes later, after we picked out the take, I played a second acoustic, you know, to balance out the sides.

"The producer, I gotta admit -- I think Jack will bear me out -- I mean Jack did not hear this song. He didn't hear it -- he said 'eh, it's a nice little ballad...I don't hear it...'

"Then we added this Canadian piano player, Doug Riley, and he lifted it up to a next thing, then Alto played a great maraca thing on it, then we added these four lady singers from Montreal, then I got a local guitar player, because Drew was out of town, to play the little guitar licks on it. And then we mixed it, and I think it was a couple days later, Punch and I started calling each other. We had five mixes of it, we said, 'it doesn't matter how much you listen to it, you don't get tired of it and it sounds great every time.' And we knew we had something. And we took it to Capitol and they said, 'First single.' Which is great, when you've got an album and a single that have the same name.

"It's about this dark haired Italian girl that I went out with when I was 19, she was one year older than me, and she was really a hot number, and we went out for about a year, and it didn't work out, but I was really crazy about her, and all the things that were happening in that song were like happening in my life. We would like party in the farmer's fields outside Ann Arbor...and have what we called a grasser...

"The inspiration for finishing it was "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen. His album came out, and I saw where he did the two verses, and they were very strong, but then he went completely somewhere else, tempo-wise. He had like a multiple bridge, he had various different things going on, and I thought to myself, 'That's how I'll finish 'Night Moves.' Since I don't want it to sound repetitious, I'll do the first two verses, I'll come back to it at the end, the Night Moves thing, but I will just go somewhere completely different after that.

"So if you'll notice, there's three different movements after that in the song 'Night Moves.' And I got that idea from listening to 'Born to Run' and 'Jungleland.' Which knocked me out, that album knocked me out." Radio Interview: In the Studio with Redbeard for Against the Wind.


The Making of Moves, Part 2

For producer Jack Richardson's memories on the making of Night Moves, check out a web site uncovered by Seger fan Michael Funk called Digital Pro Sound. An article on the site tells the story of "Night Moves" from Richardson's point of view, with a view discrepancies (like the claim that Punch was in The Decibels, which, if true, is news to me, and the claim -- contrary to Seger's quote above -- that Richardson recognized "Night Moves" as an obvious single).

Below is the story on the site, which originally appeared in Mix Magazine, April 2001:

"Night Moves" was largely spontaneous -- the result of the last-minute need for one more song while fate or the A-R department is breathing down the artists' necks -- and it nearly didn't happen at all, with luck and circumstance having as much influence as talent and persistence...

Jack Richardson was a Toronto native whose career had interesting parallels to Seger's; he, too, pursued a career as a musician in his youth, only to move into advertising in his thirties to support a family. He took a flyer on a Canadian rock band called the Guess Who, mortgaging his house to pay for their first major label record, which he produced. With hits like "These Eyes" and "American Woman" under his belt -- records by a Canadian band, which, ironically, presaged the Americana music movement that Seger would champion -- Richardson quickly attracted other production clients, including Poco, Alice Cooper and Manowar.

In early 1976, Richardson was approached by Eddie "Punch" Andrews, Seger's manager and former bandmate in the Detroit trio The Decibels [Note: ??] about producing four sides for his client. Richardson thought the talks had been vague; Andrews apparently felt otherwise. "I came home from off a long date in L.A., and my wife says to me, 'Punch called and says you're supposed to be in Memphis with him and Bob Seger,'" Richardson recalls. "I said, no way, not on that short notice. So we talked again, and again it seemed to go nowhere. On four occasions, I was booked to meet with [Seger], and each time it got put off, once when I was already at the airport. Then I get a call one day telling me they're coming to Toronto. That wasn't the way I liked to do things. But I went ahead and called [engineer] Brian Christian, who had worked with me on the Guess Who and other records, to come in from L.A."

Seger and Richardson met at Soundstage, the producer's studio within the production complex Nimbus 9 that Richardson and three former advertising business colleagues had formed in the late 1960s in Toronto to pursue music and commercial projects. Seger and Richardson sat in his office, and the artist played a couple of songs that Richardson recalls as being "not that great, quite honestly. Then I suggested that we also do the old Supremes song 'My World Is Empty Without You, Babe.' So that was three songs. And Bob had been noodling around on the piano in my office, and I told him I thought he had the makings of a good song there, though he didn't feel the same way at the time."

The sessions were scheduled for three days, with members of the Silver Bullet Band having flown in, and the first three songs went down quickly, though without much passion. In fact, finding the fourth song had become such an apparent lost cause that Richardson sent the band's guitar and keyboard players back to Detroit.

As it turned out, however, Seger's noodling had evolved into a song, and with Richardson's prompting, he and Seger cobbled an arrangement to it in the studio, where the remaining musicians -- including Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin and bassist Chris Campbell -- had been quickly complemented with two last-minute local players, Doug Riley on organ and Joe Miquelon on electric guitar.

"The whole arrangement came together in the studio," Richardson recalls. There, Richardson sat in the middle of the studio with Seger and the band, running the newly minted "Night Moves" down, making decisions such as the addition of an acoustic guitar-and-vocal breakdown in the middle of the song, while Christian -- assisted in part by Richardson's son Garth, who has gone on to rack up his own significant engineering credits for Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers -- ran the custom Audiotronics console and 3M 79 16-track 1-inch multitrack deck running Ampex 456. Monitoring was through a pair of Super Big Reds loaded with Altec speakers and a Mastering Lab crossover, driven by 60-watt stereo Citation amps, which Richardson admits were pretty underpowered but he felt sounded best with the speakers and room.

The track is sparse -- bass, drums, acoustic and electric guitars, piano and a Hammond C-3 with a Leslie speaker cabinet. The drum kit was miked using a Shure SM57 on the snare and a pair of Neumann U67 tube microphones as overheads. The guitar amp had an SM57 close in on the speaker cone, a Sennheiser 421 near the outer edge; the acoustic guitar, which Seger played as an overdub after playing the acoustic piano on the basic track, was recorded with one of the six KM84 microphones that Richardson personally owned. The piano was miked with a pair of U67s in an overhead-V configuration; the Leslie cabinet had a Sennheiser 421 on the bottom rotor and two U67s on the top rotor. When the "record" lights went red, Richardson was in the control room tapping a pencil on an SM53 as a metronome. "It was sparse, but I looked at Bob as a kind of a street singer," Richardson says. "The delivery of the whole track needed to be kind of raw. It wasn't a matter of reflecting the needs of this one song; it was about reflecting the way Bob comes across."

The lyric inspiration, Seger once said, came from his youth: "I was shy; super shy. And I happened to fall into a faster crowd than I'd ever been in before. Because I played music, I was sort of a gimmick for those guys. And I got to meet the really 'hot' chicks, and I had my first great love affair, which is what 'Night Moves' is about; it's about that girl. You know, the girl with the big breasts that we all went kazappo for when we reached puberty. It was a really mad, crazy affair. The album as well as the song were inspired by American Graffiti. I came out of the theater thinking, 'Hey, I've got a story to tell, too! Nobody has ever told about how it was to grow up in my neck of the woods.'"

The basic track for "Night Moves" went down in fewer than 10 passes on the last day of tracking for the entire four-song project -- and that was allowing, Richardson reminds, for the fact that two of the bandmembers were no longer there. "There was definitely some time involved for the band and the studio guys to get their communication together," he says. The bulk of the song was cut, the session was suspended while Seger recorded the acoustic guitar interlude, then the band resumed for the big finish. The three parts would be spliced together by Richardson and Christian on the 2-inch tape after the vocals were done.

Seger sang into a U67, as did the three hired female background singers who come in only on the tag. The vocals were recorded virtually flat. "I'm not one for playing with EQ," Richardson says. "I'd rather spend the time finding the right microphone and getting the right setup for the singer. In this case, I pushed Bob up a very little around the 1.6 to 1.8kHz range to accentuate the harmonics in his voice. He's already got plenty of power in the high end. I think if you have to add more than 2 dB of EQ to anything, you're in a salvage situation." Drums and vocals got a touch of Teletronix LA-2A, as did the final mix. Richardson was prepared to do several tracks of lead vocals and comp them later -- the sparseness of the track had left him plenty of media real estate to play with -- but Seger got it on one track within five passes through the song. The mix was done that same day, spruced up with echo from EMT stereo plates and little else.

As good as "Night Moves" was -- and Richardson thought it was an obvious single -- the song still had to contend with the fickleness of fate. After Seger and crew left, Punch Andrews called to say that he was less than pleased with the mixes, and then phoned again weeks later to say the record company felt the same way. Richardson recalls being annoyed by the comments. Three months later, John Carter, an A&R person for Capitol in Canada, stopped by the studio. Richardson asked him how he had liked the Seger mixes. "He ducked the issue a little, but then said he thought that both tracks were pretty good -- for B sides," Richardson remembers. "And I said to him, 'Both tracks? There were four songs! Would you like to hear the others?' So I played him 'Night Moves,' and he really liked it. I made some suggestions for editing it down for a single." The original mix had come in at over five minutes long; the single, after mastering and editing by Wally Traugott at Capitol, is three-and-change and radio-friendly, as they used to say.

Weeks later, on a break for a session producing the Brecker Brothers in New York, Richardson opened Billboard and saw "Night Moves" hit the charts at 95. He also noticed that the credits read it had been produced by Punch Andrews. He made a call to Capitol, but the next week, as the song began to rocket up the charts, the credit remained unchanged. The normally avuncular Richardson went ballistic. "I called John Carter and told him you've got 24 hours to get the credits right," says Richardson. The next issue, it read "Producers: Jack Richardson and Punch Andrews." "Punch wasn't even at the sessions," Richardson adds with a chuckle.

"Night Moves" hit the Top 10 (making it to Number 4) and remained there for several weeks. "Like all records, it's a concoction of how people were feeling and thinking at a moment in time," Richardson sums up. "And like a lot of hit records, it came together fast -- the song and the record. There wasn't a lot of time to spend screwing it up."

For more on Richardson's accomplishments with The Guess Who and his work in the music business, click here (and then scroll down) for an article from the London Free Press.

May 12, 2002


Seger: "Yeah, that guy in the song is me: I was tall and skinny in high school." John Morthland, Newsday, April 3, 1977, Newsday. "Slow start, strong finish."
The genuis of the song, to me, is the way Seger changes the meaning of the phrase 'night moves,' from a reference to making out, to a comment on the passage of time.

About the bridge of the song -- "woke last night to the sound of thunder"-- Seger has said this: "I was thinking about the whole aura of nighttime, the four o'clock in the morning moment when you assess yourself, check your weaknesses. Maybe every couple of months I have one of those nights when I sit down and say, 'Okay, what's happening?' and talk to myself. Other songs on that album like 'Ship of Fools' and 'The Fire Down Below' are about the same self-analysis, the uncertainty night represents." Timothy White, November 1977, Crawdaddy. "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Rocker"


Seger: "It's a difficult song to describe, I've described it so many times...I think the key line in the song is 'when you just don't seem to have as much to lose.'

"You get older and you tend to lose your passion for living. And if there's a message in the song, it's watch out for that...watch out for becoming jaded, and always remember the way it was when you were young and enthusiastic.

"It's easy advice to give, isn't it?" May 1979 radio interview.


"Basically I had the song the way the 3-minute version is...but it didn't sound finished to me...so I had to write the second bridge, which is the part where everything stops and there's no rhyme, and there's no time, musical time, and I'd just say it. I figured' I'm not getting across exactly what I'm trying to say, so I thought ...I'll just stop dead and just say exactly what I want to say, and then pick up again.' So that was the idea that pulled that one through." Late 1981 radio interview.
Tight Pants, Points

One reference in "Night Moves" is widely misunderstood. I'm fairly certain that everyone under 40 thinks that in "tight pants points hardly renowned," Seger is referring to his crotch. (After all, "points all her own" clearly refers to the woman's nipples, or at least breasts.)

But the first "points" reference isn't anatomical. He's singing "Tight pants, points, hardly renowned" -- meaning, his tight pants are hardly renowned, and his points are hardly renowned. What are points? Little metal things worn on your shoes by high school rebels in the late 50s and early 60s.


The A&W?

An article in The Detroit News makes an offhand reference to Seger having written "Night Moves" in an A&W in Ypsilanti. That doesn't quite fit with Seger's oft-repeated comment that he released Live Bullet because he couldn't finish writing the verses to "Night Moves" -- my guess is the song wasn't written all in one place. But apparently part of it was written at the A&W.

The Detroit News story begins: "Talk about some front-page drive-in news ...The Ann Arbor drive-in where rock 'n' roller Bob Seger said he wrote the hit song, Night Moves, is closing down to make way for a brake and muffler shop." David Shepardson, February 6, 1996, The Detroit News. "Seger's 'Night Moves' hangout is history"

Shepardson's article continues: "The longtime cruisers' nightspot closed for good earlier this month...Many local residents are saddened by the closing."

The new owners are building a muffle shop in it's place, the article says. The owner sent Seger a speaker from the old drive-in put a copy of Night Moves on the wall.


Mainstreet

"Mainstreet" charted at #24.

Seger: "Again, that's going right back to the 'Night Moves' situation where I was writing about my high school years in Ann Arbor and what it was like -- the discovery, the total naivete and fresh-faced openness that I went through. It was sort of an entire awakening of my life; before that, I was kind of a quiet, lonesome kid." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."


Sunburst

Ten years later, Seger was uncomfortable with some of the cuts on Night Moves. He was playing the cassette of the album so the band could learn "Come to Poppa." Seger: "I was cringing, listening to -- what was that song? -- 'Sunburst.' Oh, where was I when I wrote that! It's baad poetry. And it never goes away, it will always be there." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. "Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience."


The Fire Down Below

The only Seger song I know that was once badmouthed by Ann Landers for glorifying sex. Ann's mission was later carried on by the Tipper Gore crowd, who chastised Bob for "The Horizontal Bop." Ann, Tipper -- you're a little late, don't you think? Where were you for Heavy Music?


Rock and Roll Never Forgets

Seger: "I wanted to just write an honest appraisal of where I was at that moment in time. I was 31 years old and I was damn glad to be here...and it was sort of like a thank you to the fans who didn't forget us, whose good will carried us over the top, and a thank you to radio..." Radio Interview: In the Studio with Redbeard for Against the Wind.

 Seger: "As for 'Rock and Roll Never Forgets,' I got the idea from a reunion that I didn't go to, but a close friend of mine did. And he said I wouldn't have believed those people. They all weighed 500 pounds and they were all straight as hell. The same guys I used to hang out with! And I started thinking, whenever we go to a concert, we see mostly young people. When we headline we get a little better cross-section, but lately we've been playing a lot of dates with Kiss and Aerosmith, things like that. I wanted to bring back people my own age, write a song for them. In Detroit we get a crowd mixed with young and old, and I wanted to see that everywhere." John Morthland, July 1977, Creem. "Bob Seger Conquers the World (And About Time!)"


Ship of Fools

"I've seen a lot of my friends lose their passion and end up in a rut, afraid to take a chance. 'Night Moves' is about romantic passion, but 'Ship of Fools' from the album is about passion for life. Maybe a guy's working a job he doesn't like and he sees an ad about the Alaska pipeline or something that excites him. But there are problems. His wife says it's too cold in Alaska or whatever. So he passes it up and just keeps on with something he hates." Robert Hilburn, May 22, 1977, Los Angeles Times. "Bob Seger, Rock's Prodigal Son."


Review

Night Moves was reviewed by Kit Rachlis in Rolling Stone. "If there is any grace in heaven," Rachlis wrote, "'Night Moves' will give Bob Seger the national following which has long eluded him. It is simply one of the best albums of the year."

There is grace in heaven, apparently.


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