The Seger File

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


Like A Rock

April 1986

Data

Reached #3 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.


Background

The LP was going to be released in 1984. Then Seger changed the title and got rid of much of the material. "It took me a while to get over that and recharge." Jack Curry, Spring 1986, USA Today. "Bob Seger sings blues no more."

After he had second thoughts, Seger pulled back the original album and started again. Only two of the nine original songs remain -- "Like A Rock" and "American Storm." Gary Graff, April 4, 1986, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger finally releases new album."

Seger wrote 25 (some sources say 30) finished songs for the album. Not included on the album are: "Wildfire," "Star Tonight" (given to actor Don Johnson for his album), "Days When the Rain Would Come," "Living Inside My Heart" (Used as the B side of "Like A Rock" and in the movie "About Last Night") and "Snow Today."


He spent four months mixing the album. "Whenever the engineer left, I was literally sitting there punching things up. I learned about echoes and boards. It's the first time I was in the studio for every part of the creative." Jack Curry, Spring 1986, USA Today. "Bob Seger sings blues no more."

"I wanted to hone the limiting on the mix so that it would leap out of the compression of the average car radio like a monster." Musician Magazine, June 1986.

"I never planned to take this long to make the record, but I wanted to produce it myself and it took me months just to learn how everything worked in the studio. It was an experiment and the whole thing got out of hand. There was nobody to say 'no' to me and I ended up recording 25 songs in four cities." Robert Hillburn, April 13, 1986, LA Times. "Bob Seger Returns in the Eye of the Storm"


The album was mostly written in Michigan, although he wrote Miami in Florida.

Seger wrote all or part of 100 songs. Reportedly, his breakup with Jan and the end of another two-year relationship slowed down the process. "Tightrope" and "Somewhere Tonight" are reportedly about the break-up with Jan. 'It's You' is about the second relationship, which was already over by the time the album was released. Robert Hillburn, April 13, 1986, LA Times. "Bob Seger Returns in the Eye of the Storm"

 

Seger: "The time since The Distance has been my dark period." After The Distance, Seger broke up with his girlfriend, started a new relationship, and broke up again. "They were both cases where I'd gotten real close to her family and everything. So it was real sad, and some of the songs came out of those moments when you're asking all the questions: Was it me? Was it them? Was it my career? When you're working hard, sometimes you never know." David Hinkley, September 21, 1986, New York Daily News. "On the Never-Ending Road Again."


"From Live Bullet through Wind, I hardly took a day off. It was building, building, building. After Night Moves got to No. 4 [in 1977] I wanted that No. 1. With Against the Wind, my manager and I knew exactly what record to make, and we went out and made it.

"Then I took some time off, and for The Distance we kicked back a bit. Like A Rock is somewhere in between. It's a solid '80s record. I didn't expect it to be a No. 1." David Hinkley, September 21, 1986, New York Daily News. "On the Never-Ending Road Again."


On the Album Name

The album was going to be called American Storm, but the title was changed just before release.

"There have been so many songs with America in the title or the lyrics -- and I like a lot of them. I heard Bruce's song ('Born in the USA') long before it came out and I kept telling everybody that it was going to be a special record. And I doubt if there'll be an album I like better all year than Jackson's new one. [Jackson Browne's Lives in the Balance.] But that's not what my album is about and we didn't want anyone to be confused. That's why we changed the title...we switched to Like A Rock to avoid that comparison." Robert Hillburn, April 13, 1986 L.A. Times. "Bob Seger returns in the eye of the storm."

At one point Seger wanted to name the album Wildfire -- from a song about the excitement of a new romance. The song, a driving number similar in energy to "Roll Me Away," ultimately didn't make it on the album. Jack Curry, Spring 1986, USA Today. "Bob Seger sings blues no more."

A rather strange promotional item...a foam rubber rock. Look for yours on eBay for some wildly inflated price...


The Concept

"The record's not as autobiographical as some people think, but it does reflect certain things. I'd like to believe it's a bit more of an up record than The Distance, but most people don't agree.

"The songs are based on things that are close to me, though not necessarily about me. Henley and Frey and I have talked a lot over the years about songwriting, and we've all agreed that if you try to write something completely personal, it's usually too melodramatic, goofy or over the edge." Roy Trakin, 1987?, Creem.

Seger: "This is a record about relationships, about my relationship with women I've loved as an adult, about my perspective on the bonds and responsibilities that we all share to each other as friends, citizens and dreamers of a better quality of life, and about my relationship to rock and roll." Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."

"I didn't set out to make it a concept album, exactly, but there is a theme and it is renewal." Robert Hillburn, April 13, 1986, L.A. Times. "Bob Seger returns in the eye of the storm."

"The album is as close to the bone of real life as I can get: taking chances, the consequence of risk, the costs of settling down, overcoming obstacles, where to look for love and maybe the search for wisdom." Carl Wayne Arrington, September 20-22, 1991, USA Weekend. "Seger's back -- still smoking."


Musicians/Sessions

Seger: "The crucial new players on Like A rock were Rick Vito...and John Robinson, who played great stuff on Michael Jackson's Thriller and toured with Glenn Frey. When John came into the studio with us in LA in July 1985, that was the turnaround moment for the entire project." Musician Magazine, June 1986

Seger listened to Michael Jackson's Thriller?

Graff: "During his 40th birthday party, he put the word out to Silver Bullet Band members...that he was looking 'for some new kind of grooves.' Frost came up with 'Tightrope' and 'The Aftermath,' two grinding modern-sounding rockers that Seger said could be the start to a long collaboration between the two musicians." Gary Graff, May 4, 1986, The Detroit Free Press. "The rock of rock."

"The 'Like A Rock' vocal is live; we cut 'Miami'...on the fourth take; 'Sometimes' was a wrap on take three; we had 'Aftermath' on take five; all of the piano solos are live." Musician Magazine, June 1986.

What does that mean, "the Like A Rock vocal is live?" How would it not be? My assumption is he means there are no overdubs...one recording straight through.


TRACKS

American Storm

The song charted at #13

"'American Storm' is about cocaine. I wrote it after reading 'Wired,' Bob Woodward's biography of John Belushi. That was two and a half years ago, when there was a lot of publicity about cocaine abuse in show business. At the time, I thought that it was just a trend that would quickly die out and that the song would be out of date when it came time to record. But the situation has gotten worse. Maybe cocaine isn't quite as fashionable on the East and West Coasts these days, but the plague has spread into the heartland -- into the Middle West and the South."

"When it comes to drugs, I was warned early. My father was an alcoholic who left home when I was 10. But by that time I recognized what his problem was, and because I'd seen the damage first hand, it made me cautious." Stephen Holden, May 14, 1986, The New York Times. "Bob Seger's View of Life and Loving"

"The key line in 'American Storm' is 'You never feel the need.' You never feel anything when you're on drugs. You're numb. You're afraid to feel for one reason or another, and that's why you turn to drugs. I want to see people not do that." Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."

When he was in California, in '85 and '86, completing Like A Rock, Seger said that "drugs have become completely passe, out-of-date. But back in the Midwest where I live, it's still going strong. It takes longer for a cultural event like the deep-seated rejection of drug abuse to hit Middle America, and that's why I felt I had to stand up." Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."

The deep-seated rejection of drug abuse...hmmm, somehow I didn't notice that trend sweeping across the nation.

People "don't really know that I'm singing an anti-drug song. I didn't want to talk about what it was about for the first four weeks...And I'll be damned, when I finally told people, they'd say, 'Is that what it was about?' Nobody got it." Richard Harrington, August 17, 1986, Washington Post. "Bob Seger: Rocking On, With the Voice of Experience."


On the similarity between "American Storm" and "Even Now," Seger says:

"I don't get that at all. They may have a similar tempo. I write songs and play guitar only so well. If anything, 'American Storm' sounds more like 'Hollywood Nights.' And it doesn't sound like that at all. It's played at the same speed, but the bridges and choruses are entirely different." -- Roy Trakin, 1987?, Creem.


Somewhere Tonight

"I always feel real good when I get reaction to songs that aren't as well know. Songs that are deep in the album. On the Like A Rock album there's a song called 'Somewhere Tonight,' and I've gotten a whole lot of mail on that one, people say 'what a great song, boy, I've been there.'" Interview on Later with Bob Costas.


The Ring

"The Ring" is Seger's personal favorite on the album. May 14, 1986, Stephen Holden, The New York Times. "Bob Seger's View of Life and Loving"

Versions of "The Ring" were recorded in four places: at Miami, Detroit, Muscle Shoals, and LA.

"The original song was eight minutes long and I guess it was real special to me. It starts out with a guy totally in love with his wife and what they share, but by the middle of the second verse the story has shifted to her point of view, and she reveals how she came to give up all her youthful dreams during the course of accepting her fate. When you're in a relationship, you're always surrounded by a ring of circumstance -- joined together by a wedding ring, or in a boxing ring." Timothy White, June 1986, Musician Magazine. "Bob Seger forgives but doesn't forget."

Lyrics from a deleted verse:

"He came on so strong
He hit her full force
Like a storm raging out of control
He touched something deep in her soul
She gave in, and let herself go..."

As Seger says, there is a ring of circumstance around us all -- including the circumstance of his being the second child. That probably meant that Seger knew less of his dad, and perhaps felt the loss differently when his father left...but perhaps it also gave Bor the freedom to pursue rock & roll, since the burden of supporting the family logically fell to the older son, George. The simple circumstance of being the second child, instead of the first...perhaps changes everything.


Like a Rock

The song charted at #12

"'Like a Rock' was inspired partly by the end of a relationship I had that had lasted for 11 years. You wonder where all that time went. But beyond that, it expresses my feeling that the best years of your life are in your late teens when you have no special commitments and no career. It's your last blast of fun before heading into the cruel world." Stephen Holden, May 14, 1986, The New York Times. "Bob Seger's View of Life and Loving"

Seger played "Like A Rock" for Don Henley, who told him it sounded too much like "Night Moves." Seger: "My heart sank pretty low. But you have to depend on your friends. I'll tell you what, though. I made sure that from now on I'm going to play him my stuff early."

"'Rock' was the song I wrote in the spring of 1984, several months after The Distance tour ended. It was a reexamination of my unguarded days in this business, the time when no stroking mattered, and when ten years of a $7,000 annual salary and a lifestyle of travelling a hundred thousand miles in a station wagon were something I just enjoyed doing instead of a conventional day gig." Timothy White, June 1986, Musician Magazine. "Bob Seger forgives but doesn't forget."

"Like a Rock was a cleansing process of sorts" (An apparent reference to the breakup of a long-time relationship.) Marty Racine, 1986, Houston Chronicle, 1986. "Bob Seger, Back on the Road Again"


Miami

Seger lived in the Miami area for three months. The discrimination he saw against Cubans made an impression, especially since the Cubans had come to America considering it a land of opportunity. Robert Hillburn, April 13, 1986, LA Times. "Bob Seger Returns in the Eye of the Storm"

Seger: "Miami" was written as a celebration "of a lot of friendly, hardworking people...brave people. They saw the lights, the glitter, the beauty of the city of Miami. But at the same time they were apprehensive, because they were fairly sure they would never be able to go back to the repressive society they left." Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."

"The line in the song, 'Were they really free?' is double-edged. Were they free at last, or will they be worse off here for new, unanticipated reasons, such as the bigotry of local citizens?" Timothy White, 1986, American Storm Tour Program. "Raised on Rock."


The Aftermath and Tightrope

Seger: "I just feel really good, but those songs represent the dark days. I was just lonesome and shellshocked. You know, after something lasts 11 years and you work so hard on it and it just doesn't work, you hate to admit failure. But you feel like a failure because you couldn't see it through . . .

"They were both in minor keys. I'm going to surprise you probably, but in 15 albums I never had a song in a minor key. I've written songs in minor keys, but never used them. I used majors or what I call modal -- which is firsts and fifths, like the song 'Turn the Page.'" Steve Morse, Boston Globe, September 25, 1986. "Bob Seger Ready to Turn the Page."

Seger wrote the lyrics to "The Aftermath," and "Tightrope," and Craig Frost wrote the music, which Seger called "a ferocious type of music." He added: "I kind of write lyrics to fit the style of music, whatever it is. I wouldn't write those songs, is what I'm trying to say, if I was by myself. It's more of a collaboration. My moods are not that varied." Marty Racine, 1986, Houston Chronicle. "Bob Seger, Back on the Road Again"


Random Notes

"Fortunate Son" is the CD "bonus track" and the flip of American Storm. The track was recorded live from the encore of a 1983 show. The original B-side was supposed to be "Can't Hit the Corners No More" -- it was even listed as the flipside in the yellow Phonolog books, causing Jesse and I much pre-release excitement and anticipation -- followed closely by intense post-release grousing over the false alarm. Tricked and teased by Seger again. Somehow, the intensity of our obsession makes us feel entitled...even though we're not, of course. What we are, obviously, is privileged -- privileged to have heard Seger in small Ann Arbor bars, privileged to get any of this music. (Name another rocker who first hit the charts in 1968 who is still making great records and shows no signs of quitting.) And now that I think of it, we're privileged, Jesse and I, to have shared this great music and our deep attraction to it for over a quarter of a century -- it's part of what forms the bond of our friendship, the longest friendship of my life.


Reviews

Stephen Holden: Like A Rock, the album, "has all the qualities that have made Mr. Seger one of rock music's working-class heros for the last decade: catchy folkish melodies, an unstoppable drive, lyrics that address people's everyday lives and, most of all, a voice that inspires trust." Stephen Holden, May 14, 1986, The New York Times. "Bob Seger's View of Life and Loving"

Holden also noted "a deep and special connection to soul music."


Critic Harry Sumrall makes a habit of trashing Seger. He pulled no punches for Like A Rock, as follows:

"On a first, superficial listening, the songs of Like a Rock would seem to live up to that title....Another solid rock record from Bob Seger...But is it? Beneath the musical bravado of Like a Rock, there are nagging questions....

"It is one thing to speak, lyrically, of taking the 'easy way,' but it is quite another to actually take that way. And on Like a Rock, Seger has done just that. Put flatly, the record is, musically, a bore. The power chords and raspy vocals have all been heard before, as have the down-home ballads...

"Like A Rock is stale, derivative '70s rock at its worst, music that takes the musical easy way, that never challenges or enlightens the listener...music that denies the creative potential and vitality of rock." Harry Sumrall, April 20, 1986, San Jose Mercury News. "The new Seger sounds like the old Seger, except when he sounds like someone else."


Like a Rock was also reviewed in the L.A. Times on April 13, 1986 by Chris Willman, under the headline "Moss Gathers Under 'Rock.'"

"A sense of coasting pervades the album", according to Willman, who calls it a letdown that wasn't worth the 3 and a half year wait. The album is full of "well-meaning stuff...(but) the personal revelations aren't all that revealing anymore."

Commenting on "The Ring," Willman writes: "You know that these naive dreams won't come true by the end of the tune because it's a Bob Seger song, after all, and he's still up to what he often does best: crooning nostalgic and melancholic ballads of loss, regret and disillusionment." (And yet Seger's own naive dreams of rock & roll success have come true.)

American Storm, Willman says, is "an anti-drug anthem so artfully done you'd never guess it was an anti-drug anthem."( Okay, I agree with him on that point.)

"The flat arrangements don't help," he concludes. Which raises the question -- what planet is Chris Willman from?


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