‘I Knew You When’ features old time rock & roll and reflective tunes
I believe Old Time Rock And Roll was the first Bob Seger song I heard in the late ’70s when I started listening to music on the radio. Together with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, Seger belongs to my all-time favorite American rock artists. On Friday (November 17), he released I Knew You When, his 18th studio album. While it may not include immediately obvious gems like Katmandu, Turn The Page, Rock And Roll Never Forgets and Old Time Rock And Roll, to name a few, it’s a pretty solid record that gets better after listening to it for a few times.
In addition to arena first-pumping style rockers, Seger included various more reflective tunes. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In May, the heartland rocker turned 72, and rock & roll is a tough business that certainly doesn’t get any easier with advancing age. Last month, Seger was forced to cut short his 2017 Runaway Train Tour with The Silver Bullet Band due to a back issue that required surgery. According to a recent announcement on Seger’s website, his recovery is going well and “rescheduled dates are being mapped out for a coast to coast reboot of the tour this Spring.”
Seger’s new album is dedicated to his long-time friend Glenn Frey, who like Seger was born in Detroit, MI. The two met in 1967 when Fry played in a band called the Mushrooms. Seger helped him get a recording contract and also wrote and produced the band’s first single Such A Lovely Child. Together with Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther, Seger also co-wrote the Eagles classic Heartache Tonight, a 1979 Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit. I Knew You When also pays tribute to Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen with covers of Busload Of Faith and Democracy, respectively. While Seger isn’t known for being particularly vocal about politics, it’s safe to assume the inclusion of these two tunes is not a coincidence.
Currently, there are only clips of two songs from the new album on YouTube, and I wonder whether that’s by design. Only in June this year did Seger’s music become more widely available on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and iHeart Radio. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Seger pointed to his manager and record company: “It’s an ongoing issue with my manager and Capitol Records. You have to talk to him about that. They agreed to something many years ago about new media and they don’t want to live up to it. The record business is 50 percent of what it was ten years ago, so they’re trying to cut costs. Until that’s resolved, we let very little out.”
The first clip is Glenn Song, Seeger’s moving tribute to Frey, which initially appeared as a free download on his website this January on the first anniversary of Frey’s death. The song is included as one of three bonus tracks on the deluxe version of the new album. “It’s obviously not meant to be a hit,” Seger told Rolling Stone. “There’s no chorus per se or title section or anything. The idea was just to honor his memory and talk, very specifically, about my impression of him in 1966 when we first met.”
The second clip I found is Seger’s cover of the Reed tune Busload Of Faith. Reed included the track on his 1989 studio record New York and also released it separately as a single that same year. Seger’s version adds muscle to the original with a great electric slide guitar, soul-sounding horns and gospel-like backing vocals. It’s a highlight of the record. According to Billboard, Seger adjusted some of the lyrics. He replaced the Reed lines “You can’t depend on the churches/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” with “You can’t depend on the president/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” – remarkable how lyrics that were written in a different context more than 25 years ago eerily fit the situation in present day America!
Other tunes I’d like to mention are Gracile and The Highway, two rockers written by Seger. A third rocker, Runaway Train, was co-written by Seger, Tim Mitchell and Silver Bullet Band keyboarder Craig Frost. According to Wikipedia, it is one of several tunes on the album that were recorded many years ago but had remained unreleased until now. This particular song was initially recorded in 1993 and intended for Seger’s 1995 studio album It’s A Mystery. Another example is the title track I Knew You When, which Seger wrote in 1997 and considered for his 2006 album Face The Promise.
I Knew You When was recorded in Nashville and Detroit and produced by Seger himself. According to an announcement on Seger’s website, the album marks his 49th year with Capitol Records, extending his record as the longest tenured solo artist in the company’s history. The standard version of the album has 10 tracks and comes on vinyl and CD. The deluxe version of the album includes three additional tracks and is available on CD, digital download and via select streaming services.
Seger has earned 13 platinum and 7 multi-platinum RIAA-certified sales awards, including his studio albums Beautiful Loser (1975), Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980), The Distance (1982), Like A Rock (1986), The Fire Inside (1991), Face The Promise (2006) and his double live albums Live Bullet (1976) and Nine Tonight (1981). Except for Beautiful Loser and Face The Promise, Seger recorded all of these records with The Silver Bullet Band. Earlier this year, his Greatest Hits album was certified diamond by the RIAA for achieving 10 million units sold in the U.S.
Sources: Wikipedia, Bob Seger website, Rolling Stone, Billboard, YouTube