Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/17/2012
Bob Seger had one of the most widely acclaimed runs of radio hits in the late ’70s and early ’80s of any American rock and roll artist. After toiling for many years in relative obscurity in his home state of Michigan playing hard-edged barroom rock with uncommon fire, in 1975 he hit his stride with the album Beautiful Loser, the first on which he was supported by the Silver Bullet Band. His subsequent tour and concert album Live Bullet brought him the notice he had long deserved, and his next two studio albums Night Moves and Stranger In Town were huge, spinning out seven hit singles. From there on Seger was a first-tier artist, a highly regarded songwriter, a dynamic performer, and a true believer in the healing power of rock and roll.
Well into the latter half of Seger’s career, Capitol Records issued 1994’s Greatest Hits album. The problem was that their attempt to cram all of Seger’s hits onto a single disc was inevitably unsuccessful; it can’t be done. There are too many important songs to have a single-disc collection capture his greatest works. Greatest Hits Vol. 2 followed nine years later and suffered from the opposite problem, which is to say, there were a number of songs on it that definitely belonged, but also several that were not hits and were not necessarily either high-value or high-impact album cuts. (And neither collection included “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”… licensing issues aside, really? C’mon.)
Seger and Capitol finally rectified the situation this year by releasing the two-disc collection Ultimate Hits: Rock And Roll Never Forgets, which, while it isn’t perfect, manages to collect all of the really important Bob Seger tracks that any self-respecting classic rock fan needs to have in their collection. It’s a heady mix of hard-driving rockers (“Rock And Roll Never Forgets,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Katmandu”), insightful ballads (“Night Moves,” “We’ve Got Tonight,”) and road songs (“Travelin’ Man,” “Turn The Page”), expansive anthems (“Roll Me Away,” “Like A Rock”) and one particularly memorable cover (“Old Time Rock And Roll”).
Surprisingly, for a guy whose trademark has always been the genuineness and integrity of his music, Seger has occasionally shown a weakness for gimmicky songs. I, for one, have always thought “Her Strut” fell into the latter category, but either way, there’s no getting around “Shakedown,” a mid-’80s horror show with cheesy synthesizers and Beverly Hills Cop II-themed lyrics. The fact that the latter song was Seger’s sole number one hit single in his career tells you all you need to know about the difference between popular music and good music.
Both discs tend to peter out a bit at the end, the second one moreso than the first, but the balance and song choices are consistently better than on the Greatest Hits collections. You can still argue over the selection of relative obscurities like “Tryin’ To Live My Life Without You” or Seger’s cover of “Little Drummer Boy” instead of tremendous album cuts like “Feel Like A Number” or “Brave Strangers,” but these are quibbles. And while the inclusion of two unreleased tracks—a 1989 reworking of the Little Richard number “Hey Hey Hey Hey” and a rather predictable cover of Tom Waits’ immortal “Downtown Train”—doesn’t add much musically, it’s a nice nod to collectors who already have the rest of these songs.
Ultimate Hits is an excellent package encapsulating the career of one of the key figures of the genre known today as Heartland Rock. Not that the latter is a concept that Seger himself would ever give a moment’s thought to – he just wrote a bunch of terrific songs and recorded them with fire and passion and integrity. Seger’s body of work is all the legacy he could ever desire, and it speaks—loudly—for itself.