Posts Tagged ‘Downtown Train’

The Freedom of Music: The Seger Files

March 27th, 2011
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One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Take a picture of this: It’s 1988, three years after Like a Rock. Bob Seger is top of the world. Besides his hit album and highly successful tour, he has had #1 hits from a couple of movies, Understanding from Teachers and Shakedown from Beverly Hills Cop. Seger had almost finished recording his follow up album to Like a Rock, called Downtown Train. The album was built around the Tom Waits hit of the same name, the song being the focal point of the album.sidebar-4

Seger was in London talking to an old friend, Rod Stewart. He told him about the new album, including the use of the Tom Waits song. Stewart was, apparently, impressed. Within a few weeks Seger had heard Stewart’s version of Downtown Trainon the radio. Stewart had scooped Seger and Seger went back to the drawing board. Angered, Seger said he didn’t know when Downtown Train would see the light of day, but it wouldn’t be soon.

It wasn’t.

Fast forward to 1991. Nirvana owned the airwaves and classic rock was dead. Seger’s momentum was gone, and he was, as the punks said ten years earlier, a dinosaur rocker. Into that environment, he released The Fire Inside, a weak album but not a terrible one. Despite a reasonably big hit with The Real Love it’s sales were not very good. Seger’s recording career never recovered.

Seger went into semi-retirement, sticking his head above the parapet in 1995 and 2006 with a new album and tour. Other than that, and a couple of greatest hits collections, nothing. He settled down with family, raising his two kids and developing a telescope hobby.

And what happened to Downtown Train? As Rod Stewart went from ripping off Bob Seger’s better ideas to ripping off Frank Sinatra’s, Seger’s Downtown Train sat in the vault, forgotten and unheard.

A couple of weeks ago amid news of a tour and a new album in process, Seger released Downtown Train to radio stations and streamed the song on his website. It’s a good version of the song, and may have well been the hit he was hoping for back in 1988. But more like 1991 than 1988, Seger seems to have misread the musical landscape.

While streaming the song in his website is the right thing, not releasing it as a single to iTunes and other downloading services is the wrong one. Seger seems intent on an album to go with the tour. That is old thinking.

In the modern landscape an album is just a collection of songs waiting to be downloaded from the one of a million free sites. Who pays $10 for an album anymore? Better to release singles. One this month, one next, another in three. If you want new material to tour on, just release the best three to five songs you got. At $1.29 a song you have a much better chance of people buying them, and you got new material to play and sell, onstage. Albums are passé, it’s just nobody in the music industry has realized it yet. Instead of following a dead trend, instead of re-living 1991, Bob Seger could have led on this one.

Too bad. More Bob Seger songs over time, less Bob Seger in semi-retirement would be a good thing.

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