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The Making of a Mixtape
There’s magic to a good mixtape. You can’t just throw a bunch of songs together on an…ugh…playlist. A good flow is necessary. The opener sets the tone and draws you in, the rest of the songs weave effortlessly between shades of light and dark, and the final song ties it all together. There might not necessarily be a theme, but some forethought needs to go into it, some idea of what you’re doing and why.
This might seem restrictive, but there is practically an unlimited number of ways to make a successful mixtape.
Building a Bob Seger Mixtape
For this, Music in Minnesota’s first mixtape to celebrate a big-name concert, the focus is on Bob Seger, who plays the Xcel Energy Center tonight.
There are many ways to construct a Bob Seger mixtape: focus solely on hits, throw in a few deeper cuts, focus on his best lesser-known material, concentrate on his ballads or high-energy songs, and plenty of others.
This mix is meant to give an overview of Bob Seger’s career, focusing on his best songwriting and most iconic songs. Some of his biggest hits aren’t here (“Night Moves,” “Hollywood Nights,” “Mainstreet,” and others), but the couple that are included cover that side of him well enough.
The focus is more on his power as a songwriter, an aspect of Seger that is sometimes lost in his arena rock veneer.
If you love Bob Seger, hopefully you’ll be satisfied. If you think Bob Seger is lame, hopefully you’ll drop your pretense and allow yourself to enjoy him.
Listen to each of the songs on this Spotify playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3xxM77Yf49NRnCcteh9712
1. Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man
Before Bob Seger was the voice of Middle America, he was a badass rock n’ roller with a Detroit rhythm and blues backbone. “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” is the best example of this early era, and its high energy makes it a good opener for a mixtape. Dig his confidence: “I ain’t good looking/but you know I ain’t shy/ain’t afraid to look a girl in the eye.”
Classic rock radio prefers the later, neutered version from Live Bullet, but the original recording from 1968 is definitive.
2. Fire Lake
Okay, twist my arm, I’ll tell you: “Fire Lake” is my favorite Bob Seger song. Its dark feel is atypical for Seger, and it shows that his songwriting can be quite affecting.
The build-up in the bridge is the best part, even if some of the lyrics are a bit overcooked (“who wants to brave those bronze beauties/lying in the sun/with their long soft hair falling/flying as they run”). By the time he screams “oh Lord, am I really here at last?!” you get so lost in the song that the lyrics don’t even matter.
And yes, those unmistakable harmonies are Don Henley, Glen Fry, and Timothy B. Schmidt from the Eagles.
3. Against the Wind
Now this is Bob Seger: Voice of Middle America. That’s not a bad thing, of course. The song floats by effortlessly, and lyrics like “and the years rolled slowly past/I found myself alone/surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends/I found myself further and further from my home” are universally relatable. Seger’s ballads are his most engaging songs and feature his best songwriting, as “Against the Wind” shows.
Because you can always use more Johnny Cash in your life, check out the version of “Against the Wind” by his 80s supergroup the Highwaymen. Hearing Cash and Willie Nelson in such good voice is sort of heartbreaking.
4. Turn the Page
“Turn the Page” is Bob Seger’s signature song, and deservedly so. His honest reflection about life on the road might not be universal, but the evocative way he puts the listener in his shoes is pretty remarkable. Metallica’s popular cover loses the subtlety but is still effective.
5. Beautiful Loser
“Beautiful Loser” finds the Bard of Middle America as the spokesman for the working man. He pulls it off beautifully (pardon the pun). My Dad, a blue-collar worker to this day, sees “Beautiful Loser” as something of a theme song. I’m sure he isn’t the only one.
6. Like a Rock
I think we’re far enough removed from the Chevy commercials featuring “Like a Rock” to judge it on its own merits. The song is a meaningful statement of staying strong in the face of adversity, and its big production fits the message perfectly. Plus, it uses the word “unencumbered,” and how cool is that?
7. Old Time Rock n’ Roll
For those raised on classic rock, “Old Time Rock’ n Roll” is the perfect example of the sort of song that you love as a kid, hate once you hear it too many times, and then eventually come back to (at least if you drop your pretense).
If you’ve heard it a million times, come back to the song like it’s the first time you’re hearing it. Get lost in the groove. Smile at Seger’s somewhat curmudgeonly tribute to the music he loved growing up.
If you’ve never heard it, just do that. It’s a fun song.
8. You’ll Accomp’ny Me
“You’ll Accomp’ny Me” is the easily the cheesiest song that I genuinely enjoy. Even listening to it today, it’s hard for me to admit that it’s anything but really meaningful. Maybe it is and I’m just too cynical to see that.
Either way, it’s a nice little song. Like the best Seger songs, it has a universal theme, that of longing for somebody you aren’t with. The unusual twist is that it’s delivered with confidence, not despondency.
9. Shame on the Moon
Seger popularized country legend Rodney Crowell’s “Shame on the Moon” with his hit version from the 1983 album The Distance. The delicate, maudlin ballad is classic old-school country, and Seger delivers it with the proper restraint.
10. Little Drummer Boy
Since it’s Christmas time, why not finish off the mix with his 80s rock exploration of “Little Drummer Boy”? That way, if you’re listening to the mix and it isn’t Christmas time, you can just stop after “Shame on the Moon” (which is an excellent closing track).
Seger doesn’t take “Little Drummer Boy” lightly, giving it a full arrangement and singing like he actually is the little drummer boy. Or would he be drumming then?
Regardless, it’s always fun to hear this one a few times during the Christmas season.
Feel free to comment with your favorite Bob Seger songs, and be sure to catch him tonight at the Xcel Energy Center.