Some artists are known for common themes in their work: Degas painted ballerinas. Thomas Hardy colored his work with broad strokes of fatalism. And Bob Seger sings about regret.
No matter what you regret in life, Bob Seger’s got a song about it. Bummed about a one-night stand? Reflecting on your youth and how you squandered it? Not feeling the current musical landscape and yearning for some old time rock n’ roll? Seger’s got you covered!
Bob Seger has a voice that could make you feel a little wistful and a little sad about remembering what you had for breakfast two days ago. There’s a craggy depth to his soulful sandpaper vocals that conveys the gravity of remembrance, regardless of how distant that memory may be.
Here are five songs that cement his reputation as Mr. Regret. The next time you’re feeling low, give these tunes a spin and wallow for a bit. Ol’ Bob will get ya through.
5. Night Moves
Seger was 31 in 1976 when this song was released. Granted, today, “30 is the new 20,” but in ’76, 30 must have been the new 50 given the deep recollections of Seger recalling the summer of ’62. He spends the bulk of the song ruminating about blissful teenage days past spent in the backseat of a vintage Chevy with some hot young thing.
Gawky teenage Seger’s having a ball. He’s boinking without consequence. He’s polishing his car. She’s polishing his knob. He’s got nothing to lose. The world is one, big, wondrous place with fields of potential as endless as the cornfields that he sings of.
It’s all fine and dandy until the last few verses of the song. Like you didn’t see this coming? As if the softly-strummed acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, and ambling piano runs didn’t clue you in that this wasn’t going to simply be a delightful little Americana-flavored romp all the way through?
Nope. Brooding Bob is shaken from his reverie and snapped back to the present: “With autumn closing in…” as a clear and present metaphor for impending middle age, Bob mentions how “funny” it is how the night moves.
No, Bob. It’s not funny.
This is the Bob Seger song you bust out when you’re paging through your high school yearbook and would prefer to give yourself a hard slap back into reality rather than a gentle nudge.
4. We’ve Got Tonight
The greatest song ever about begging for a pity fuck, “We’ve Got Tonight” is about assessing your options, looking at what’s in front of you, and getting down to business — even if it’s just for one night. Seger’s plaintive prodding is one part confessional and two parts making a Johnny Cochran-worthy case for a one night stand.
Seger proclaims,”I know your plans / Don’t include me / Still here we are / Both of us lonely.” You can practically see him tracing little hearts in the foam of his beer during last call as he muses on the condition of solitude. By gum, the man is earnest.
And probably really horny.
As the song wears on, one might wonder if “lonely” is actually code for “horny.” In an offhand moment of revelation, Seger mentions that, like everyone else, he’s longed for love. But, since that’s probably not in the cards, he’ll take what he can get, which will likely come in the form of a no-strings-attached hookup for the night. He even tries to get quasi-romantic about it, asking the person on the receiving end of his sad-eyed push for poon to turn out the lights and come take his hand. I mean, hey. He’s not doing anything. You’re not doing anything. We’ve got tonight. Why don’t you stay? No big deal, right?
3. The Famous Final Scene
For those times when you’re feeling really melodramatic about your love life and a Jim Steinman song seems too upbeat, Bob Seger has the answer. If there’s a song that could be considered Chicken Soup for the Rock n’ Roll Soul, “The Famous Final Scene” is not it. Actually, this song is more like Depression Pot Pie.
One long celluloid metaphor, “The Famous Final Scene” chronicles the waning days of a relationship and the dramatic build-up to the definitive break up. You know the drill: You both know it’s over. There’s really no good time to call it quits. You’re hoping the other person spells it out and spares you the gut-wrenching, knife-twisting job of saying sayonara.
Yet, at the same time, the dueling corners of your mind labeled “high school drama club whore” and “tortured 40-something screenwriter” are hard at work crafting the perfect way to end that relationship.
Don’t lie. You’ve done it, too.
You map out a grand, eloquent statement peppered with memorable, Bogart-esque one-liners. Laying bare all the things you wanted to say — good and bad — but were too chickenshit to string into coherent sentences without sounding like a stuttering I, Claudius fool.
The lines, “How you tried to make it work / Did you really think it could? / How you tried to make it last/ Did you really think it would?“echo the sentiments every besotted sot thinks to themselves late at night, sleeping alone, retracing the highs and lows of a relationship and trying to desperately pinpoint that turning point where things started to go downhill fast. Peeling back the layers of self-flagellation, chiding yourself for being a complete tool bag and thinking it could ever work.
The blue collar majesty of the riff from “The Famous Final Scene” cuts through the air, serving as the sad soundtrack to that dead man walking trudge to do the deed and cut the cord. You think that part sucks? To paraphrase another ’70s stallwart, “Baby, you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Seger nails that shit when he notes that the breakup itself isn’t the lowest low point:
Now the lines have all been read
And you knew them all by heart
Now you move toward the door
Here it comes the hardest part
In the seconds after, you can always take the words themselves back or hit “undo” on that email… But once you drop the mic and walk out the door following that epic, final breakup speech, there is really no turning back. No Ross and Rachel bullshit of “We were on a break.” That’s not how it works in the real world, baby. Or at least in Bob Seger’s pseudo-cinematic world. You put those words out there. All feelings and grievances have been aired. And suddenly, it’s “I release you from your promise, Ebenezer.” It’s too late to take it back and Frankenstein that relationship back to life.
As the final notes ring out, you thrust your hands in your pockets and make your grand exit as a single, silver, perfect tear rolls down your cheek as the film projector flickers and shudders its last gasp.
2. The Fire Inside
Piggybacking off of the doldrums of “The Famous Final Scene,” Bob Seger introduces us to a new kind of regret. The next logical stage of regret that follows an epic breakup. “The Fire Inside” starts out on a hopeful note with the feeling of freedom that comes from a good night out on the town, scoping the bars to find someone new and immerse yourself in the whole vicious relationship cycle all over again. Yet, by the end of the song, you realize you’re not going to find love in a bar or club; you’re just going to find a piece of ass for the night. Things get ever more dreary when you serve that awful truth up with a side of “I’m aging and staring down the barrel of another 30 years of being alone and unloved.”
If you haven’t shoved your face into a trough of Haagen Dazs just yet, I’ll wait.
Pro tip: When you’re ready to really wallow, Haagen Dazs Vanilla Bean is even better with a Jim Beam Maple chaser. Make it a double shot and thank me later.
But before we race ahead to the finish line, let’s explore that whole new world of regret out there on the smoke-filled club scene. At the start of the song, you’re feelin’ downright spunky, eager to see what awaits you that night. By the time you get to the club, that’s all shot in the ass as you observe the dance floor dregs that inhabit the joint. You’re one of the unwashed rabble desperately trying to find someone to paw at for the night and it ain’t pretty: Cautious loners. Emotional wrecks. Each of them doing their damnedest impression of a functioning human being. That “cool guy” or “cool girl” that everyone wants to be with.
Seger notes the likelihood that the person on the other end of leading the dance is likely just as damaged goods, too. There’s some solace there, but it’s not quite enough. And it becomes far too obvious that the masks have fallen off by the time the dim lighting has gotten just a little harsher: “They hold one another just a little too long / And they move apart and then move on.”
Damn, Bob. Damn.
And what happens when you do take someone home and “get lucky”? Oh. It’s a whole other ball of regret, son.
As opposed to the sad vertical dance ritual, the horizontal mambo is followed by an even deeper shade of shame. The shame that can only be fully experienced by sitting quietly in your bed, listening to the other person fumble around in the dark for their clothes as they make a break for it out the door (or window) without so much as a goodbye kiss on the forehead.
And in a moment of near Tennessee Williams-style tragedy, you ponder the fleeting nature of youth and the futility of trying to find even a speck of romance before your best years ebb away. Even the faint glimmer of hope — the titular fire inside — that runs throughout the song is tainted by the harsh reality that “dreams die hard and we watch them erode.”
Thanks for schooling us, Bob, that hope is indeed the cruelest emotion of all. Goddamnit.
1. Against the Wind
To Bob Seger’s credit, he came up with a poetic title for his magnum opus of regret. In the hands of a lesser, more literal songwriter, “Against the Wind” may have simply been called “It Just Gets Worse.” Whereas most of Seger’s songs are singularly focused on one particular strain of regret — be it failed romance, aging, loneliness, or witnessing the slow and painful demise of your dreams — “Against the Wind” is a mash-up of every single thing that could possibly haunt you in one sitting.
Seger sums up layers of regret and pain early on in the song with just one line: “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”
Yeah, yeah. That would mean none of the bad shit would have ever happened and you’d never know pain and the wisdom that comes with it.
But how many wise, world weary people are there truly running around out there?
Who needs that shit?
Imagine how awesome it would be to never know that person you loved would leave you. Or that those friends you trusted wouldn’t take a big, steaming shit on you. Or that you’re not working yourself towards an early grave, your life fraught with “deadlines and commitments” with nothing else really fulfilling around the corner… just getting older and continuing to run the rat race.
Bob Seger enters an unprecedented level of hopelessness. He establishes it early on in the song and by the end, he’s still in the same spot he was at the beginning. Still running. Just older.
He’s like Severus Snape and Sansa Stark rolled into one, leaving the listener with one big ball of bleak as the final chords of the song fade out.
May 6, 2015
How on Earth could you leave out MAINSTREET? The song about longing for a titty dancer just because she still looked innocent, down to the point of many years later, still stalking the area where she had worked?
And what does it say that as a ten year old, his music spoke to me hard? My dad said at 20, Seger wrote like he was 50. And that’s why as I hit my Forties, his music didn’t feel as dated as the music other folks my age were listening to when trying to recapture their childhood.
May 8, 2015
I’m a little disappointed in myself it didn’t make the cut. But I was trying to think about more universal types of regret. Not everyone has regrets about professional jug-jigglers many years later, but maybe another post on lesser-known gem from Seger’s Big Box o’ Regret.
I think you summed up why you (and, well, even me… Although I was probably 12 when I started getting into Seger) love his music so much. There’s a certain disenfranchisement that comes with being 10 going on 40. It’s like “we know our own.” I thought something similar about Seger’s songs. Your Dad was right. A lot of what he wrote felt sad, wistful, mad, and regretful all at once when he was in his early 30s. And “with autumn closing in,” a lot of those lyrics that resonated even back then take on even more poignancy and make that much more sense.
There are some bands I love, but I’ll agree. Some of them, I can’t help but listen to and go, “Aren’t you cute. You 50-something hacks. Trying to be 20 again. How precious.” It feels a little fake and a little forced. Trying to fit a formula to songs to appease fans eager to pay for their midlife crisis / second childhood. Totally agree.
February 7, 2020
Great article, but I feel the list is incomplete without Comin’ Home. A great ode to venturing out into the world and falling flat on your face.
January 11, 2017
Can’t forget “Like a Rock” – my favorite. Talking about waking up one day and finding so many years have gone. Geez. Makes you want to go sit in front of a bright light for a few hours.
March 29, 2017
That’s some of the most honest interpretations I’ve ever read about any songs! Funny shit too!!
October 21, 2017
And yet even as Seger points out all of this emotion and what you consider regret, we (especially me) keep coming back for more of his reminders pointing at our own heart ache and dead ends. It’s as if we (especially me) don’t exactly regret or perhaps revel in what once was; in addition to hearing good music. Thanks a lot Bob; but also thanks for pointing out the brighter side of all the dead ends, because we’ll all be fine after all. Thank you DD for the reminder that all the bleak “regret” that Bob sings about is part of the fun that comes with getting to that old age. I view Bob as a realist with a strong pentient for brining back good memories while keeping reality in check. Regret or reminders of where we once were? It’s only regret if you wish you weren’t a part of it or harbor guilt about it. I think back to failed relationships and am grateful for the lessons learned. You really think these songs are about regret? Perhaps they are if the memories they conjure up in you are your own regretful memories. The memories Bobs songs bring back for me are reminders of a long winding road filled with good and bad, fortunately not regretful. I think we can agree that Bob Seger’s music is set in a certain time frame but timeless emotion that keeps us against the wind.
November 7, 2019
I love Bob Seger! He was awesome when I saw him in February 2019 in Los Angeles. ca.
November 7, 2019
Well….. now that Bob has stopped touring, will this be an end to any regret?
November 30, 2021
Good article. Very clever writing it in a 2004 snark voice. This detached superiority as semi-comical defensive tone has largely been lost in 2021. Brava!