Since the earliest days of pop and country music there has been the so called “cross-over” song. That’s when a country artist delivers a song that’s not too country for pop radio and the song makes it’s way onto radio stations and into ears that otherwise would never have heard it. It also works the same way for a pop artist. Kind of.
When a pop or rock artist want’s to make a country cross-over song they record the same kind of song they always do and put fiddles and sometimes pedal steel guitars on it and call it country. More often than not, that works.
For the past decade or so it seems like nearly every rock or pop band or singer that hasn’t been heard from in years suddenly gets the country urge and soon finds themselves all over country radio. When exactly was it that Uncle Kracker became a country artist? And why? (The real reason is simple really. Airplay equals sales and if pop radio no longer loves you, country radio is worth a shot.)
Sometimes it works out just fine as in the return to the radio and major popularity of Darius Rucker a few years back. His very successful run as the lead singer for Hootie and the Blowfish had run it’s course and they really weren’t all that far from country anyways.
On the other hand, Jessica Simpson anyone?
Going way back in the annals of time, or at least to 1982, a rock n’ roll stalwart managed a true cross over hit even though he never really planned it quite that way.
When Bob Seger returned to the studio in 1982 to record his twelfth album, he brought along some friends much to the displeasure of his long time backing group, The Silver Bullet Band. In fact it would be the last time The Silver Bullet Band would be Seger’s regular support group. Part of the reason for this was all those other friends that Seger used on the recording of The Distance.
You’ve got Roy Bittan from Springsteen’s E Street Band, legendary session drummer Russ Kunkel, Don Felder and Glenn Frey from The Eagles, Davey Johnstone from Elton John’s band, keyboardist Bill Payne from Little Feet as well as guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel from every nearly other artist’s recordings of the 1970′s, all in the same studio.
No wonder The Silver Bullet Band felt a bit squeezed out.
In December of 1982 when The Distance was ready for release, a more unlikely first single would have been hard to find on the album. That single was “Shame on the Moon.”
A very countrified Bob Seger single if there ever was one. There is a good reason for that though. “Shame on the Moon” was written by country music legend Rodney Crowell.
“Until you’ve been beside a man, you don’t know what he wants.
You don’t know if he cries at night. You don’t know if he don’t.
When nothin’ comes easy, old nightmares are real.
Until you’ ve been beside a man, you don’t know how he feels.”
This is Bob Seger at his everyman best delivering Crowell’s melancholy words with the sound of a guy who’s been there.
“Once inside a woman’s heart, a man must keep his head.
Heaven opens up the door, where angels fear to tread.
Some men go crazy, some men go slow,
Some men go just where they want, some men never go.”
Seger builds “Shame on the Moon” around his simple acoustic guitar strum pattern and his warm and plaintive vocals never venturing even close to the rock music of the day. That would be a bold move at anytime for a major act and would usually end in failure and ridicule. For Bob Seger it ended with a number one adult contemporary hit while staying at the number two spot on the pop charts for a month. Seger even made the run up to the number 15 spot on the country charts with his mellow hit song.
Even the idea of a rock n’ roll stalwart finding himself with a country hit in 1982 was laughable. Seger pulled it off by simply recording the song the way it needed to be done, not even trying to “rock” it up.
That is perhaps only one of many reasons why Bob Seger is so loved by his fans and respected in the music community. He’s always done exactly – and only – what he has wanted to do. And done it very well.