Sunday, June 22, 2008

Songwriting: Night Moves (Edit)

Bob Seger: Night Moves


The song Night Moves by Bob Seger recalls a youthful love affair. Seger has explained that the song was written about an Italian woman whom he dated when he was 19. He starts out the song by introducing the couple. Her “points” are self-explanatory; his “points” refer to metal objects worn by rebels on their shoes in the late 50’s and early ‘60s:

I was a little too tall
Could’ve used a few pounds
Tight pants, points, hardly renowned.
She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points all her own, sitting way up high,
Way up firm and high.
As the love affair begins, the couple is found in the back seat of his car--practicing their “night moves.”
Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy
Out in the back seat of my 60 chevy
Working on mysteries without any clues

Working on our night moves
Trying to make some front page drive-in news
Working on our night moves
In the summertime
In the sweet summertime
As Seger continues to describe this youthful rendezvous, he is quick to point out that the relationship was not about love or marriage, it was just a summertime romance.
We weren’t in love, oh no, far from it
We weren’t searching for some pie in the sky summit
We were just young and restless and bored
Living by the sword

And we’d steal away every chance we could
To the backroom, to the alley or the trusty woods
I used her, she used me
But neither one cared
We were getting our share

Working on our night moves
Trying to lose the awkward teenage blues
Working on our night moves
And it was summertime
For anyone who thinks sexy has to be explicit, the next verse dispels that myth. The verse concludes the first part of the song with a consummation of the physical relationship.
And oh the wonder
We felt the lightning
And we waited on the thunder
Waited on the thunder
My favorite part of the song is the pregnant pause which follows the onslaught of the lyrical thunder. The sparseness of this interlude has flavors of intimacy, solitude, but most of all satisfaction.

The song could have been a rock and roll anthem at this point. However, when the lyrics resume, the story is elevated to greatness.

It is not clear how much time has elapsed when he “awoke last night.” But it is clear that the “thunder” is not the same thunder from the previous verse. The girl is gone and the ’60 Chevy too. We don’t know if he is married, divorced, or single--whether he lives in the same town anymore, but it doesn’t really matter. All we know is that the song that he is humming from 1962 won’t be found in that week’s hit parade.
I awoke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain’t it funny how the night moves
When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in . . .
When Seger sighs, “Ain’t it funny how the night moves,” the “night moves” no longer describe the physical acts of the couple. Instead, the title phrase is now talking about the passage of time.

The remembrance in this verse transforms the song. Seger is not simply bragging about a girl he dated; he is talking about more than the end of one youthful summer. The song now becomes universal. Even though the autumn of our lives is closing in, even though we may have become established “with something to lose,” even as we slog through our daily routine, the grind of the rat race, all it takes is one moment, one bolt of thunder, and all the memories of youth and vibrancy and angst and vigor come flooding back.

But why the refrain?

So Bob Seger has given us one of the classic rock songs of all time, one of my all-time favorites, and now I’m going to criticize it. Sorry, that’s how it goes.

The song should end after the line about “autumn closing in.” Instead we get a big refrain that adds nothing new and seems false. You can try to recapture the glory days, but it’s like the 50 something man at the dance club trying to pick up 18 year old women. No matter how hard you try, you can’t go back. When you hear the female back-up singers, it’s as if Seger is haunted by the memory of his first time even when he is with other women.

Had the song ended with “autumn closing in”, it would have recognized the fragility of youth, that the night has moved. To maximize the effect, it could have ended the first side on vinyl. Song fades to silence, the needle lifts and returns to rest. Time to contemplate the impact of the end of innocence and acknowledge that life moves on. Also, it would have left everyone wanting more.

The lyrics of the refrain do not add to the feeling of the song. Although Seger ends with a repetition of “I remember,” that point was already made when he started humming a song from 1962.

This is definitely one of my favorite lyrical songs of all time, but could it be better? Listen to the song again and cut it off after “autumn closing in” and consider the silence.

Bob Seger: Night Moves - Edited

What do you think?

For numerous insights into the song, try

A lengthy description of the history and production (including technology) of the song and album is found at

For miscellaneous song facts that have not been verified for accuracy, see

There is undoubtedly plenty of commentary about this song in cyberspace. One that I found interesting is at

Reader submission from Dave.


Paul said...

Very nice analysis Dave. I agree with your take. But I think it's hard for 1970s commercial rockers like Seger to take the understated approach.

(FYI: Dave is a friend of mine who also submitted this guest post at STWOF.)

boyhowdy said...

Wow. That was incredible, and thorough as all get-out. And the approach to the song is wonderfully convincing -- I will forever appreciate this song both more, and less, than before. (I agree with your assessment of songfacts, too...)

Thanks for the submission, Dave. Do you blog elsewhere, too?

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis, but your notion that the ending should somehow be truncated to enhance or reinforce the song's meaning is ridiculous at best. Musically, the coda serves to bring the piece to a satisfactory close that would be missing completely in your version. And lyrically, the repetition in the coda drives home the bittersweet, poignant regret the protagonist feels because the glory of the past remains forever unattainable... As such, it's a necessary component of the song and its ultimate meaning.

blessedmatch said...

Thanks Paul and thanks boyhowdy. I appreciate the compliments. Paul has been asking me to guest blog for a few months now, but I just don't have the time to devote to it. I'll just stick to doing a couple drive-by's. I'm still a newbie on the music sites.

Anonymous, thank you for the criticism as well. Obviously, this is a classic song and it takes a lot of chutzpah for me to try to re-write it. It is only recently when I re-heard it again that I started thinking about this. I have two buddies from junior high school who I see once a year on a baseball trip. The song came up on the Ipod that we were playing over the car radio. When I told them my take, they said my comments were ridiculous and promised to blast me when this appeared. Interestingly, their thinking agreed with you on the necessity of the refrain, but for different reasons. So Andy and Mark, what do you say?

Anonymous said...

Cool... What were their reasons if I may ask?

Mark said...

Anonymous - our main reason for disagreeing with David (we call him Sam) is that we've been disagreeing with him since we were 13 and it's turned into a hard habit to break. We also disagree with him because Night Moves is one of those rare masterpieces that should NOT be changed. The mood, music, lyrics, vocals and production of Night Moves are flawless.

Perhaps Sam's next blog will be about Mona Lisa needing shorter hair.

Anonymous said...

...or adding arms to the Venus di Milo.

First of all, suggesting the song "could have been a rock and roll anthem" with the edits presupposes it is not already an anthem. This is a false premise.

But secondly, the lyrics my good friend David criticizes are exactly what *makes* the song an anthem, rather than a sweet little pop song. Those lyrics transition the tune from a mere reminiscence of a sweet romance to a life metaphor as the singer looks into middle age with a half smile but also a bit of melancholy.

Sorry, David. You still can’t go left on the court and you’re still wrong about this tune.

Anonymous said...

the real question perhaps should be: why is NOBODY writing songs like this any more??? and that means you, KID rock...

blessedmatch said...

That's the spirit. Andy, you misunderstood one point. I agree that the song is a rock and roll anthem. My point was that all the way through the thunder and lighting, the song is a fun song about a childhood romance, would have hit big on the pop charts. But the best part of the song and lyrics is not the lust of that romance; it's the melancholy of the "autumn closing in" verse. With or without the last refrain, it's a classic.

Still waiting to see the Thunder Road discussion!

blessedmatch said...

I received a nice note from Carl at They often get their stories directly from the songwriters. They went online in 1999. Some of their older material came from stories circulated among DJs and other radio folks. These days, they have researchers checking the accuracy of their song facts. Here is one of their readers' comments about Night Moves:

Bob Rivers ( did a nice parody titled "Bowel Moves" with some lovely lyrics: "I was a little too stuffed had to lose a few pounds; Pants too tight seams bustin' out..." ... "Out there in the bathroom where the air gets heavy; Sat on a cold seat thought I was ready; Workin' on crosswords and readin' the news; Workin' on a bowel move; Tryin' to move some backed-up drive-through food; Workin' on a bowel move; And it was takin' time..."
- Steven, Sunnyvale, CA

Anonymous said...

holy crap! that's almost as good as your revision!!!

Anonymous said...

The "fragility of youth" as you say is only reinforced by the refrain, thus giving the song closure.

Seger is telling a story about past experiences, and how his life has changed. This is idea is the basis for many of his songs.

To someone like myself, who grew up hearing Seger from a very young age, the refrain becomes an important piece in the structure of the song. Giving it a feel that can stand the test of time. That we change as people, and are not 19 anymore, and all we can do is look back.