The Story and Meaning Behind “Old Time Rock & Roll” and How Bob Seger Stumbled into a Ready-Made Hit

Bob Seger has written and performed some of the most iconic songs in classic-rock history. But one of the songs most identified with him was actually the product of other writers. Once Seger gave it an uncredited lyrical assist, “Old Time Rock & Roll” became the anthem it was always destined to be.

Videos by American Songwriter

What is the song about? How did it land in Seger’s lap? And what made him change his mind about the track and give it a spot on one of his classic albums? Read all about the bizarre journey of “Old Time Rock & Roll.”

From Muscle Shoals to Detroit

Bob Seger needed a song. His 1978 album Stranger in Town was just about finished, but he was out of originals. That’s when he happened upon a track that had been sent to him by one of the folks at Muscle Shoals studios at Alabama. It was “Old Time Rock & Roll,” or at least an early version of it.

The song had been written by Thomas Earl Jones III and George Jackson, the latter of whom boasted an impressively long list of R&B songwriting credits. A demo was cut at Muscle Shoals with one of their singers. It included the iconic piano intro from Randy McCormick, and a guitar solo cut by a guy named Howie McDonald. McDonald had literally come in off the street looking to show off his skills and was given the chance to record, which should tell you this was a very informal recording.

Seger, who often cut songs with the Muscle Shoals musicians when he wasn’t using his Silver Bullet Band, heard it and liked it, but he wasn’t crazy about any of the lyrics save the ones that were in the chorus. He decided to rewrite the verses, borrowing a bit of the feel of Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” to do so. That’s when he brought it in to the Silver Bullet Band, who weren’t all that impressed.

Positive Audience Response

While they were on tour, Seger decided to give the song a go just to see what happened. And the positive audience response shocked him. That sealed it: the song was going on Stranger in Town. The Silver Bullet Band then asked to record the song over again. But it was too late for that; the best Seger could do was add his own vocals and a sax solo from Alto Reed.

Seger decided he wouldn’t take a songwriting credit on the track, a decision he later regretted. (It should also be noted that George Stephenson, an executive at Malaco Records, for whom George Jackson was a kind of staff writer, claimed in an interview with The Independent that Seger didn’t alter “Old Time Rock & Roll.” Seger has claimed otherwise in many interviews.)

On the one hand, Seger bemoaned that because he didn’t have any credit, he lacked control over the copyright. The song has been licensed for many ads over the years. But then again, maybe Seger would have turned down the use of “Old Time Rock and Roll” for a little film called Risky Business, meaning that Tom Cruise might have lip-synched in his underwear to some other classic rock song.

What is the Meaning Behind “Old Time Rock & Roll”?

Some have criticized “Old Time Rock & Roll” over the years for being too harsh on modern sounds. But when Seger sings, Today’s music ain’t got the same soul, he’s not necessarily claiming that as truth. Instead, it’s what this protagonist believes, and that makes sense since this guy is a bit of an old fogey and proud of it: Don’t try to take me to a disco / You’ll never even get me out on the floor / In ten minutes I’ll be late for the door.

This guy disdains the tango but is all about blues and soul music. And he’s OK with being chastised for his taste: Call me a relic, call me what you will / Say I’m old-fashioned, say I’m over the hill. It’s almost as if Seger anticipated the criticism before it arrived.

Anyway, “Old Time Rock and Roll” isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. It’s just a good old slab of music, exactly the kind the admitted relic in the song likely blasts on his hi-fi to the chagrin of all his neighbors. Let’s credit the writers for putting it together, and add some credit to Bob Seger for realizing, just in time, what a gem was bestowed on him.

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns

Leave a Reply

Remember When: Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney Star in Odd 11-Minute Short Film ‘The Cooler’

Exclusive: Brian Kelley Mourned FGL House, Is Excited About New Burger Joint with Jason Aldean

Exclusive: Brian Kelley Mourned FGL House, Is Excited About New Burger Joint with Jason Aldean