The Story Behind “Fire Lake” by Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band and How He Went for Broke to Get ‘Against the Wind’ to No. 1

Once he broke through to the big time, Bob Seger wasn’t about to lose his status and go back to obscurity. Songs like “Fire Lake,” from his smash 1980 album Against the Wind, proved he had the stuff to stay on top.

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What is the song about? Who helped him bring it to fruition? And why was it such an important song on such an important album for Seger? Let’s head on out to “Fire Lake” for all the answers.

Striving for the Top

You might think Bob Seger, who had toiled in the music business as a mostly regional sensation for nearly a decade before the “Night Moves” single and album made him a national item in 1976, might have been satisfied with his new positioning. If anything, it fired him up to do even better and maintain his place among the rock elite.

His 1978 album Stranger in Town did just that with classics like “Still the Same,” “Hollywood Nights,” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” on the roster. But even that wasn’t enough for the indefatigable Michigan native. His goal for the album that he planned to release in 1980 was nothing less than the top spot on the Billboard albums chart, which would be a first for him.

Seger went about this in a calculated fashion. He felt he’d need at least three hit singles from the album for him to get to the top spot. In addition, he tried to streamline his sound ever so slightly, softening the rougher edges and delivering more mid-tempo songs and ballads to please the masses.

On “Fire”

Seger also chose a producer to help him who would know a little bit about achieving such a goal. Bill Szymczyk was known for his work shepherding the Eagles’ then-recent albums to the heights. For his part, Szymczyk was glad to get out of the Eagles’ tortured sessions for The Long Run and join Seger, whose record-making tended to attract far less drama.

Seger chose for the first single a track he’d written many years before, yet couldn’t find room for it on previous albums. “Fire Lake” was a somewhat counterintuitive selection in that the lyrics are a bit hard to pin down. But it contained a smooth country-soul groove that was laid down by members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, with whom he often worked.

To add to the winning formula, Seger employed none other than Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Timothy B. Schmit to sing backing vocals. (Szymczyk just couldn’t get away from those Eagles.) The planning worked. “Fire Lake” hit the Top 10, with “Against the Wind” and “You’ll Accompany Me” following it up as fellow hits. And lo and behold, Seger had achieved his goal as Against the Wind did indeed hit No. 1, the only time he would manage that in his illustrious career.

What is the Meaning of “Fire Lake”?

Bob Seger never tells us what’s so special about “Fire Lake,” but we can tell from the hints in the song he does give us that it’s not for everyone. The narrator is questioning his listeners, wondering who’s willing to make the journey. He seems to be suggesting it takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to make it: Who wants to take that long shot gamble / And head out to Fire Lake.

He’s not sugarcoating it, hinting this place could be dangerous: Who wants to make that first mistake, he asks. In the second verse, he tells the story of Uncle Joe, who once seemed tentative: He was the one afraid to cut the cake. But even Joe eventually caves and makes the trip (to the chagrin of old Aunt Sarah). Seger also hints in the middle eight at the sensual pleasures that await.

But a reference to eights and aces (the dead man’s hand, if you’re wondering) suggests that paradise comes at a price. Bob Seger likely related to “Fire Lake” because he was going for broke with the Against the Wind album. And, for that gamble, he was richly rewarded with rock immortality.

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Photo by Brian McLaughlin/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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