Today’s music ain’t got the same soul: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s “Old Time Rock & Roll”

By on September 4, 2019

We were feeling nostalgic (again!) and decided to look back at this classic episode of Radio 1990 — it originally aired on February 22, 1984, and you’ll now find streaming on Night Flight Plus — where we found the Risky Business movie tie-in video for Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll,” which actually has quite an interesting back story.

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Seger — who was in the midst of recording Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s 1978 album Stranger in Town – still needed more songs for the album when he was sent the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section’s demo of “Old Time Rock & Roll.”

Even though Seger didn’t think anyone would like its sentimentalized nostalgic look back at the original rock ‘n’ roll era — especially when punk, new wave and other genres were already pushing old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll aside — he decided to record it anyway.

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“Old Time Rock & Roll” was written by Southern soul singer George Jackson and songwriter/producer Thomas E. Jones III.

By the late ’70s, Jackson had already written or co-written hits for Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Z.Z. Hill, and the Osmonds (their chart-topping pop hit “One Bad Apple” went #1 in the U.S. in 1971).

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Before recording at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, and overdubbing at Detroit’s Sound Suite Studios, Seger decided to re-write most the lyrics, excerpt for the third verse:

Still like that old-time rock ‘n’ roll,
That kind of music just soothes my soul,
I reminisce about the days of old,
With that old-time rock ‘n’ roll

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It was ultimately released, in March 1979, as the fourth single from Stranger in Town, following three Top Twenty U.S. hits: “Still the Same” (#4), “Hollywood Nights” (#12), and “We’ve Got Tonight” (#13).

The single rose to #28 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 and became a staple of classic rock radio, but it achieved even more success after it was featured prominently in Paul Brickman’s dark teen comedy, Risky Business.

Read more about Bob Seger’s “The Old Time Rock & Roll” and Risky Business below.

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Paul Brickman had already achieved success in a few years earlier, writing the screenplays for two films released in 1977, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Jonathan Demme‘s Citizen’s Band (later re-titled Handle with Care), before making his directorial debut in 1983 with Risky Business.

Brickman’s film starred Tom Cruise as “Joel Goodson,” an average anxiety-ridden seventeen year old high school senior, preoccupied with sex fantasies while he’s supposed to be focused on his future.

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He frets about getting a high score on his SAT exams — which will hopefully get him into Princeton University, his father’s alma mater, setting him up for life — even though we find out later he doesn’t care that much about financial security.

The yuppie-ish story fit right in with the ’80s “greed is good” ethos, and because it satirized capitalism while emphasizing a younger generation’s rejection of their parents lust for making money, critics often compared it to 1967’s The Graduate.

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When his parents decide to visit his aunt and feel their son is responsible enough to be left alone in their upper-middle class suburban home in Glencoe — located on Chicago’s North Shore (the film’s original working title was White Boys Off the Lake) — their “good son” does what what any red-blooded teenage male might do: he cranks up the stereo volume and lip-syncs to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” and dances around his living room wearing a pink Oxford button-down, a pair of tighty whities (they were also called “Superman” underwear back then too) and white socks.

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Cruise — who was 21 years old when the film was released on August 5, 1983 — later said he ad-libbed most of the scene, rockin’ out like a rock star wearing dark sunglasses indoors and using a candlestick as a faux microphone, feigning air-guitar moves and humping the family couch (what is it with Cruise and couches, anyway?).

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Seger and Capitol Records initially didn’t want the song to appear on the Virgin Records soundtrack (an import in the U.S.) — it featured nearly a half-dozen instrumental tracks by Tangerine Dream mixed with pop hit songs used in the film — when it was released months after the movie’s theatrical debut.

After Risky Business became a late-summer box office smash, Capitol re-issued “Old Time Rock & Roll” as a single.

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The movie-tie trailer-type video — featured in this “Radio 1990″ episode — proved to be a problem for both Geffen Pictures and Capitol, however.

Seger — who thought he always looked overweight in photos, and often asked to be shot at certain angles and then often only allowed the photos to appear in black & white — originally didn’t approve the live footage scene here.

Then, MTV told Capitol they needed to re-cut the video because it featured a half-nude girl and a bottle of Budweiser. They weren’t allowing any commercial products — particularly alcoholic beverages — to be shown on the network back then (guess they didn’t have a problem with Ray-Bans).

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Seger’s re-issued single entered the charts again, but peaked at #48 on the Hot 100.

Risky Business, meanwhile, grossed $63.5 million at the box office, and Tom Cruise was soon starring in blockbusters like Top Gun (1986) and Rain Main (1988).

Cruise dancing around in his white Fruit of the Looms has been parodied and lampooned for decades now, but it became a certifiably classic bit of ’80s cinema history, which means Seger’s old-fogey rock ‘n’ roll hit is part of cinema history too.

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Watch Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” video in this episode of Radio 1990 on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.