The Bob Seger System – 2+2=? (1968, Capitol)
Why It’s Perfect: Growing up adjacent to the Dirty D as I did, Bob Seger occupied a healthy portion of my listening universe as a youngster. Rock & Roll Never Forgets, Turn the Page, Mary Lou, Her Strut… Bob’s popular mid-years was and is my idea of “rock without adjective”: if you’re like that Bob, you’re basic rock music. If you’re not, I’ll need an adjective (hard, soft, indie etc.), thankyouverymuch. What most people, outside of Midwestern (and Southern Ontarian) classic rock nerds, don’t know is that Seger toiled away in relative anonymity for a good ten years before his ‘Live’ Bullet/Night Moves breakthrough, working his way through psych rock, confessional singer-songwriter material and, most importantly, some of the nastiest, most frantic garage rhythm and blues ever recorded. Falling somewhere between Mitch Ryder and the MC5, the best of Seger’s late ’60s and early ’70s recordings capture a fierce performer at odds with his government, the economy and the stifling indifference of listeners outside of his hometown and environs.
2+2=?, arguably the best of these, sounds like it was recorded at some kind of radical late night anti-war meeting held in Flint, MI warehouse. Anchored by a foreboding bass line and a sinister, echoing Yardbirdsian rave-up riff, the showpiece is Seger’s impressively frantic vocal. He starts off measured and reserved, but you can feel the resentment simmering behind his restraint; the riff emerges to spur him on and he speeds up, almost in spite of himself, not yelling yet, but intense, as if choosing his words very carefully so as not to set himself off. It’s not long before the System really locks into its groove, and Seger lets himself loose, the fear and rage of the Vietnam generation captured better here than any other song of the era, even CCR’s Fortunate Son. There’s nothing fanciful in the lyric, but also very little that seems naive or trite; young men were being sent to their deaths, and for what? What was worth the trauma, grief, and paranoia that crouched over the country for the better part of a decade? Just like me, Bob’s “the simple-minded kind. 2+2 is on my mind.”
Defining Moment: “So you say he died for freedom,
well if he died to save your lives,
go ahead and call me yellow:
2 + 2 is on my mind.”
That’s right. Bob “Like a Rock” Seger once said he would gladly let the politicians who screwed over his country die. Say what you will about his later work, but in 1968, Bob did not give one single solitary fuck.
Other Great Songs by Bob Seger: Bob’s early years are full of filthy, rockscrabble garage treats, including the blistering Lucifer, venomous Death Row, concert staple Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man and oldster-baiting Lookin’ Back. He would later go on to adopt some moves from Van Morrison and James Taylor, leading to a series of very effective confessional ballads like Turn the Page and Beautiful Loser, ultimately culminating in hard rock masterpieces like Seven (unbelievably OOP for almost twenty years now) and ‘Live’ Bullet. As much as some might think of the man as a hokey budget-Springsteen, at his best, Seger was once one of the most passionate, authentic rockers on the planet, and his catalogue deserves reappraisal.