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On This Day in Music History
After appearing in a few segments where he teaches Grover how to sing, Wonder plays “Superstition,” his #1 hit from a few months earlier. He doctors the lyrics a bit with a shout out to Cookie Monster, but doesn’t suppress the groove, giving the kids a full blast of funk.
1976 Bob Seger, beloved in Michigan but an obscurity elsewhere, releases Live Bullet, which captures the intensity of his live performances and makes him a national act.
Seger’s first release, a single with his group The Last Heard, came in 1966. In 1969, he made inroads with his first album, Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man, released on the mighty Capitol Records. Over the next few years, he built a devout following in his hometown of Michigan but couldn’t expand his fanbase beyond the state. Anyone who heard Seger knew it was just a matter of time before he broke out of Michigan like Glenn Frey, Seger’s protégé who sang on Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man‘s title track and was flying high with the Eagles. But Seger made some miscues: He skipped Woodstock. He didn’t make missives to New York or Los Angeles. He left Capitol after three albums to release songs on his manager’s Palladium label, which didn’t have nearly as much promotional clout.
The Palladium years (1972-1974) were rough. Seger tried to expand his territory by hitting the road on long, grueling tours that took every ounce of energy. He captured this nomadic despair in “Turn The Page,” which went nowhere when it was released in 1973.
In 1975, Seger went back to Capitol, which released his eighth album, Beautiful Loser, that year. It showed promise: The single “Katmandu” got a fair amount of airplay and the songs were thrilling crowds when Seger played them live. He finally had some momentum, but he didn’t have another album. Seger didn’t like to write on the road, so touring came at the expense of new music. Taking time off the road wasn’t an option, so to buy time, he recorded two shows at Cobo Arena in Detroit on September 4th and 5th, 1975, for a live album, hoping it would buy him time.
Live albums were all the rage in rock, with Kiss’ Alive! and Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! leading the way. According to Seger’s manager, Ed “Punch” Andrews, Capitol initially rejected Live Bullet because they thought it was a blatant and derivative rip-off of Frampton Comes Alive! It was not. Seger’s studio albums sold about 25,000-75,000 copies; Live Bullet quickly sells 100,000, almost all in Michigan, then radiates outward to sell 500,000 by the end of 1976, giving Seger his first Gold record and first big-time national exposure.
The setlist includes five tracks from Beautiful Loser, including a cover of “Nutbush City Limits,” an Ike & Tina Turner song that Tina wrote about her hometown in Tennessee. But the showstopper is “Turn The Page,” a song the crowd of 12,000 listens to in hushed silence, erupting into applause only as the last saxophone note trails away.
For listeners outside of Seger’s stronghold, Live Bullet is their first exposure to his music. As the album builds a following, it boosts sales of Seger’s back catalog and builds anticipation for his next album. Released in October, Night Moves is Seger at his best, with a title track that captures the wistful nostalgia of young lust as well as any rock song before or since. It eventually sells over 5 million copies, as does Live Bullet.