Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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“Summer of ‘69″ vs. “Night Moves”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 29, 2007

Copying & pasting an article I wrote that got published on Stylus today–apologies for laziness, promise not to make a habit of it

The Match-Up: Bob Seger, the post-garage rock and pre-Cybotron pride of Detroit, released “Night Moves,” a song about Seger’s first sexual experiences back in the early ‘60s, as the first single off his similarly-named album back in 1976. It became his national breakout single, hit the top five and was named Single of the Year by Rolling Stone. Eight years later, Canuck Bryan Adams released “Summer of ’69,” a song about Adams’ teenage exploits, quoted by Adams as being a response to “Night Moves,” one of his favorite songs. “Summer of ‘69” had a similarly galvanizing effect on Adams’ career, hitting #5 and essentially turning Adams into the American ambassador for Canadian culture.

Why They Deserve to Be Compared: When it comes to nostalgia-drenched summer songs describing the glorious follies of youth, no other song comes close to comparing to these two. Classic rock standards by now, both indulge in joyous, even rapturous recollections of youth firsts—playing in a band, starting shit with friends, and of course, getting laid. And both are so hopelessly enamored with the past that in the end, they actually come off as kind of depressing, since it’s abundantly clear that neither Seger nor Adams ever experienced such unbridled joy again. Consequently, if you’re the sort of person who romanticizes the past (which, needless to say, I can be more than a little guilty of), the emotions wrought in both songs are pretty extreme.


This battle speaks to the general differing in attitude and methodology between the two songs. “Night Moves” starts with the gentle, breezy acoustic guitar riff anchoring the song, along with Seger’s incomprehensible lyrics, setting up the story of budding sexuality present in the next couple verses (really, the song’s lyrics don’t get that memorable until the first lines of the second verse). From there, the song builds and builds in intensity, until it hits a near-gospel pitch somewhere in between the second chorus and bridge.“Summer of ‘69” starts with the same guitar-and-vocals only intro, but forgoes the slow build of “Night Moves” for a blast-out-the-gate intro. One drum crash, some electrified and electrifying two-chord riffing, and four lines that just about anyone currently between the ages of 18 and 48 could recite better than the Pledge of Allegiance. “I got my first real six string / Over at the five and dime / Played it till my fingers bled / It was the Summer of ’69!” Adams lets the whole cat out of the bag in the song’s first fifteen seconds, and though it ends up hurting him a little bit later in the song, he wins this battle easier than Screech doing “Celebrity Boxing.”Winner: “Summer of ‘69”

Description of First Love/Sex
Instead of most wistful songs about high school petting, “Night Moves” neither brags about a series of conquests or longs for one specific romance, but finds a strangely touching middle ground between the two, specifically recalling his first (or at least most memorable) lustful encounter, even stating that they “weren’t in love, no far from it […] just young and restless and bored.” He remembers their steamy “backroom, alley and trusty woods” trysts with the kind of reverence normally reserved for relationships with at least the pretense of love, remembering how just as memorable early romance-free sexual revelations can be. The concluding lines—“I used her, she used me, but neither of us cared / we were getting our share”—are stunning in their simplicity and truthfulness.Adams, hopeless romantic that he is, goes for more of the sweet sixteen ideal—“Standing on your Mama’s porch / You told me that you’d wait forever / Ooh, and when you held my hand / I knew that it was now or never”. It’s touching stuff, of course, but Bobby wins for originality (and phrasing) on this one.Winner: “Night Moves”

Less Troubling Factual Innacuracies
Seger’s story in “Night Moves” mostly checks out, aside from the song’s somewhat dubious opening lines—“I was a little too tall / Could’ve used a few pounds.” Now, I don’t know what the Seeg’s measurements were back in ’62, but from the mid-70s onwards, the dude was practically half the size of the Motor City itself, and that’s definitely his lasting image. Claims that he could’ve “used a few pounds” make about as much sense today as if Dolly Parton had claimed to be jealous of Jolene’s rack.Still, he probably wins this one due to the far more glaring misinformation presented at the very core of “Summer of ’69,” which is of course that in the actual Summer of ’69, Adams had yet to even enter his teens, and unless he was a particularly macking nine-year-old, the song’s chronology is probably a little bit off. Needless to say, “Summer of ‘78” probably doesn’t sound as good, and it would definitely mean Adams couldn’t spend the outro yelling “Me and you in-a ’69!” (LOL!), and YES, I’m aware that complaining about this anachronism is about as fresh as complaining that the situations in “Ironic” aren’t actually ironic at all! But hey, I don’t make the rules.Winner: “Night Moves”

This is sort of a fallacy, since strictly speaking, neither of these songs really have a chorus—they both have repeating blocks of similar lyrics set to the same melody, but both are always shifting, aside from one consistent line—“Working on our night moves,” and “Those were the BEST days of my life!” Much credit to both for creativity on this one, though it means I basically have to judge based on just the one line for each. On those grounds, “Summer of ‘69” takes pretty easily, if only for the unmistakable enthusiasm Adams puts into the word “best”—he means it, y’know.Winner: “Summer of ‘69”
Music Video
This might seem like a win-by-default for “Summer of ’69,” given the pre-MTV release of “Night Moves,” but not only did “Night Moves” have an after-the-fact video (helmed in ’94 by video-director-to-the-stars Wayne Isham), it’s one of the most underrated videos of the 90s. You would have had to have been watching MTV pretty religiously in the mid-90s (or at least caught the Pop-Up Video episode where I first saw it) to catch it, but it’s a fantastically shot piece of early-60s nostalgia, set (where else?) at the drive-in theater, where boys and girls steam up backseat windows, fumble to unbutton each others’ shirts, and so on. Best of all is the concession stand scene, between those paragons of mid-90s television, Matt LeBlanc and Daphne Zuniga, which might even trump Courtney Cox’s “Dancing in the Dark” sashaying for my all-time favorite “Friends” video cameo.That’s not to say that the “Summer of ‘69” video is much of a slouch, though. From the unforgettable black & white first shot of Adams busting out of his (van? Trailer home?) and leaping the fence with his first real six-string, through shots of him and his buds hassling shopkeeps (watch out for those slippery apples, coppers!) and, once again, making out with his girl at the drive-in, the video’s as romantic a testament to the glory of teenagedom as any (outside of the Pumpkins’ “1979,” anyway). Still, the lame switch to color halfway through—and that weird scene where after sharing a tender moment with his girl, Adams randomly walks away and starts lip synching the chorus, leaving her character probably extremely confused—clinches this for the Seeg.Winner: “Night Moves”

Bigger Place in Pop Culture History
Sadly, this one isn’t nearly as close as it deserves to be. “Night Moves,” despite its well-deserved eternal safety on classic rock radio, really isn’t as much of a widely-accepted pop culture touchstone as it merits, and few people under the age of 30 could probably sing more than the chorus. “Summer of ’69,” however, has proven to be unflinchingly preserving in the public consciousness, much to the chagrin of Ryan Adams and lots of other boring assholes out there. It’s a universally accepted synonym for nostalgia and youthful immortality, it’s covered by a new pop-punk band every six months, and it was even name-checked by The Bravery in their new tale of nostalgia-envy and regretful woe, “Time Won’t Let Me Go.” I still love ya, Bobby, but the Youth of America (and probably of that other big country up there) have spoken on this one.Winner: “Summer of ‘69”
Adams’ over-reliance on his intro as a selling point comes back to haunt him. As you probably could’ve been guessed by the song’s relatively ho-hum intro, Seger saves most of his really good stuff for the song’s minute-and-a-half outro. Over the song’s insistent two-chord strumming, and some appropriately soulful back-up singers yelping “NIGHT! MOVES!,” the Seeg lets loose his inner lonely, horny preacher, crying “LOOOOOORD I REMEMBER!! LOOOOOOOOOOOORD I REMEMBER!” and doing a damn good job of spreading the “Night Moves” gospel. It’s exactly what the song’s climax should sound like, and it doesn’t even use strings. Pretty impressive.The 45-sec outro to “Summer of ’69,” meanwhile, doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t heard before. Aside from the cheesy yelps of “Me and you in-a ’69!” mentioned earlier in the article, there’s not much to distinguish this part of the song from all the other post-chorus sections of the song. Not that it really needs it—the song’s already more than made its point and has more than earned the right to just fade away at the end. That’s not doing it any favors in this battle, though.Winner: “Night Moves”

More Potent Nostalgia
This might be the hardest battle of all to decide, since this is basically the point of both songs. Seeger’s yearning for the past is palpable in every second, in every guitar strum and every backing coo, and by the time of the “LORD I REMEMBER!” outro, it’s reached a fever pitch. Even when I was listening to the song back in my first years of high school, it made me feel like my best days were behind me, or at least that I better start living real good real quick, lest I not have anything to sing about with such passion when I reach my 30s.But “Summer of ‘69” wins this for me, because its sense of nostalgia is more well-rounded (and for me at least) more relatable. I didn’t do too much drive-in backseat steaming (regrettably), but I know the youthful power of music, of friends, of having that one summer where you feel so alive that you can’t conceive of ever having to grow old and die. “Summer of ‘69” manages to make room for those of us who didn’t get laid as much as Bob Seger apparently did, and I do appreciate that, Bryan.Winner: “Summer of ‘69”

Better “Now” Section
But just as important as the nostalgia component for these songs is the comparison to present times—without that, there’s no context for the nostalgia, and what’s the point? Bryan’s Summer of ’69 sure was great, but now it sounds like his life is pretty crappy—it sounds like all he does is wonder about what happened to him and his band, him and his old girlfriend (who failed to wait forever, apparently), and why nothing lasts forever. It’s actually surprisingly bitter when you listen to the song’s third verse (which I always forget about for some reason—naïve idealism, I guess), and it adds a nice edge and undercurrent of sadness to an otherwise extremely wistful song.But it’s Seger’s “now” that I prefer, and which in fact is probably my favorite section in either song. As the song’s backup bass, drums and backup singers all cut out, Bob slows everything down, even reducing the steady guitar line to a mere single strum, and he sings plaintively: “I woke last night to the sound of thunder / How far off I sat and wondered / Started humming a song from 1962 / Ain’t it funny how the night moves.” That’s the framing of real nostalgia to me, or at least the kind I prefer—not the “oh noes, where did my life go??” despairing kind, but the unexpected and spontaneous kind, where something like the sound of thunder can instantly send flooding back a whole host of memories—some pleasant, some not so, but all emotional and all real. Lord, I remember.Winner: “Night Moves”

FINAL SCORE: “Night Moves” 5 – “Summer of ‘69” 4

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