Heavy Music: Bob Seger’s Smokin’ O.P.’s at 50
One of the Detroit rock legend’s best albums is still not available on streaming services
Long before he broke wide open as an arena rock icon, Bob Seger was a one of Detroit’s favorite sons.
The rough and tumble rocker scored his first major hit straight out of the box with his preeminent perennial anthem “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man,” a song culled from his debut album of the same name. Nevertheless, despite the string of albums that followed immediately thereafter — some co-credited to his seminal ensemble, The Bob Seger System — he wouldn’t make a same sort of impact until the arrival of his fifth album, Smokin’ O.P.’s, released in August 1972.
Consisting mainly of cover songs — and several standards at that — the songs were all well suited to his gruff, gritty vocals and a riveting, rock-solid approach. While the material depended almost exclusively on mining the familiarity factor — as expressed via a medley of “Bo Diddley/Who Do You Love?,” Stephen Stills’ relatively recent “Love the One You’re With,” Leon Russell’s “Humming Bird,” the perennial plea of “If I Were A Carpenter,” and the relentless charge of Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” — Seger himself contributed a pair of tunes, an overarched ballad, “Someday” and another offering that eventually became one of his seminal standards, “Heavy Music.”
The latter served as an unabashed example of Seger’s primal insurgent instincts, a relentless rush of adrenaline and aggression that more or less defined the approach he was adapting as his signature sound. That drive and defiance characterized the tone of the album overall, even to the extent of transforming a traditional folk song, “Jesse James,” into a relentless rocker.
The album cover was striking in itself. A parody of the Lucky Strike Cigarette logo, it tied in with its title, Smokin’ O.P.’s, which in turn translated as Smokin’ Other People’s Songs, a saying derived from the slang “Smoking O.P.’s,” which referenced the habit certain smokers had of never buying their own cigarettes because they continually mooched off others. One might surmise that because the album consists mostly of borrowed songs, both the title and cover fit together quite conveniently.
Of course, greater glories would follow in only a few years — the bigger breakthrough borne from Live Bullet and the studio albums Beautiful Loser, Night Moves, Stranger in Town and Against the Wind. Yet Smokin’ O.P.’s provided a preclude of what was to come. Its successor, the album Seven, was the first to give co-billing to the ever-faithful Silver Bullet Band, and boasted another standard of his early sets, “Get Out of Denver,” putting him on pace to become a bonafide superstar, selling millions of albums for his label, Capitol Records, and his longtime manager Punch Andrews. Notably, Andrews was credited as the producer of Smokin’ O.P.’s, proving that his prowess extended both behind the boards as well in the arenas of strategy and negotiation.
Note: Andrews was extremely savvy. When yours truly worked in promotion for Capitol Records, Punch would always express his appreciation to the field reps by sending them the traditional gold and platinum albums that represented successful sales. A half dozen still hang on my office walls.
All in all, consider Smokin’ O.P.’s as one of the albums that helped light the fire inside the unstoppable heart of Bob Seger.
AUDIO: Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band perform “Heavy Music” off Smokin’ O.P.’s on 1976’s Live Bullet
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