Friday Song: “Against the Wind”

A Grammy Award wasn't enough to make the writer stop worrying about the grammar of this song's most famous line

If you play or prefer the piano, this one’s for you.

Bob Seger was born in Detroit. His friend, Glenn Frey, also from Detroit, would go on to help found the Eagles, which formed in Los Angeles. The two collaborated often.

Detroit was a regional island for rock music at the time. After founding and fronting numerous bands, Seger edged toward national success in the mid-1970s — but was still a regional act when it came to live performance. Seger and his Silver Bullet Band famously played to 76,000 fans at the Pontiac Stadium (later, the Silverdome) one night in 1976, but played to only a few hundred just days later in Chicago, not far away.

“Against the Wind” was the title track of their 1980 album. Seger wrote the song about maturation and memories, pulling the title from his years as a high school cross-country runner. Frey collaborated on the arrangement of the song, suggesting the guitarist play a little against the central piano solo.

Piano was a major component to most of Seger’s songs, with “Against the Wind” perhaps the apogee. Played by Paul Harris, who would also work with Dan Fogelberg and others, it’s a lovely, tasteful work. Harris also played organ on the song, which adds great atmospherics.

Seger said the line, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” always bothered him — not the idea, but the grammar:

The only thing that bothered me about that phrase was the grammar. It sounded grammatically funny to me. I kept asking myself, “Is that correct grammar?” I liked the line, and everybody I played it for – like Glenn [Frey] and Don [Henley] – were saying, “That’s the best line in the song,” but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t right. But I slowly came around. You have to understand that songwriters can’t punctuate anything they write. I work in such a narrow medium that I tend to second-guess things like that. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen that line in a few other songs since I came up with it, so I guess it was okay after all.

The song reached #5 on the Billboard charts in 1980, and won that year’s Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocal.

“Against the Wind” remains popular, with the lyric video below produced just a few years ago and gaining more than 12 million views so far.


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