An Open Letter to Bob Seger, Re: “Old Time Rock and Roll” (cc: Every Wedding DJ Everywhere)

Hey there, Bob,

How’ve you been? I hope well. As for me, I’ve been very busy — moving, working, settling into a new place, and it’s summer, so we’re well into Wedding Season now. While 2008 was my biggest year by far for attending weddings, several of my friends are getting married this year, and I can’t help but to remember why I really kind of hate wedding receptions.

I’m going to be frank with you, Bob. It’s because of “Old Time Rock and Roll.”

(Okay, that’s not the only reason. But it is a big one.)

When I was young, friends of my parents’ would rent out the local community center for a huge Christmas party every year. This was the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s, and I noticed pretty quickly that when the DJ started spinning (actually spinning, there were still actual records then) “Old Time Rock and Roll,” all of the “old people” (people who were the age then that I am now, for example) rose from their metal folding chairs, left their plates of cheese cubes and crockpot meatballs, and made their way to the dance floor.

Figuring this was a “thing” and not wanting to be left out, all of us kids would rush onto the dance floor too. Though Risky Business came out in 1983, most of us had no idea what that was (I was born in 1982), so we hadn’t the slightest idea why the song was even relevant. The adults seemed to like it, so while they snapped their fingers and step-tapped side to side in time, maybe even strumming along on their air guitars if they were drunk enough, we kids jumped and flailed with no sense of rhythm whatsoever.

I still dance like that, by the way.

By the time I was 12 (c. Christmas Party 1994), I started to wonder if the DJ ever updated his music collection. I started to get legitimately angry when the song came on. Every year, fewer and fewer people seemed to get excited about it (and, to be fair, many others). I was into Nirvana, Def Leppard, and Mariah Carey that year (yes, you read that correctly), and I felt annoyed by the DJ’s insistence that “Old Time Rock and Roll” would be the song to get the party started, even 11 years after Risky Business. For the record, by this point, the movie was even less relevant than it had been in 1988 — classic underwear dancing scene or not.

A few of my dad’s cousins got married in the mid-90s and “Old Time Rock and Roll” was a staple at each reception. Fine, whatever, I get it. They were teenagers in the 80s and probably thought Tom Cruise was a super-normal dreamboat and this brought back memories of him in his underwear. But fast forward a few years later to 1999 when I attended my first prom as a sophomore in high school (I still feel cool).

Playing to a room full of kids who were born between 1980 and 1982, the DJ busted out “Old Time Rock n’ Roll” … and no one got excited. Seems like you and the Silver Bullets just weren’t the kind of “boy band” the late 90s required.

And at my junior and senior proms (where the crowd was born no later than 1984 or 85), they continued to play it even though people responded much better to “Footloose.” No offense, Bob. We just weren’t the demographic. Most of us couldn’t grasp what actual old time rock n’ roll was and is, from Bill Haley and His Comets making the genre popular among white America to the great musicians who paved the way for people like Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino to really make a mark with rock n’ roll. Many people around my age (who are technically classified as Millennials, born JUST at the beginning of that generational era, but who don’t really identify with Generation X or Generation Y) don’t recognize such artists as revolutionizing music (which they did) or inspiring the music that we currently listen to (which they do, if even indirectly so).

And we certainly weren’t all terribly familiar with Risky Business.

Fast forward a few more years when, in my mid-to-late 20s, 96.3% of everyone I know got married. Apparently that’s a thing that some people do. I’ve written before about my thoughts on wedding mania.

I can’t think of a single wedding reception that I’ve ever been to during which “Old Time Rock and Roll” hasn’t been played. The crowd keeps getting younger and younger, and therefore less likely to:

  1. Be familiar at all with the concept of old time rock n’ roll, on which the nostalgia required to truly appreciate your song hinges (hooray for music programs all over America getting cut, am I right!?)
  2. Have seen Risky Business (or even know what it is) in order to get the pop cultural reference.

Old Time Rock and RollDJs — that’s why they’re CC’d here — just keep beating this one to death. And I know that’s not really your fault, Bob. But alas, you are responsible for this song (well, you and possibly Thomas E. Jones and George Jackson. I’m given to understand there might be some confusion there).

I know songs can get their second wind and find a new life. This happened with the Electric Slide (I barely mastered the original before someone at a junior high dance told me that I had to learn “the new way,” which I never cared to do). And your song got a second wind a few years ago, too, right? I seem to remember a commercial featuring Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Hawk, and Michael Phelps dancing in their underwear to your song. This was a commercial for Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Was this commercial created by wedding DJs, do you know? Because I’m pretty sure the target market for Guitar Hero: World Tour wasn’t old enough to catch the reference. They probably just thought it was kind of weird.

Now I’m not suggesting that we trade in your song for Justin Bieber at weddings or proms or whatever else people spend ridiculous amounts of money on. I mean, you’re Bob Seger, and I do respect you as a musician.

I just can’t take “Old Time Rock and Roll” one more time. It’s starting to give me violent tendencies. I’ve got it classified right up there with Hootie & The Blowfish’s “I Only Wanna Be With You” as Songs I’ve Heard Too Many Damn Times, sub-category: Make It Stop.

This is a critical time for your song. It could be the vintage sports car that people remember fondly and enjoy taking out for a spin every so often, or it could be the 1989 Dodge Caravan with wood paneling that, while once something to get excited about, is now little more than a joke.

And wedding DJs: ease up, will ya? These kids want to hear music that they know and understand (even if they don’t understand that it sucks). They want to hear the music they like and the music that gets them up and dancing. Whether or not you (and I) think this is “actual music” or not is irrelevant. It’s what they like.

Because no one is running onto the dance floor yelling, “This is my jam!” when “Old Time Rock and Roll” comes on. I’m sorry. They just aren’t.


Frank G. Sheepfoot


*If you’ve read this without your sense of humor or tongue-in-cheek, you fail. I don’t want comments like the ones I got from the crazy people telling me to stop picking on Taylor Swift and her sense of literary interpretation.


One thought on “An Open Letter to Bob Seger, Re: “Old Time Rock and Roll” (cc: Every Wedding DJ Everywhere)

  1. Funny story, just DJ’ed a wedding for the first time and made it a point to not play this song. The bride and groom made clear what they wanted and this song was nowhere near their selections. Sure enough, an older gentlemen comes over toward the end of the night and explicitly asks to here “Old Time Rock n’ Roll.” His reasoning being that I had been playing music that excluded the older folks. Feeling some sympathy for the gentleman, I obliged. Those descending piano chords started and I expected the floor to fill up exactly as you described. Oddly enough, the dude didn’t even dance! Not only that, the same people consistently on the floor stayed on the floor and some people left, but no one new was added. I hate this song and feel as though some people (not just DJs) feel like this song is meant to be played at weddings.

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