As 1976 was winding down, Bob Seger's star was on the rise. In October of that year, he'd released the Night Moves album, which was already picking up steam on FM radio. The album's title track was the song getting the most attention, so in December, Capitol released it as the lead single.
"Night Moves" was a song that came together very carefully, originally inspired by the narrative style of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" and seeing the movie American Graffiti.
"That was us. Cruising at night, going through drive-ins, and the mental process when your hormones are raging," Seger told Wall Street Journal in 2015. "I wrote the song when I was almost 30, and I was talking about when I was 17. In high school I had a bunch of new friends. We used to have these parties called 'grassers.' We’d all go out in some farmer’s field in Ann Arbor (Michigan) and dance. One guy had an upside-down record player in his car that he’d attach to the battery and everyone would play their favorite 45s. That’s where I got, 'Out past the cornfields where the woods got heavy, out in the back seat of my ’60 Chevy.' I actually had a ’62, but ’60 sang better."
The object of Seger's affection in the song was a real-life "dark-haired girlfriend, Italian," who the singer was wooing at the time, despite her having a boyfriend in the army she'd eventually marry and break Seger's heart.
He penned the tune during time taken away from the road to write new music. Seger labored over "Night Moves" in particular, spending six months fine-tuning the song. It was during a recording session in Toronto when he finally revealed it to producer Jack Richardson. Meticulously piecing it together with a random collection of available musicians, an early version of the track was played for a powerful radio programmer, Paul Drew, after a lunch meeting.
"He was the big gorilla then. If you got him on a record, you were pretty much guaranteed a hit," Capitol promo exec Craig Lambert said of the moment. "He came out to the car and we played it for him. Two and a half minutes into it, he said, 'That’s a smash.' It was a huge risk for us to take."
Soon after the song's December 1976 release, it began a steady chart ascension before ultimately peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on March 12, 1977.
"Bruce Wendell (Capitol's head of national promotions) called me and said, 'You’ve got a career record here.' And I said, 'What’s that?,'” Seger recalled of that clandestine parking lot meeting. "He said, 'Because of this song, you’re going to have a career that will last a lot longer than you think.' Good!"