In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re picking our favorite songs from action movies.
When it came time for the producers of Beverly Hills Cop II to find a soundtrack song, one that would capture the essence of a smart-aleck black cop from the mean streets running rampant over the manicured mansions of Beverly Hills—naturally, there was only one choice: Chevy truck balladeer Bob Seger. The voice of the American heartland (for the ears of the suburbs) had already had considerable soundtrack success, thanks to his songs appearing in movies like Teachers, About Last Night…, and, of course, Risky Business. Still, while he was superficially positioned as a more sincere, rootsier analogue to Kenny Loggins, one might argue that his albums of tremulous odes to small town fortitude and nostalgic drive-in fumbles don’t exactly scream “Eddie Murphy movie.”
And yet, “Shakedown” ended up being a great song anyway, thanks in no small part to that same incongruity. Putting Seger’s raspy growl over the slick synthesizers of “Axel F” composer Harold Faltermeyer created its own delightful culture clash—perhaps not as uprooting to the status quo as Axel Foley crashing a swank hotel, but fun all the same. The even more remarkable thing about “Shakedown” is that Seger was actually a last-minute replacement for Glenn Frey, who was expected to follow his hit “The Heat Is On” with another pumping pop tune that’s vaguely about police work. It was only after Frey lost his voice that Seger was sent in after him.
With an ailing Frey calling on fellow Michigan-bred rocker Seger to do right by Detroit, Seger not only stepped up to record a song that would have never come anywhere near a Silver Bullet Band album, he slipped fully into the guise and rewrote the verses. “No matter what you think you’ve done, you’ll find it’s not enough / No matter what you think you know you won’t get through,” Seger warns—an oddly pessimistic sentiment from the bard of rule-breakers behind “Against The Wind,” even for a decade when, for whatever reason, cops were seen as the coolest motherfuckers on the planet.
But it’s hard not to get caught up in “Shakedown” and its propulsive, car chase rhythm—and both Seger and America did, sending the single to Seger’s first and only No. 1 hit. Indeed, just like Axel Foley, Bob Seger had his greatest success when he went deep, deep, deep undercover.