Bob Seger released his tenth overall album, Stranger In Town, in 1978. It follows the major commercial breakthrough of Night Moves, and expands the practice of using two groups of backing musicians. Seger used his own backing Silver Bullet Band and the famous Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section from Alabama, with each playing on about half the tracks. The result is an album which contains a balanced mixture of rock anthems and poignant ballads with lyrical topics of restlessness, escape, and longing which defined blue collar rock ethic. Upon its release, the album rocketed up the charts in the United States and was certified platinum less than a month after the release.
One change within the Silver Bullet band was drummer David Teegarden, who replaced original Silver Bullet drummer Charlie Allen Martin. While walking on a road, Martin was hit by a car from behind and was left unable to walk.
The overall theme of Stranger In Town is dealing with the sudden rise to fame and adapting to the changes that happen when becoming a star. For Seger, this rise came when he was on the north side of thirty and mature enough to wax philosophical about shallowness and keep perspective on his own roots and character. The resultant success of this second straight blockbuster served to not only solidify his success but actually increase it.
Stranger In Town by Bob Seger
|Released: May 5, 1978 (Capitol)
Produced by: Bob Seger, Punch Andrews, & Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Recorded: Criteria Sound Studios, Miami, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Sheffield, Alabama, Sound Suite Studios, Detroit, Michigan, 1977-78
Still the Same
Old Time Rock and Roll
Till It Shines
Feel Like a Number
|Ain’t Got No Money
We’ve Got Tonight
The Famous Final Scene
|Bob Seger – Guitars, Vocals
Robyn Robbins – Keyboards
Barry Beckett – Keyboards
Drew Abbott – Guitars
Pete Carr – Guitars
Chris Campbell – Bass
Alto Reed – Saxophone
Roger Hawkins – Drums, Percussion
The album rolls to a start with “Hollywood Nights”, a driving rocker held down by Teegarden’s drums. This story-telling song with the late seventies subject of the “gone Hollywood” theme never really gets off the basic beat and patterns but still feels satisfying as a pure rocker and reached the Top 20 on the charts. “Still the Same” strikes a more somber vibe. Led by the piano of Robyn Robbins, this almost country-like tune has a unique arrangement with only one real verse and chorus and a truncated variation following the short piano lead section. The theme continues the Hollywood scene and the attitude which seemed foreign to Seger. Commercially, “Still the Same” was a big hit, reaching #4 on the pop singles chart.
The next two songs prominently feature the Muscle Shoals Ryhthm Section. “Old Time Rock and Roll” was presented to Seger by the group during the album sessions. Composed by George Jackson and Thomas Jones, Seger re-wrote most of the lyrics but failed to take a songwriting credit. He later admitted this was “the dumbest thing I ever did”, as this nostalgic look at the music of a previous generation became a staple at weddings and parties for decades to come has been ranked the second-most played jukebox single of all time. “Till It Shines” is probably the most perfect song for the group, filling it with sonic décor throughout the introspective in the acoustic number. The philosophical lyrics are delivered with a pleasant melody above a pleasant ensemble of steady music, which includes a guitar lead by Eagle Glenn Frey.
“Feel Like a Number” is sort of the default theme song of the album and it demonstrates how the sequencing of the album works by counter-balancing ballads with rockers. The song is a typical working class song about one being lost in the world around him, which shows him little or no respect. The Frankie Miller cover “Ain’t Got No Money” closely mimics “The Fire Down Below” from Night Moves, almost to the point of plagiarism. Another Eagle, Don Felder provides the guitar solo. “We’ve Got Tonight” is a piano ballad which has an almost Neil Diamond quality at the top. This was another hit single for Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, reaching number 13 on the U.S. pop charts and an even bigger hit for Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton when they remade it in 1983.
“Brave Strangers” has an epic quality to it and is the finest song on side two. After a couple of upbeat, driving verses, the song halts and goes into a moderate jazzy section highlighted by the piano of Doug Riley, the saxophone of Alto Reed, and fine backing vocals. Thematically the song is a sequence to (or retelling of) the scene in the song “Night Moves”, reliving that evocative and nostalgic tale. “The Famous Final Scene” continues the cinematic scope of “Brave Strangers” but as a mellow ballad carried by Muscle Shoals’ twin guitarists Pete Carr and Jimmy Johnson. But the real highlight is the piano and organ by Barry Beckett, which adds the dripping melancholy to the album’s final song.
Mirroring the sales of Night Moves, Stranger In Town would eventually go six times platinum. With this continued success, Seger tried his hand at songwriting for other artists and co-wrote the Eagles’ #1 hit “Heartache Tonight” in 1979. The following year he released his third consecutive blockbuster album with Against the Wind, which became his first and only #1 album.
Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1978 albums.