Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band: Stranger In Town - Album Of The Week Club review

Stranger In Town is an album featuring three of Bob Seger's most celebrated songs, but it's not his most celebrated album. What's going on?

Bob Seger - Stranger In Town
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - Stranger In Town

Hollywood Nights
Still The Same
Old Time Rock And Roll
Till It Shines
Feel Like A Number
Ain't Got No Money
We've Got Tonight
Brave Strangers
The Famous Final Scene

After the runaway success of Live Bullet and Night Moves, the title Stranger In Town was Bob Seger sounding a note of caution. "I was a stranger to all of this: success, fame, money," he said in 1979. "I was so afraid that it was going to stop at any minute. I was afraid that I had just gotten lucky.

"We all have self doubts... but after 13 years of people telling you, 'you're gonna make it,' and not making it, and you actually disappointing those people... after 13 years, I was trying to figure out what I had done right." 

Seger had no need to worry, and the album features some of his most fearless songs: Hollywood Nights, despite its theme of innocence abroad, is a ferocious, adrenalin-fuelled rush; while We Got Tonight is the polar opposite, an achingly tender ballad that was later covered by artists as disparate as Shirley Bassey, Richie Havens, Barry Manilow and Jeff Healey.

Old Time Rock And Roll – used in the iconic Tom Cruise dancing scene in Risky Business, and the second-most-played single on American jukeboxes ever (behind Patsy Cline’s Crazy) – was added almost as an afterthought. 

"Old Time Rock And Roll came to me at the very end of Stranger In Town," said Seger. All I kept from the original [written by George Jackson and Thom Jones] was:‘Old time rock and roll, that kind of music soothes the soul, I reminisce about days of old with that old time rock and roll.’ I rewrote the verses and I never took credit. 

"That was the dumbest thing I ever did. And Thom Jones and George Jackson know it too. But I just wanted to finish the record. I rewrote every verse you hear except for the choruses. I didn’t ask for credit. 

"My manager said: “You should ask for a third of the credit.” And I said: “Nah. Nobody’s gonna like it.” I’m not credited on it so I couldn’t control the copyright either. Meanwhile it became a Wendy’s commercial because I couldn’t control it. Oh my god, it was awful!"

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Background

Although a succession of albums – Noah, Mongrel, Brand New Morning, Smokin’ O.P.’s, Back In ’72 and Seven – attracted little national interest, Bob Seger wasn’t about to pack it in. He forged on, unrelenting in his drive to make it at whatever cost and whatever price.

In 1976 fate smiled on this ‘overnight sensation’ that was more than 10 years in the making, and Seger rocketed to national stardom with Live Bullet, an explosive tour de force showcasing the commanding power of Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet band.

Not long after Live Bullet resuscitated Seger’s career from extinction came a career-defining album. Night Moves, released in 1976, is a magnificent record that deftly illustrated Seger’s growing talents as a highly expressive and evocative songwriter par excellence, as displayed on the classic title track, the nostalgic home-town paean Mainstreet and the sweaty raver Rock & Roll Never Forgets.

Stranger In Town delivered on Seger’s creative and commercial promise, resulting in more gold and platinum records and sold-out tours. 

Other albums released in May 1978

  • You're Gonna Get It! - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • Powerage - AC/DC
  • Black and White - The Stranglers
  • But Seriously, Folks... - Joe Walsh
  • Misfits - The Kinks
  • David Gilmour - David Gilmour
  • Eternally Yours - The Saints
  • Heaven Tonight - Cheap Trick
  • The Parkerilla - Graham Parker and The Rumour
  • Stone Blue - Foghat

What they said...

"Musically, it's as lively as Night Moves, rocking even harder in some places and being equally as introspective in the acoustic numbers. If it doesn't feel as revelatory as that record, in many ways it does feel like a stronger set of songs. Yes, musically, it doesn't offer any revelations, but it still feels impassioned, both in its performances and songs, and it's still one of the great rock records of its era." (AllMusic)

"Stranger in Town is Bob Seger's most consistent record. Without heeling to a concept, most of the songs touch on one form of isolation or another, but Seger's loners aren't exactly heroes. The loser in Hollywood Nights finds himself dazzled and betrayed - and taken for a rube. The gambler of Still the Same is a system player who takes no risks. The suitor in We've Got Tonite piles on every cliche in the book, then repeats them all, while the departing lover in The Famous Final Scene mocks himself with his own theatricality." (SuperSeventies)

"The album roars out of the gate. Hollywood Nights is just pure American rock‘n’roll at its best. Still The Same follows in the same vein but Old Time Rock And Roll would become not only one of his signature songs but one of the ultimate party songs for decades. It was added to the film Risky Business and is associated with the memory of Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear. If you have a pulse it’s one of those songs that makes you want to get up and dance." (BlogCritics)

What you said...

Pete Mineau: Back in 1974, I was a 15 year-old sophomore in high school. All my spare time was spent in the basement at my friend's house with my buddies listening to albums and scouring over rock music publications such as Circus, Circus Raves, Hit Parader, Creem, Crawdaddy, and Rolling Stone.

One afternoon, my buddy Johnse asked three of us if we wanted to go to a rock concert. None of us had ever been to a concert before, and to tell the truth, I had always thought that they were only put on in large major cities... nowhere near us! 

Johnse told us that he heard Bachman-Turner Overdrive was going to be playing at Northern Michigan University, which was 60 miles north of us in Marquette, Michigan. He said his dad would drive us there and drop us off. They had relatives that lived up there that he would visit with, then pick us back up after the show.

We all agreed that this was going to be an "excellent" (the buzz word at the time) plan and anxiously awaited our rise to the next level in our pursuit of Rock Music.

The night of the show, the four of us were fired up beyond belief! We were huge B.T.O. fans, having bought all three of their albums, including Not Fragile, which had just been released a month earlier. The fact that this was the first concert for all of us only helped to lend an element of awe to the event!

When we finally got into the fieldhouse and found some seats up in the bleachers, Johnse produced a bottle of T. J. Swann wine that he had smuggled in by sticking it down his pants. (Apparently, we looked like a bunch of young kids, which we were, so they didn't pat him down on the way in!) We preceded to pass that lowly bottle of "Mellow Nights" between the four of us, taking swigs and chattering about what songs we hoped our Canadian heroes would be playing for us in a few moments.

The lights go down, everyone stands and begins cheering... and out walks a long-haired, bearded guy with an acoustic guitar!?! What the hell was this!?! We paid hard cash to see B.T.O., and this ain't them! (Oops! This being our first concert, none of us were aware of the terms "opening act" or "special guest" as the promo posters proclaimed.)

As we settled back into our seats, I turned and asked a couple of "older" college age freaks who this guy was.

"His name is Bob Seger," one of them replied. "He's kinda big downstate in the lower peninsula." 

As I sat and listened to this lone troubadour strumming his acoustic guitar in the middle of the stage, I began to get into him a bit. One thing I remember about his performance was that he announced that the name of the next tune he was going to play was called Lucifer. To a 15-year-old kid, a song named after the devil was... cool!

After Bachman-Turner Overdrive took the stage, Bob Seger got pushed to the back of my mind and all but forgotten about.

In the summer of 1975, I recall hearing a song on the radio that really caught my ear. It was a rocking studio cut called Katmandu. When the song was over, the DJ announced, "That's a new single by Bob Seger from Detroit, Michigan."

I thought to myself, "Hey, that's the guy from the B.T.O. show. Cool...he's on the radio now."

I think I only heard that song a couple more times that summer and then, once again, Bob Seger was an afterthought to me.

In the spring of 1976, Seger released Live Bullet, the album that broke him big nationally. Song after song was played on the radio! You couldn't go to a high school beer party without hearing it played! 

I, of course, revelled in telling anyone who would listen, that I had seen him two years earlier before he got "big"!

Around the summer of '76, I discovered a bunch of Seger 8-track tapes in the cut-out bins of the local Woolworth store. I quickly snatched up Ramblin' Gamblin' Man, Mongrel, Smokin' O. P.'s, Seven, and Beautiful Loser at bargain prices! I was now a "hardcore" fan of Bob Seger! (Even though I was not aware of his earlier recordings like Noah, Brand New Morning, and Back In '72... this was way before the internet!)

The fall of 1976 gave us Night Moves. Again, the songs from it were everywhere you went! This album carried over into 1977 and is part of the soundtrack to my senior year in high school. To this day, it is still my favourite Bob Seger album!

In the fall of '77, I joined the Navy. Towards the last few weeks of boot-camp, we had a couple of guys that would sneak out of the barracks at night and go to the P.X. and buy things like candy and cigarettes. If you gave them your money and a small fee, they'd get stuff for you also. One night, I gave them a bunch of cash and asked them to get me a cassette copy of Night Moves. They complied! I would then go into the drill sergeant's office after he went home for the evening and "borrow" the portable tape player he had in there. I would sit around with my buddies (I enlisted with five other guys from my high school class and we were all put in the same platoon in boot-camp) and listen to Bob Seger before lights out!

One day, the drill sergeant told us we were going to have a surprise inspection and that we should unlock our lockers and fallout outside. Knowing the tape was contraband, I quickly grabbed it, stuck it up under a register vent in the barracks and headed outside. After a couple hours, we went back in the barracks and were instructed to stand at ease in front of our bunks. 

The drill sergeant then preceded to tell us that the reason for the inspection was because he had heard rumours that there was a "weapon" in the barracks. He said that after a thorough search, no weapons were found. However, he said, "I did find this", and he held up my Bob Seger tape.

"Anyone want to claim this?", he said.

I said nothing.

He said, "I'll give who ever it belongs to five minutes to come talk to me about it. Nobody claims it, it belongs to the whole platoon and you all pay for it." He then went into his office.

Before he had even sat down at his desk, I was on my way to confess and be spared the wrath of the whole platoon.

I entered his office and said, "drill sergeant, that's my tape!"

He said, "You know you're not supposed to have it, so why do you?"

I realised if I told him the story of how I came about it, I'd be getting others in trouble. So I lied! I told him that I bought it on one of our trips to the P.X. to buy toiletries and that I was going to send it home as a birthday gift to my brother. (Never mind that the cellophane was already off!)

The drill sergeant then chastised me about not following orders when going shopping with the platoon and told me to get out while he considered whether to write me up or not.

The whole next day, he didn't mention anything to me about the incident. I decided to approach him to see where I stood on the matter before he left for the evening. I entered his office and he said in a fairly jovial manner, "What can I do for you, Seaman?"

I said, "I was wondering if you were going to write me up or not?"

He looked at me perplexed and said, "For what?"

I was stunned! He had forgotten all about the whole thing and I was reminding him!

After freshening his memory, he said, "Seeing how you came to me right away and confessed, we'll let it slide this time, but I'm donating that tape to the Navy Family Relief Fund."

To this day, I still believe that drill sergeant would go home at night and jam out to my Bob Seger Tape!

OK, so I've already written way too much here, so all I'll say about Stranger In Town is that it's a great follow-up to Night Moves and I would give it a 4 out of 5 rating... just under Night Moves.

Tim Smith: Strong album. Seger's writing hit its stride from Still The Same to one of my personal favourites of all-time, Brave Strangers. In my opinion, he completely one-upped his songwriting peers of the day.

Scott Spalding: Love this album for so many reasons. Bob's best, I've just proclaimed it, and that's a high bar. It has fast rockers like Hollywood Nights and Feel Like A Number, which kick so much ass. Feel Like A Number was used in a scene in the movie Body Heat that was so unforgettable. I think Mickey Rourke owes a chunk of his career to Bob, and should probably send him a monthly check. 

There's stanky blues rockers like Ain't Got No Money and Old Time Rock And Roll. It has mid-tempo story songs he does so well, like Still the Same, Till It Shines, Brave Strangers

Then we get a set of ballads, one of which has now reached smokey bar, 2am jukebox immortality: We've Got Tonight. And finally, after all that, the song that brings a tear to my eye nearly every time, The Famous Final Scene. Sure, you know you're going to get a sentimental song, just from the title. But what a tribute to Bob's songwriting, his passionate voice, his way with a phrase, knowing what we know about his struggles in life, that it still rips my heart out. 

I know this is a long post, and it's mostly for my own enjoyment, but one famous final story is in order. I was 14 when this album came out, my parents had just split up, and I had no easy access to any record stores, just as I was beginning my life-long love of music (ok, obsession). 

I won a copy of this album from a local radio station, but had no way to pick it up. My dad picked it up for me the next time he came to visit, driving at least an hour, maybe two, out of his way, for a $6 record. However much I thanked him, I know it couldn't have been enough. I know he just did it for one reason; because he was my Dad.

Bill Griffin: Love this album, but I always thought he was embracing the fame rather than showing his discomfort with it. It was, after all, a long hard road to get there. I don't know if Rick Davies coined the phrase Gone Hollywood with Supertramp, but this illustrates the concept to a T. Not as much as Against The Wind, but certainly shows him heading in that direction. As much as I like this album though, I prefer Night Moves. He (and the Silver Bullet Band) were still hungry on that one.

Jacob Tannehill: My first exposure to him... so naturally absolutely my favourite Seger album, hands down. 

Hollywood Nights is probably one of the greatest opening songs on any album. If I ever played in a band that would be my signature cover song. My favourite Seger song of all time. 

Till it Shines and Ain’t Got No Money are super awesome underrated classics. 

Oh yeah...the singles are pretty good too. One of those albums where every song on this album could have been a hit...

Just listened to it a few days ago, can’t wait to listen again tonight!

Jim Linning: I always thought Bob Seger was under-rated on this side of the Atlantic, mainly because the punk-fuelled music media of the time wouldn't give albums like this the time of day. Bit ironic really as one of Seger's earlier numbers Get Out Of Denver, recorded by Eddie and the Hot Rods, was probably one of the first 'punk' performances on Top of the Pops. Nevertheless this album stands the test of time being a nice amalgam of rock, soul and country influences and - most importantly - a truck load of great songs.

John Davidson: On the great big Venn diagram of classic rock [that exists only in my head] Bob Seger sits somewhere alongside Steve Miller between the likes of Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, singer/songwriters with rock'n'roll chops and the pop rock of the likes of Elton John and Billy Joel (before they went all showbiz).

Having listened to this album, Night Moves and Live Bullet, I'm not thinking I've missed out by never owning this album. There are some cracking songs (Hollywood Nights for one) but overall it’s a bit safe, a bit middle America, and consequently doesn’t speak to me like some of those contemporaries did (and do).

Stranger in Town kicks off with the excellent Hollywood Nights but doesn't follow through with any consistency of tone or quality.

Of the other well know songs on the album – Old Time Rock And Roll is a bit of fun, and Till It Shines has a gruff charm. The production on We’ve Got Tonight, on the other hand, does the song no favours. Predating full-blown 80s power ballads, it none the less takes what should be a bittersweet lyric and laconic tone and dips it in saccharin strings. 

The delivery on Live Bullet shows what the band can do to inject life into songs that are muted in the studio, and Seger definitely wrote some fantastic songs over his career. But on the whole I prefer other band's interpretations (Thin Lizzy's- Rosalie, to name one, and Metallica's Turn the Page to name another).

Shane Reho: This one's a mixed bag for me. On one end, you have Hollywood Nights (possibly my favourite song of his) and Still The Same, which are both the big hits they deserved to be. On the other, Old Time Rock And Roll (note: radio overplay probably has something to do with me putting this on the lower end) and Ain't Got No Money (seems like a retread of the much better Fire Down Below from Night Moves, otherwise okay). In a way, it seems like he plays the same formula from the previous album. However, I would say this is worth a listen every now and then (not the world's biggest Seger fan, once again, radio overkill takes its toll). 8/10. Track picks: Hollywood Nights, Still the Same, Brave Strangers.

Roland Bearne: Cleaner than a surgeon's hands but still rock'n'roll. Surgically textured, I feel for optimum US airplay. I have always really wanted to like Bob Seger but it's all just too clean. I never really "felt" Hollywood Nights, We've got Tonight is lovely, but Ain't Got No Money is the best of the bunch for me. Sounds like Phil Mogg on a smooth vibe. I appreciate much of it's class but I have confess it remains soporific overall.

Iain Macaulay: All I know of Bob Seger, other than Rosalie, is on this album. Hollywood Nights, Old Time R’N'R, etc. I’ve spent all week listening to it, on and off. But, unfortunately, I’ve not managed to listen to the whole album in one sitting. Which for me is quite telling. I found myself losing concentration quite often and drifting off somewhere else. I don’t dislike it, but then again, I also don’t like it that much. There’s nothing wrong with it. It just sits in a middle ground of music that’s there all the time on the radio and in films but which I’d never go out of my way to buy or sit down and listen to. It doesn’t talk to me or spark anything in me. On the whole, I guess I’m quite ambivalent to it. I wanted to write quite a balanced review, commenting on how the song writing is good and it shines through in cover versions, but I’m now finding I’m losing interest in this too. Oh well. Can’t win them all. Just not a fan of middle American radio rock.

Carl Black: There are two sides to every story. Two opposites, night and day, light and dark, Tom and Jerry, Mustaine and Hetfield. Two sides to the same coin. Sometimes they work in harmony and compliment each, other times one tries to destroy the other. I find myself in the middle of this conflict listening to this album. Bob Seger, the rocker, composer of kicking rock anthems that incite a wild reaction from stadium size crowds. Can't get enough of this Bob. More please more, more... more! Then we flip the coin. Bob the hopeless romantic, pedlar of worthless mush and ballads, can't turn it off quick enough. This is the conflict I face. And because the album has almost the same amount rock to ballad ratio, I decided to score it bang in the middle, but, Hollywood Nights is a belter, it gets a six. I will be using the skip button when I listen to this again.

Brian Carr: Much of the seventies music I love is from artists my uncle was into, but Bob Seger I remember my dad having 8-tracks of, so I’ve listened to his late 70s hits for most of my life.

When I’m craving some Seger, I almost always go for Night Moves. Stranger In Town has some great tunes, so I wondered why I don’t throw this on just as often. I’m listening, and I still love Hollywood Nights and Still the Same, then I remember: blame it on Old Time Rock And Roll. Yeah, it’s a fine song, but a long-time resident of the overplayed/burnout wing of my musical tastes.

We get a couple of decent Seger album filler tracks in Till It Shines and Brave Strangers. The familiar (and beloved to me) frustration of Feel Like A Number and beauty of We’ve Got Tonight. Ain’t Got No Money rocks even if it’s an exact duplicate of Fire Down Below (I haven’t checked to see if they’re in the same key, but I absolutely sang the words of FDB while this was playing and it fit perfectly). The Famous Final Scene is the kind of cinematic epic common on 70s releases (Eagles and Billy Joel did these types of tunes).

I can certainly understand Stranger in Town failing to move the meter for some, but for me, the music reminds me of my dad and feels like a pair of perfectly broken in, faded pair of jeans (even if Old Time Rock And Roll is the frustration equivalent of a big hole in the crotch of those jeans).

Robert Dunn: I always seem to start my reviews with a confession, so here is this week's - it has taken me a long time to get into what you might call Americana rock. The Eagles were well known of course with some great songs, and bands like The Guess Who and The James Gang brought out some great stuff, but I never really got into the likes of Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band. I preferred my rock harder and edgier, but time has mellowed me somewhat and so I was looking forward to listening to this. It starts at a real gallop with Hollywood Nights and then it just kind of slows down. And stays slowed down, with ballads a-plenty and some down-tempo numbers. Even the Risky Business anthem Old Time Rock And Roll, even with its swagger, isn't all that, well, rock'n'roll. Not to these UK ears anyway.

A previous reviewer mentioned that perhaps UK rock fans were more exposed to harder rock bands than our US friends. Let's face it: Slade, who never caught on in the States in the 70s, were a hard rocking band even when they were hitting number 1 in the charts. Maybe that helps to explain why although I didn't dislike this record, it didn't really do anything for me either. I love Bob's voice, he could sing the phone book (showing my age now) and I would listen, but I won't be adding this album to my collection. The songs are good and the band perform them well, but my ears still seem to want a bit less polish and a bit more grit in the music I listen to.

Hai Kixmiller: Hollywood Nights, Old Time Rock And Roll, and Feel Like A Number are three solid foot-stomping, hand-clapping, make you wanna get up and shake yo' money maker songs. Just on the strength of those songs alone, this album should be put into a glass box with an inscription on the glass which reads: "In Case of Lame Party, Break Glass." Still The Same and We Got Tonight bring the party to an easy and pleasant (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) finale. The rest of the songs are just nice fillers.

Final Score: 7.81 ⁄10 (191 votes cast, with a total score of 1493)

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