40 Years Ago: Bob Seger Steadies His Course on ‘Stranger in Town’
After eight albums and almost as many years kicking around just outside of mainstream success, Bob Seger finally had a hit record with 1976’s Night Moves, a moving, soulful and rocking look back on the people and places that shaped him.
After so much hard work and sweat put into his music over the past decade, the Michigan native was starting to see it all pay off. So why turn back now? Why change what works? Why, for that matter, would Seger want to test any new ground on Night Moves’ follow-up? He wouldn’t.
That, for the most part, explains why Stranger in Town, which was released on May 5, 1978, is pretty much a carbon copy of Night Moves. It also explains why it was a hit, and why it remains one of Seger’s most durable albums. Besides the breakthrough Night Moves, no other album gets to the heart of Seger’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams. Stranger in Town isn’t a perfect record, but it isn’t meant to be. But it is an extension of the journey Seger took on Night Moves. And that’s what matters.
Even though it’s co-credited to the Silver Bullet Band, some of Stranger in Town’s songs were recorded in Alabama with the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section (just like Night Moves). And like its predecessor, the record is loose, stuffed with soulful grooves and just a little preoccupied with making some big statements.
Many of the songs became radio staples -- "Hollywood Nights," "Still the Same," "Old Time Rock and Roll," "We’ve Got Tonight," all hit singles – riding along classic rock rhythms while nodding to their surroundings (like the country-rock lift of "Still the Same" and the big-ballad sweep of "We’ve Got Tonight").
Seger was playing to win on Stranger in Town. But it’s not like he was risking too much. Night Moves made him a star, and only a major misstep (like, say, a full-on disco track) would derail him at this point. The album made it to No. 4, four spots higher than Night Moves, and like its predecessor, it’s sold more than six million copies.
The four singles all reached the Top 40, with ‘Still the Same’ making it to No. 4, the same position as Night Moves’ title track. Seger would return two years later with Against the Wind, his only No. 1 album, slowing things down and taking a few new paths. Stranger in Town doesn’t throw any curves. It doesn’t need to.