The Seger File

An unofficial web site about the music of Bob Seger Last updated July 2000 Written and edited by Scott Sparling sparling@segerfile.com


Stranger in Town

May 1978

Data

Reached 4 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.

The album took a year and was second only to Some Girls for most national FM airplay in 1978. Chris Cioe, Musician. "Bob Seger: Hymns from the heartland."

It was the most difficult to record and most expensive album to date.

Stranger in Town is also the title of an old Del Shannon hit.


Background

Seger: Stranger in Town "is about being a stranger to the community of success." Timothy White, May 1, 1980, Rolling Stone. "The Fire This Time"

The title refers to being "A stranger to all of this: success, fame, money...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 peoplet...after 13 years, I was trying to figure out what I had done right." May 1979 radio interview.


The Silver Bullet band recorded most of the songs originally. "They just couldn't handle the ballads." Author? August 1978. Magazine?

The album was actually finished in November 1977, but scrapped at the last minute because Seger didn't feel right about it. So he wrote new songs, went to Muscle Shoals, recut the old tunes and added new ones, such as "Ain't Got No Money." The following year he was mixing in California and wrote "Hollywood Nights." Author? August 1978. Magazine?

Seger dropped the title cut, partly because Billy Joel's "The Stranger" had recently been released. Reportedly, he thought people might see "Stranger in Town" as derivative of "The Stranger." During that period, Seger felt an odd, unjustified personal rivalry with Joel, and would measure himself against the other singer's success, reportedly.


The album cover was shot on the lawn of the house Seger rented while recording the album in L.A. The rented house was in the Hollywood Hills and helped provide the inspiration for "Hollywood Nights."


A full page ad for Stranger In Town, from Billboard Magazine.


Hollywood Nights

Charted at #12.

"I had to stay in LA for 2 and 1/2 months [while recording the album]. I rented a house for the second month and a half...it was up in the Hollywood Hills and every night when we'd get back from the studio.

"I would look out and there would be all the lights of the city. I was just sitting there one night with an electric guitar, and I started bashing it out. And there it was." Late 1981 radio interview.

Seger: "The chorus just came into my head; I was driving around in the Hollywood Hills, and I started singing 'Hollywood nights/Hollywood hills/Above all the lights/Hollywood nights.' I went back to my rented house, and there was a Time magazine with Cheryl Tiegs on the cover...I said 'Let's write a song about a guy from the Midwest who runs into someone like this and gets caught up in the whole bizarro thing.'" Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits.


Still the Same

Charted at #4.

Seger: "It's an amalgamation of characters I met when I first went to Hollywood. All Type A personalities...It was another great reason to base out of Michigan." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."

Seger describes "Still the Same" as "a good song, but so medium." Seger says Capitol picked it as the single, Capitol says Bob and Punch picked it. Author? August 1978. Magazine?

 

Seger: "The person that I'm singing about...they're just very charismatic, but they have tremendous faults, but part of the appeal is the charisma. You overlook everything because of the charisma. That's a gift and a curse. I was actually writing about several people that I had met throughout my lifetime..." Interview on Later with Bob Costas.

 


We've Got Tonight

Charted at #13.

Seger: "I had written a song called 'This Old House,' with the exact same chords and a slightly different melody...Then I went to see 'The Sting,' and there's a line in it that struck me, when he said to the waitress 'It's 4 in the morning, and I don't know anybody.' That just hit me real hard. The next day I wrote 'We've Got Tonight,' this song about two people who say 'I'm tired. It's late at night. I know you don't really dig me, and I don't really dig you, but this is all we've got, so let's do it.' (laughs) The sexual revolution was still going strong then." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."

For reasons that I won't rant on about here, that song has always been on my list of ten least favorites. (I happened to like "This Old House": ..."careful of the stair, don't sit on the broken chair.")

And now, as if to prove my case against 'Tonight,' it's been covered by Barry Manilow on his 'Barry-Manilow-sings-your-favorite-love-songs' album. Case closed.

(The song was also used in a "Cheers" episode where Rebecca finally agrees to sleep with Sam, except Sam doesn't go through with it because she's drunk and his gentleman's code won't permit it.)


Old Time Rock & Roll

Charted at #28. The song was later was designated as the most played jukebox song by a male artist in history by the Amusement Operators of America.

Seger: "The band hated it...I remember we went to Europe right after we finished 'Stranger in Town.' They were just complaining about the song being on the record, that it didn't sound Silver Bullety.

"I said 'Let's play it tonight'; we were in Belgium or something. And the crowd went nuts. Then we played it in four or five different places in Germany and got the same reaction every single time. The band started becoming quieter about it." Gary Graff, October 1994, Detroit Free Press. "Bob Seger Tells The Stories Behind The Hits."

Seger reportedly rewrote some of the verses of the song before recording it, but took no writing credit -- a costly decision considering the amount of airplay and jukebox play the song has had.

Since he's not officially one of the authors, Seger presumably has no control over other uses of the song -- for example, the horrendous Fiskies cat food commercial of the mid-1980s which urged consumers to"just take the Friskies off the shelf, your cat can eat them all by himself." If only Bob had taken a songwriting credit, maybe he could have vetoed the spot, saving a great rock song from a great indignity.


Famous Final Scene

"One that I did write particularly for the stage -- and nobody believes it -- was 'Famous Final Scene.' I wanted to write a song that would stop the show dead with its sensitivity. There's always the exuberance of rock and roll throughout a good concert, but I wanted to write a magical, dramatic moment into the show. I got the idea from Henley's 'Wasted Time,' although his song was mainly about being stoned and wasted all the time. But I heard it in the concept of the whole relationship being wasted. I decided to attempt to crystalize that instant in a failed relationship when two people realize 'Hey, this is it for us. So now how do we get out of this room?' And I had to put myself in that mental hole for a month. Oh God, it was horrible." Timothy White, April 1983, Musician. "The Roads Not Taken. "

"When I wrote 'Famous Final Scene', everybody thought I broke up with Jan, but the song had nothing to do with me." Roy Trakin, 1987?, Creem.


Brave Strangers

The title was shortened from "Lovers and Brave Strangers."

Seger: "'Brave Strangers' was mixed something like 500 times...You want it so right that you overdo it. We cut 'We've Got Tonight' in three different studios. But you've got to trust your instincts. We always ended up going back to one of the first takes." [Need citation]


Feel Like a Number

"For a lot of years I wrote too high...literally, I wrote too high for myself. We didn't have monitors when we first started. In order to hear myself sing onstage, I would have to write in a very high key...would have to just sing way, way high.

"Now, with the advent of good technology, I can write things that are more in key and I can use more of my range. Although some songs still are really high. 'Feel Like a Number,' that's about as high as I can go. That's really pushing. You can only do about 4 or 5 of those songs a night..." Late 1981 radio interview.


Till It Shines

Seger wrote the song while on vacation Barbados. "I was so bored after five days I wrote "Till It Shines.'" May 1979 radio interview.

Presumably, that explains the line: "I've been too long on these islands."

Knowing where it was written makes me wonder about another line, though: Who is the rich man lost and lonely, testing all the wines? Are we supposed to pity him?


In an earlier version of The Seger File, I wrote the following about "Till It Shines."

I sometimes think about the song's famous line: "Deal me up another future from some brand new deck of cards." That's a celebrated Seger line, not to mention a classic rock and roll paean to the possibility of a new beginning.

You hear it over and over again no matter what you listen to: early Springsteen ("...took a wrong turn and I just kept going..."), Tom Waits off the Dead Man Walking soundtrack ("I want to walk away and start over again..."), Steve Earle off his fabulous Exit 0 album ("...threw the car seat in the dumpster and I headed off into the night..."). There's gotta be a thousand or a hundred thousand examples in rock and roll: the desire to start over, to chuck it all and begin a new life "from some brand new deck of cards."

It strikes me that that is also exactly what Seger's dad might have said to himself, on that morning or evening or afternoon when he got in the car, knowing he wasn't ever going back to his family or the Fo' Mo' Co'. Point the car toward California, where they deal up new futures everyday.

I wonder if in singing or writing that line, Seger's feelings go beyond the standard rock and roll wanderlust to touch on his dad's own terrible yearning.

Of course, there's a difference between wanting it and acting on it. We all like to dream about starting over. But most of us never throw the car seat in the dumpster.

Now that I listen to the song a little more carefully, though, I'm not sure I agree with myself. And here's why: The narrative is obviously addressed to a lover or potential lover:

"Take away my inhibitions,
Take away my solitude,
Fire me up with your resistance,
Put me in the mood.
Storm the walls around this prison,
Leave the inmates, free the guards.
Deal me up another future from some brand new deck of cards."

When I think of those lines addressed to a woman, the meaning of the new future seems different. He seems to be talking about the spiritual change a woman can bring -- rather than about abandoning his past.

Any way you analyze it, it's a great example of a provocative lyric wrapped in music so polished, you really don't notice the how pointed some of the lines are.

But lose the polish, add some rough-hewn harmonica and raggedy-ass drums, get a young Dylan to do the vocals and you could stick it right up there on Blonde On Blonde. The lyrics would hold up. Just one example: "Like an echo down a canyon, never coming back as clear/ lately I just judge the distance, not the words I hear."


Reviews

Stranger in Town was called "a perfect balance of high energy rock and moving, personal ballads" by Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone, June 15, 1978.


Random Quote

Kevin Sorbo, TV's Herules: "Stranger in Town got me through high school and college, I think. I've always been sort of in touch with that desire to understand everything about everything [Huh?] Whether it's relationships or why we're here. Bob Seger...it was just a wonderful album in terms of touching on those issues." [Hear, hear. Spoken with the clarity and insight only a TV muscleman could provide.]


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