ON THIS DATE (34 YEARS AGO)
May 5, 1978 – Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band: Stranger in Town is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# allmusic 4.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Stranger in Town is the tenth studio album by American rock singer Bob Seger and his second with the Silver Bullet Band, released by Capitol Records on this date in May 1978 . Like it predecessor, the Silver Bullet Band backed Seger on about half of the songs and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section backed Seger on the other half.
The album became an instant success in the United States, being certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America less than a month after the album’s release. The album was eventually certified 6x multi-platinum.
After nearly a decade of struggling, working-class rocker Bob Seger hit the big time with such acclaimed releases as 1976’s one-two punch Live Bullet and Night Moves, and two years later, Stranger in Town. The latter quickly became (and remains) one of Seger’s most commercially and artistically successful albums.
Included are two of his most instantly recognizable hits–the self-explanatory “Old Time Rock n’ Roll,” a song that would enjoy a second chart life when used in the 1982 film Risky Business, and the reflective “Still the Same.” Around the time of Stranger in Town’s release, the press was pitting Seeger against another popular blue-collar rock hero–Bruce Springsteen. The record buying public ignored the debate, however, accepting both rockers with open arms.
ORIGINAL ROLLING STONE REVIEW
Bob Seger’s no longer a stranger in town. Since Night Moves, he’s been expected eagerly, and he’s almost six months overdue. Live Bullet put Seger on the national map of riding the secondary roads, and Night Moves, coming hard on its heels, proved that the Midwest’s great journeyman rock & roller could cut it in studios and on singles charts as well as onstage. Seger’s success was an affirmation of rock & roll’s essential durability, because his homegrown, audience-honed music was derivative in the best sense. He was, after all, practically a rock & roll archetype: an authentic hardworking, hard-traveling man, a gambler whose best-selling album was the one on which he reviewed his life, adding up the score and deciding whether or not he was too old to play anymore.
On Stranger in Town, Seger chooses the image of the perpetual traveler, exiled by the winds of his own going. Like the beautiful loser, it’s a role he knows well. He’s even played it before in some of his best songs (“Turn the Page,” “Travelin’ Man”). Characteristically, he reads the part with more self-doubt than swagger, more regret than romance. Still, Seger’s not resting on his legends. “We were players, not arrangers,” he boasts (in “Brave Strangers”), but at the same time, Stranger in Town is his most thoughtful and promising attempt at reconciling spontaneity and calculation.
In the past, even on his best studio work, Seger’s been a bull in a technological china shop, his extravagant delivery sounding more desperate than anything, like a man trying too hard. And in a way, he was. His voice — hoarse enough to carry across Fender feedback‹the abrupt starts and stops, the grandiose characters he played (the gladiator of “Sunburst,” Ishmael to the Arab of “Ship of Fools”) were all part of the equipment he’d developed for the stage: the big gesture and the obvious drama that are pitched to the balcony. But in the studio, they seemed unnecessarily crude, particularly beside the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which Seger still hasn’t abandoned on this album.
In spite of such lapses, 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. Night Moves threatened defeat and countered with endurance, Stranger in Town, a more polished and modest LP, is likelier to scuffle and retreat. Without heroes, without tragedy, it avoids the melodrama that sometimes made Night Moves pretentious, but neither does it achieve — or only rarely — the earlier album’s awkward, naked individualism.
Instead of himself, Seger’s offering rock & roll — and that’s a generous offer. His melodies are familiar on first meeting and swell to inevitable, satisfying resolutions. His backbeat can’t be lost. His music’s a utility model, solid and built to last, but less interesting in itself than for the passion with which he delivers it: he’ll rock you with the sheer force of his desire to. This artist is used to being a stranger in town, used to trading on his abilities istead of his reputation — and now that he’s got one, he seems more fearful of presuming on it.
Last time out, Seger risked failure by acknowledging it. On Stranger in Town, he risks anonymity in much the same manner, then hides behind his music. Bob Seger keeps hanging by a thread, but that’s part of his charm. He records rather than romanticizes experience, and so leaves himself at its mercy — and at ours.
~ Ariel Swartley (July 27, 1978)
All songs written and composed by Bob Seger, except where noted.
1. “Hollywood Nights” 4:59
2. “Still the Same” 3:18
3. “Old Time Rock and Roll” (George Jackson, Thomas Jones, Bob Seger (uncredited)) 3:14
4. “Till It Shines” 3:50
5. “Feel Like a Number” 3:42
1. “Ain’t Got No Money” (Frankie Miller) 4:11
2. “We’ve Got Tonight” 4:38
3. “Brave Strangers” 6:20
4. “The Famous Final Scene” 5:09