Bob Seger: Night Moves or Stranger in Town?

The best Bob Seger studio album: Night Moves or Stranger in Town?  Some of you might be thinking, Against the Wind (1980).  That’s a fine album too with several charting singles.  Some folks mention Live Bullet, the album released right before Night Moves and that stayed on the charts during the success of Night Moves, to make 1976, a big year for Seger.  For this face-off, we’re focusing on studio albums.

In the late 1960s, Bob Seger began his long recording career.  He recorded a number of albums before he hit on his successful formula with Night Moves (1976).  Two years later, he returned with Stranger in Town.  Both of these albums seem to top the various lists of best Bob Seger albums.  So which is it?

Let’s look at each, and I’ll give you the definitive answer to the question that is rocking our civilization.

Both of these albums featured Seger’s Silver Bullet Band, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, on different songs.  Both albums are augmented by a number of musicians and singers.

“I guess I was real inspired by the way they wrote, so a lot of our hits ended up being very narrative. There’s a lot of stuff that we do that is pure energy, too, but those weren’t the hits.” – Seger said of the singer/songwriters of the early 1970s.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was based out of Muscle Shoals, Alabama and provided the backing for many artists including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Percy Faith, The Staple Singers, Paul Simon, Traffic and many others.  The Rhythm Section consisted of Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and Pete Carr (guitar).

Seger developed a formula that seemed to capture the warmth of his live performances, as if you were sitting in a small club, with a smooth production that didn’t over polish his sound.  From Detroit, he never lost his rock n roll spirit and embraced an old-time rock n roll appreciation, coupled with an R&B vibe from the city of Motown.  Working with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section not only brought the professional musicianship of these accomplished players, but the soul of their years of playing with amazing artists.  Seger was good at incorporating different musical influences into his own rock roots.  Over the next several decades you would see him adapt, to country or the slick 1980s production, although that was not his finest moment.

Seger had an immediacy with working class America, like Bruce Springsteen or John Mellencamp.  After Night Moves, Seger was finally known outside of the Midwest.  He said he actually got mobbed in Buffalo, it had never happened before out of Detroit.

Night Moves

All tracks are written by Bob Seger, except where noted.

Side One

No.         Title       Length

  1. “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” 3:52  Leading off the album, this song captures Seger’s own mojo, his music adapted, but never abandons his rock roots.  This upbeat number was aimed effectively at the rock crowd, but included a touch of R&B with the horn section.
  2. “Night Moves” 5:25  Seger’s signature song, quite inventive arrangement, incorporating the R&B background singers.  A mid-tempo, soulful story song, that just rolls down memory lane.  Another of his Americana songs, but it is his story of losing his virginity. A number four charting single and Rolling Stone single of the year.
  3. “The Fire Down Below” 4:28  Jagged guitars, rolling piano funk, settling into a rocking groove.  Seger belts it out, perfect for his worn voice.
  4. “Sunburst” 5:13  Slower building, a bit unlike his other songs on the album.  With piano flourishes you would expect on an Elton John album. Mid way through at the bridge, some tougher guitar kicks in, like an Alice Cooper Group groove.

Side Two

No.         Title       Writer(s)              Length

  1. “Sunspot Baby” 4:38  Another old time sounding rock and roll song.  Perfect 1970s song, it talks of failed love, over tasty guitar riffs.
  2. “Mainstreet”   3:43  The echoing slide guitar intro is instantly recognizable.  A mid-tempo song looking back on bittersweet memories.
  3. “Come to Poppa” Earl Randle, Willie Mitchell  3:11  This showed Seger’s ability to get funky and bluesy at the same time.  It’s a quality cover and is closely associated with Seger and his gruff vocal work.  Great instrumental work.
  4. “Ship of Fools” 3:24  A country-rock song with twangy guitar, that drifts along.  The Eagles might have covered this on an early album.
  5. “Mary Lou” Young Jessie, Sam Ling   2:56  Another lost love song, a rocked up version (with distorted guitar) of an older rock and roll song.  I guess this song grows on you.

The album reached number eight on the charts and sold six million copies.

Stranger in Town

“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.” – Bob Seger to Loudersound.

 

Side One

All songs written by Bob Seger except where indicated.  This album has a more polished production value.

No.         Title       Length

  1. “Hollywood Nights” 4:59 Bob takes up where he left off on Night Moves.  A pounding rock beat with powerful guitars and a thumping bass line as the song picks up speed.
  2. “Still the Same” 3:18  Cousin of “Night Moves.”  A song of perseverance, of someone beating the odds and surviving. Punchy beat, rolling along with R&B backup singers.
  3. “Old Time Rock and Roll” 3:14  George Jackson and Thomas Earl Jones III  Exactly what the title implies, a thumping beat and pounding piano.  Similar to this other “rock and roll” songs, an infectious beat and his soulful, upbeat vocals.  Gets the crowd to dancing or at least moving.
  4. “Till It Shines” 3:50  One of the nicer songs, an acoustic-based song with a guiding beat.  Seger milks these mid-tempo songs, with great slide guitar and his soulful voice.
  5. “Feel Like a Number” 3:42 An upbeat guitar number with a bouncy beat.  Feeling like a number, a stranger, trying to overcome the label and challenges, to establish your own identity.  What kid didn’t feel like this at one point.  Great musical interlude.

Side Two

No.         Title       Length

  1. “Ain’t Got No Money” 4:11 Frankie Miller  A straight forward rock number with a pounding rock beat.  Nice guitar work.
  2. “We’ve Got Tonight” 4:38  A soulful ballad that reached number 13 on the chart.  Seger tapped into the loneliness and memories of young America, of love bound to end, knowing it will not last.
  3. “Brave Strangers” 6:20  Another jaunty, upbeat song.  I could picture Elton John doing this song with the R&B groove, and soulful backup singers. Bob really kicks it into gear.
  4. “The Famous Final Scene” 5:09  A slower song. Not bad, with big orchestra. Production similar to the Eagles’ Hotel California album.

The album reached number four on the charts and also sold six million copies.

Both quality albums, but there is a difference between them. With Night Moves, Seger turned the corner in his songwriting and performing.  Stranger in Town showed him as a mainstream commercial artist.  Night Moves is a bit rougher in style, his songs a bit less calculated, and a more relaxed vibe.  With two mega-selling albums, Seger wasn’t going to sneak up on anyone, and the expectations were bigger.

Night Moves is my favorite of the two.  It is of a period when I remember his songs on the radio, a relatively new presence.  It was a pure, rock sound, a timeless sound.


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