Bob Seger was never the LA type: Born and raised in Michigan, he remained rooted in the Detroit area and built a reputations as a blue collar rock star with a Midwest sensibility. When he got off the road and hunkered down to record, he often did so at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, which is even more distant (physically and culturally) than Los Angeles. For the Stranger In Town album, he worked in Detroit and in Alabama, but went to LA to finish the album. When he was there, he rented a house in the Hollywood Hills, where he could see the bright lights of the big city.
The "Hollywood nights, Hollywood hills" idea came to him when he was driving in the area; when he got back to his rented house, he saw a copy of Time magazine (March 6, 1978), with the model Cheryl Tiegs on the cover. She fit the LA archetype: blond, skinny, huge smile. Her headline read: The All-American Model.
Using the chorus he came up with in the car, Seger started crafting a story about a guy from the Midwest who comes to Hollywood and meets his dream girl. They go on whirlwind adventures, but it comes to a sudden end one morning when he wakes up alone. He's left looking over the Hollywood Hills, wondering if he can ever go back home.
To create the insistent percussion on this track, Seger's drummer, David Teegarden, recorded one pass, then overdubbed a different pattern on top of it, so it sounds like there are two drummers playing on it.
Billy Payne of Little Feat played the piano and organ on this track. Backing vocals were done by the Waters family: Julia, Luther, Maxine and Oren. Recording in LA gave Seger access to this talent; the Waters' backed some of the biggest names in music, including Lionel Richie, Bruce Springsteen and Barbra Streisand.
The rhythm in this song lends itself to speed. Many of us have found ourselves inadvertently blowing past the speed limit when the song comes on the radio.
This song captures the essence of Hollywood from an outsider's perspective, not unlike "Hotel California
," which has lyrics by the Texan Don Henley (and guitar by Seger's friend and fellow Michigan native, Glenn Frey).
On the album cover, the Hollywood Hills are in the background behind Seger. The photo was taken on the lawn of the house he was renting.