How a Joyride Inspired Bob Seger’s ‘Hollywood Nights’
Bob Seger wasn't accustomed to songs appearing out of thin air, but 1978's "Hollywood Nights" was a rare exception. "I usually have a guitar or a keyboard nearby," he explained to Classic Rock in 2018. "It’s very seldom that I'm driving in a car and something rolls into my head, but that song did."
He was living in Los Angeles at the time and just about to start work on his 10th album, Stranger in Town. The Detroit native was used to some bright city lights, but L.A. was different.
"I had a house out in the Hollywood Hills, I could see the city from my house," Seger noted. "I'd be driving up there in the Hollywood Hills, just driving along, and then suddenly: 'Hollywood nights, Hollywood Hills, above all the lights, Hollywood nights.' It just came right into my head. So I turned right around and drove home, and I'm singing this in my head thinking, 'Don't forget it, don't forget it! Don't turn on the radio!'"
Seger immediately found his cassette recorder and recited what he had written so far. "OK, that's a good start," he recalled thinking. "It's high energy and it's gonna be fun, and the girls [Silver Bullet Band members Laura Creamer and Shaun Murphy] are gonna sing it like crazy."
Listen to Bob Seger's 'Hollywood Nights'
In some ways, "Hollywood Nights" mirrored Seger's pilgrimage from Michigan to California: "He was a Midwestern boy on his own ... He'd headed west cause he felt that a change would do him good."
But he didn't want to write a slow, sentimental song. "Jimmy Iovine used to tell me, 'The hardest thing to find is a rock 'n' roll hit,'" Seger recalled. "I said, really? He said, 'Think about it. If an artist is looking for a hit, they put out a ballad.' I've had hits with rockers and ballads. I think writing a rocker might be harder because it's so familiar for us."
Once the idea was planted, the rest came pretty easily. "Hollywood Nights" was recorded swiftly, according to drummer David Teegarden."It had kind of a complicated drum part," he later recalled. "I've had a lot of people ask me about that part and it actually was a very simple part, but we cut the track, and we were so inspired — the adrenaline was going after we finished. Like it couldn't have been that it happened that quickly, that we got it done and it was done and we were still ready to keep going."
They went into the control room to listen to what they had recorded when Teegarden hit on another idea. "I said, 'Bob, let me make another pass at this,'" before heading back into the studio, where he played a loping drum pattern over top of what had already been recorded. Little Feat's Billy Payne contributed piano to the track; the Waters Family, who's worked with Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, John Fogerty and others, were brought in for additional backing vocals.
Released as the second single from the Top 5 Stranger in Town, "Hollywood Nights" reached No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. A respectable showing for a song that, as Seger put it, "came out of nowhere."