38 Special

Fix 38 Special - Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (A&M) 1980

1.      Hold On Loosely (4:39)
2.      First Time Around (3:59)
3.      Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (4:18)
4.      Back Alley Sally (3:11)
5.      Fantasy Girl (4:06)
6.      Hittin' And Runnin' (4:55)
7.      Honky Tonk Dancer (4:59)
8.      Throw Out The Line (3:45)
9.      Bring It On (5:38)

Fourth album from Southern rockers 38 Special. As with it's predecessor the band mixes glossy AOR with Southern tinges. "Hold on Loosely" was a big hit for the band. It's an arena rocker with a big, sing-along hooky chorus and became a Top 40 hit single. The smooth vocal approach of Don Barnes fits the AOR style of the track, whereas Donnie Van Zant's vocals fit the more Southern rockers. Tracks such as "First Time Around", "Honky Tonk Dancer," and "Back Alley Sally" keep that homespun flavor alive. These songs are a little less glitzy and poppy than songs like "Hold On Loosely. The title track is rooted in the heavy hitting Southern rock and became a minor hit for the band. It is one of their signature tracks. Unlike a bands like Molly Hatchet or Blackfoot during the same time, who mixed heavy metal with their organic Southern roots, 38 Special had a knack for writing hooky songs that were taylor made for FM rock radio at the time. "Wild-Eyes Southern Boys" became a platinum selling album for the band.

Special Forces 38 Special - Special Forces (A&M) 1982

1.     Caught Up In You (4:37)
2.     Back Door Stranger (4:54)
3.     Back On The Track (4:41)
4.     Chain Lightnin' (5:01)
5.     Rough-Housin' (4:08)
6.     You Keep Runnin' Away (3:56)
7.     Breakin' Loose (3:32)
8.     Take 'Em Out (4:07)
9.     Firestarter (5:01)

Special Forces is the fifth studio album by Southern rockers 38 Special.  and features several singles that made the Top 5 in both rock and pop. Album opener "Caught Up In You" became a number one hit, while "Chain Lightning" and "You Keep Runnin' Away" also made the Top 40. As usual for this band, the sound is a mix of radio-friendly melodic rock and straight forward, hard-rocking Southern rock. Songs like "Chain Lightning" and the up-beat, boogie of "Rough-Housin'' are fantastic examples of classic Southern rock. Had these songs been recorded by Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet, no one would have been the wiser. These are offset by songs like "Caught Up In You and "You Keep Runnin' Away" which are perfect examples of 1980's radio-rock (AOR, arena rock). "Breakin' Loose" is a bluesy, number with a big, hooky chorus that fits in well with the more guitar-driven tracks. As usual, the blend of vocalists in Donnie Van Zant and Don Barnes gives the album plenty of character. "Special Forces" may very well be one of 38 Special's best.

Strength in Numbers 38 Special - Strength in Numbers (A&M) 1986

1.      Somebody Like You (4:06)
2.      Like No Other Night (3:58)
3.      Last Time (3:26)
4.      Once in a Lifetime (3:38)
5.      Just a Little Love (3:34)
6.      Has There Ever Been a Good Goodbye (3:54)
7.      One in a Million (3:48)
8.      Heart's On Fire (4:14)
9.      Against the Night (3:34)
10.      Never Give an Inch (4:58)
       
An very 1980's looking cover wraps itself around a very 80's sounding album from 38 Special. Gone is the more organic Southern Rock of the early albums, replaced by slick radio friendly rock that is big on hooks. Songs like "Somebody Like You", "Like No OTher Night "and "Never Give An Inch" are undeniably memorable with big pop hooks and strong sing-along choruses. Basically, "Strength in Numbers" follows the old adage "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" as this album follows the formula of the last couple 38 Special records. Perhaps the title could have been "By the Numbers". I find it puzzling that 38 Special were the only Southern Rock band to really find success with this slicker, radio-friendly format. Molly Hatchet tried with "The Deed is Done" and Blackfoot tried with "Vertical Smiles". Both failed miserably.

\38 38 Special - Rock & Roll Strategy (A&M) 1988

1.  Rock & Roll Strategy (4:34)
2.  What's It to Ya? (4:30)
3.  Little Sheba (4:54)
4.  Comin' Down Tonight (4:26)
5.  Midnight Magic (4:21)
6.  Second Chance (5:04)
7.  Hot 'Lanta (5:42)
8.  Never Be Lonely (4:39)
9.  Chattahoochee (4:11)
10.  Innocent Eyes (4:17)
11.  Love Strikes (4:31)

"Rock & Roll Strategy" is the eighth studio album from 38 Special, released in 1988. The album features new vocalist and keyboard player Max Carl replacing iconic vocalist Don Barnes. With this album 38 Special move almost completely away from the band's Southern Rock roots and plants themselves firmly in bland, pop rock. A quick check on-line has the album compared to bands like REO Speedwagon, Toto and Air Supply. If that doesn't leave you screaming and running to the hills, then there are a few redeeming songs thanks to Donnie Van Zant, such as "What's It To You". Unfortunately even these songs are held back by a squeaky clean production that robs the band of their rockin' sound. This album generated a few singles including the band's last Top 10 hit, "Second Chance", a sappy ballad that could have been written by any of the aforementioned bands. The song has no attitude, no charisma and is just a generic, made-for-radio ballad. "Little Sheba" was also a minor hit and is a decent pop rocker that is also hampered by the all too smooth production.

Bone Against Bone 38 Special - Bone Against Steel (Charisma) 1990

1.      The Sound of Your Voice (4:57)
2.      Signs of Love (4:49)
3.      Last Thing I Ever Do (5:22)
4.      You Definitely Got Me (5:08)
5.      Rebel to Rebel (5:33)
6.      Bone Against Steel (5:22)
7.      You Be the Dam, I'll Be The Water (4:24)
8.      Jimmy Gillum (5:05)
9.      Tear It Up (4:38)
10.      Don't Wanna Get It Dirty (4:36)
11.      Burning Bridges (4:46)
12.      Can't Shake It (3:28)
13.      Treasure (5:48)

"Bone Against Steel" is the ninth studio album from 38 Special. It was their last album until their 1996 comeback and their second (and last) album to feature new vocalist and keyboard player Max Carl. When this was released I had high hopes that the band would return to their Southern Rock roots and give us a real barnstormer. This was backed up by interviews of the band saying that the album was a return to their roots. However, When I first popped the CD into the deck I was immediately disappointed. Album opener "Sound of Your Voice" is a weak AOR number that sounds like the worst of 80's Styx, Journey or Foreigner. It's a slick number with a made-for-radio chorus and some very 80's sounding keyboards. The song was a minor hit for the band. "Sound of Your Voice" is followed-up by a sappy ballad that makes one immediately reach for the skip button. At this point I was ready for an entire CD of complete suck-age. Fortunately things get better after track two. With "Last Thin I Ever Do" we get some genuine guitar driven, earthy Southern rock and roll featuring the soulful voice of Donnie Van Zant. "Rebel to Rebel" and "Jimmy Gillum" rank as favorites with that Southern sound as well. Overall the album is a mixed bag with solid rockers such as "Tear It Up" and weak AOR numbers like "You Be the Dam, I'll Be the Water". For the most part the album is too slick for it's own good. With the exception of the handful of Southern rockers, the
album as a whole is too run-of-the-mill radio-rock and not up to par with their classic material.


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