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38 Special - 1982 Special Forces

ARTIST: 38 Special
ALBUM: Special Forces
YEAR: 1982
CD REISSUE: 1990, A&M, CD-3299


LINEUP: Donnie Van Zant - vocals * Don Barnes - vocals, guitar * Jeff Carlisi - guitar, steel guitar * Larry Junstrom - bass * Jack Grondin - drums * Steve Brookins - drums

TRACK LISTING: 01 Caught Up In You * 02 Back Door Stranger * 03 Back On The Track * 04 Chain Lightnin' * 05 Rough Housin' * 06 You Keep Running Away * 07 Breakin' Loose * 08 Take Em' Out * 09 Firestarter


38 Special's first 2 records showed a dyed in the wool Southern Rock approach with slight dashes of country sprinkled into the sound here and there. Although they won favour in the south, nothing much was happening for them nationally. That all changed on the third time lucky 'Rockin' Into The Night', whose title track became their first substantial national hit (courtesy of Peterik/Sullivan as it had been demoed by Survivor). To be fair though, 'Stone Cold Believer' also hinted at the hook and chorus AOR we would all be treated to in the 80's. 1981's 'Wild Eyed Southern Boys' upped the ante further, pushing the AOR agenda right to the front and resulting in even bigger hits. With confidence high, and knowing that the melodic approach they had chosen was working, sessions for 'Special Forces' got underway with old friend Jim Peterik again contributing three telling co-writes.

The Songs
'Caught Up In You' is etched into AOR legend and with good reason. Firstly the hook is unforgettable, a perfect foundation for the soaring melody built around it. Barnes vocal delivery manages to be crystal clear, emotive and powerful, a trademark of his over the years. Could he be one of the best AOR vocalists? I reckon so. Special mention to the extra bridge starting with 'and if ever comes a day', doubling the melodic drama without ever sounding like Survivor. A bonafide classic. 'Back Door Stranger' takes a more southern route and features Van Zant on the mike, but again you'll find an AOR hook in place. Even the chorus is more melodic than most traditional southern fare. 'Back On The Track' injects a little funk into proceedings, Van Zant in storytelling mode. Appealing enough but nothing to knock you out. 'Chain Lightnin' strikes up the coffee grinder though, the intro in itself an epic building of drama, then launching into a power AOR anthem I consider to be the very midpoint of southern rock and AOR. Biting riffs and Barnes fluid vocals everywhere, with an extra bridge that calls period REO Speedwagon to mind, especially the vocal inflection similar to Kevin Cronin.. No complaints here. 'Rough Housin' serves up some adult oriented boogie, Barnes and Van Zant trading lead vocals in their eagerness to tell you about a night out in the Jacksonville bars. Essential stuff really. 'You Keep Runnin' Away' revisits outright AOR, sharp hooks again housing a strong melody. A stabbing synth at chorus time adds something extra not usually associated with southern bands. Upon reflection, maybe this is why 38 Special succeeded and both Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot failed at gaining success from the AOR format - 38 Special made their commercial breakthrough on the back of an AOR hit in 1979, they were known for this at an early career stage. Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot had achieved success with authentically southern albums, so their sudden move to AOR around 1983 left their hardcore audience disappointed. For what it's worth I was delighted. Back to the song though, 'You Keep Runnin' Away' charted at #38 (appropriate), providing a strong follow up to the #10 placing achieved by 'Caught Up In You'. 'Breakin' Loose' is fairly nondescript, briefly taking the album down a notch. Long time concert favourite 'Take 'Em Out' gets us back into overdrive with more southern bravado speeding along a highway of hooks. 'Special Forces' closes with 'Firestarter', heavy on brooding, almost ominous atmospherics it holds your attention from start to finish, something of a cautionary tale convincingly delivered.

In Summary
'Special Forces' was a triumph for the band, reportedly going double platinum in the States. Apart from the two hit singles, 'Chain Lightnin' also had some rock radio airplay and no doubt helped to boost sales further. Worth noting that these three songs are the Peterik co-writes, but that is no poor reflection on the remaining tracks. Southern AOR is pretty much defined within this album, setting the stage for 'Tour De Force' and 'Strength In Numbers' which would both see a decline in southern influence and an almost total focus on AOR.

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#1 | gdazegod on May 27 2012 05:08:49
This is a cracking album. 'Chain Lightnin' is an absolute favourite of mine, jsut played it now actually. I really do need to find the official CD of this album..
#2 | AOR Lee on May 28 2012 06:17:55
Too right George, as you mention official cd - is it just me or is the 38 Special catalaogue in dire need of reissue treatment!
#3 | jeffrey343 on June 01 2012 01:43:36
This was a very important album during my high-school days. Hard to believe that I never upgraded it to CD later in that decade; I just got by with a couple of their greatest hits CDs. Finally got this in digital format about four years ago and rediscovered some of the great album cuts. Of course, 'Caught Up In You' can be heard constantly on any radio station that plays hits from the 80s, and 'Chain Lightning' (epic song) and 'You Keep Running Away' are on one of those GH albums. But all the songs on here are great; this is one of those few albums where I love every song. 'Take 'Em Out' is one of those I appreciate more now than I did back then. This album remains in heavy rotation in my car, a perfect one to play when I'm not sure what I want to listen to.
#4 | dangerzone on June 15 2012 02:25:15
Definitive stuff. It really doesn't get any better. I could listen to 'Rough Housin'' all day man!!

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