Great Rock Albums of 1986: 38 Special- Strength in Numbers


In memorial to the recent passing of 38 Special’s bassist, Larry Junstrom, I thought it only right to kick off the tour of 1986 with the band’s album from that year, “Strength in Numbers.” On reflection back to when the album first came out, I had some concerns when I heard it had been released. When I reviewed their previous album, “Tour de Force” from 1983, I stated that the quality of 38 Special albums had declined with each album. With the previous album, I thought it was okay but that was it. Therefore, I was sort of expecting the next album to suck.

Here’s the paradox of things back then. When I saw and heard the first single from “Strength in Numbers,” “Like No Other Night,” I thought it sounded alright. Not as hard rocking as the material from classics like “Rockin’ Into the Night” or “Wild Eyed Southern Boys,” but the song was okay and maybe it was worth an investment. However, since I saw the song as an MTV video, it was the band’s change in image which really shocked me. Gone was the huge cap of Larry Junstrom and Donnie Van Zant’s Spanish cowboy hat. Instead, they were all wearing trendy 80s style suits and sporting mullets. I could have stomached that but what was the shit kicker for me was listening to guitarists Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi in a radio interview. They stated that they had shed their “Southern” image and although they didn’t use the terms, basically stated that they were trying to be a top forty band. For me, that was too much. In my mind, using a term widely used in the 1980s, 38 Special had sold out!

Thirty-three years later, I am older, I am wiser and much more opened minded. So, I gave “Strength in Numbers” a couple of listens. First of all, the album doesn’t suck, nor has the quality of the album declined in comparison to “Tour de Force.” The Southern Rock, while given way to a more AOR melodic rock, still rears its head from time to time. Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi still show they were as good lead/rhythm guitar duo as any others. Jeff, especially, lays down some decent guitar solos on “Like No Other Night,” “There Never Has Been a Good Goodbye” and “One in a Million.” The latter is a blues/ballad which works on several levels.

Like with the previous two albums, Don Barnes does most of the vocal duties, singing on seven of the songs while Donnie Van Zant sings lead on the final three songs. Donnie V does sing the rockers like “Hearts on Fire” very well and this strengthens my previous argument that the more songs he sings lead on, the better the album. Let, Don sing the singles though because it has worked so well in the past.

“Strength in Numbers” is at least on a par with “Tour de Force.” However, I think that if the guitars had been turned up on the songs, it would have been better. I can’t help thinking that the band really wanted to rock out but was constrained by the record company or producer, so they had to turn it down a bit too much. There are keyboards used but unlike so many other bands, they don’t take over the songs, so full marks to the band there.

Track Listing:

  1. Somebody Like You
  2. Like No Other Night
  3. Last Time
  4. Once in a Lifetime
  5. Just a Little Love
  6. Has There Ever Been a Good Goodbye
  7. One in a Million
  8. Hearts on Fire
  9. Against the Night
  10. Never Give an Inch

38 Special

I much prefer this image of the band

Don Barnes- rhythm guitar, lead vocals

Donnie Van Zant- lead and backing vocals

Jeff Carlisi- lead guitar

Larry Junstrom- bass

Jack Grondin- drums

Steve Brookins- drums

Additional musicians

Carol Bristow, Tom Kelly- backing vocals

Bill Cuomo- keyboards

Earl Lon Price, Jerry Petersen- saxophone

Nick Lane- trombone

Michael Cichowicz- trumpet

Mike Porcaro- bass

Jim Vallance, Denny Carmassi- drums

Oh the naivety of the young. Like the angry young man I was back then, I was quick to brand 38 Special a ‘sell out’ when “Strength in Numbers” came out. Having listened to it with an open mind, I can say that they haven’t strayed from the formula which had made them great. It’s a decent album. Now a spoiler alert, there is one band that definitely deserved the sell out brand in 1986. Stay tuned.

Next post: The Bangles- Different Light

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13 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1986: 38 Special- Strength in Numbers”

  1. They were so good! There were a lot of rock bands, Southern and otherwise, who felt they needed to jump on the 80’s image bandwagon. Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Foreigner… so many come to mind! Do you think perhaps bands had to go that route to stay relevant? The 80’s image was a massive influence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked this one back then and I still like it. In fact, I picked it up on vinyl a couple months back along with Tour de Force. It was great going back and listening to them again as it had been awhile. Good start to 1986!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Don’t know this one! I don’t think they have ever made the Fest countdown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is one of their more forgotten albums and if you were to include 38 Special in the Fest countdown, I’d recommend their first two albums, “Rockin’ Into the Night” and “Wild Eyed Southern Boys.”


  4. Nice onto 1986 and beyond.
    I don’t even recall this album out at all. I have to add that in 1986 or anytime actually that’sā€‹ a week cover haha

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, the album didn’t do all that well. I think it’s because in their attempt to be more commercial friendly, they alienated their loyal following, me included, but they were still too hard rock for the synth pop generation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Videos unavailable. šŸ˜¦

    Liked by 1 person

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