Great Rock Albums of 1988: 38 Special- Rock and Roll Strategy

Here comes another album which didn’t make it across the Atlantic in 1988. Then again, 38 Special kind of shot themselves in the foot during an interview on their previous album, “Strength in Numbers,” when they declared they didn’t need England. Except for some hard core followers, the band was pretty much forgotten in the UK after that. Hell, I didn’t even know they had put out a greatest hits album the year before! I would have covered it here if I had.

“Rock and Roll Strategy” brought about many changes with the band. Singer/rhythm guitarist Don Barnes left to pursue a solo career and they went from two drummers down to one when Steve Brookins also left. In replacement, they added Max Carl to take over the vocals and play keyboards and they added guitarist Danny Chauncey as well. Danny also plays lead guitar so I am left wondering which songs he solos on and which solos are played by long time guitarist Jeff Carlisi. The net isn’t answering that question so any further revelation to this mystery would be completely appreciated.

Another anxiety I had with 38 Special is that the quality declined with each album, although it did seem to level off with “Strength in Numbers.” So, my question was would “Rock And Roll Strategy” continue the downward trend or would it take things back the other way? The answer from me is “Neither.” It seems that with the “Tour de Force” album, music quality seemed to hit a plateau as this album is no better or no worse than the two previous ones.

Actually, when I first heard the album, I thought that the downward spiral was going to continue but subsequent listens have shown me that the album is still pretty good. Many of the tracks have the familiar intros which the band had become known for and while Max’s keyboards provide a good background to the songs, they don’t take over. While it’s true, that the band was bending to the commercial winds of the time, they hadn’t abandoned what got them to the front either.

With the change of singer, I had hoped that there would be a more equal sharing of the vocal duties between Max and long time member Donnie Van Zant. Using the 80smetalman formula, I deduced that the better 38 Special albums were so because of Donnie singing lead on more of the songs. On “Rock and Roll Strategy,” the split is a little more even than on the last three albums with Max singing lead on six songs to Donnie’s five. For me, this makes the album better because three of the Donnie sung songs, “Comin’ Down Tonight,” “Chattahoochee” and the closer, “Love Strikes” are among the strongest tracks on the album.

Saying that, some of the Max sung songs are very good as well. As with Don Barnes, he sings lead on the single, “Second Chance,” which would be the band’s last top ten hit and it’s not bad. However, there are two songs he sings which I enjoy more. “Hot Lanta” is a cool hard rock sounding number with a great horn section, which adds a little jazz element to it. But for me, the hidden gem is definitely “Little Sheba.” This cooker is about a jello wrestler who finds defeat only to come back tougher. As a former US serviceman, I can identify with the theme the song conveys. Some of you might remember my ancient post from the tour of 1983 when I wrote about the night before I got out of the Marines, my local bar had a pudding wrestling event. Ah, the memories!

Not actual action from that night.

Further linking past to present, I have mentioned on previous 38 Special how underrated a guitarist Jeff Carlisi is and I could possibly add Danny Chauncey now. If the video for “Second Chance” is correct, it’s Danny’s solo that makes the song. Maybe a noticeable guitar solo trade off between the two might have helped the album.

Track Listing:

  1. Rock and Roll Strategy
  2. What’s It To Ya?
  3. Little Sheba
  4. Comin’ Down Tonight
  5. Midnight Magic
  6. Second Chance
  7. Hot Lanta
  8. Never Be Lonely
  9. Chattahoochee
  10. Innocent Eyes
  11. Love Strikes

38 Special

Max Carl- lead vocals, keyboards

Donnie Van Zant- vocals

Jeff Carlisi- guitar

Danny Chauncey- guitar

Larry Junstrom- bass

Jack Grondin- bass

Actually, I thought the “Little Sheba” song would be an actual wrestling video.

I wonder if 38 Special ever regretted saying that they didn’t need England. I thought it was a rather arrogant thing to say back then and still think so now. If this album was more known in the UK, I would have snapped it up and maybe their run of success wouldn’t have petered away after.

Next post: Georgia Satellites- Open All Night

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8 Responses to “Great Rock Albums of 1988: 38 Special- Rock and Roll Strategy”

  1. “Wild Eyed Southern Boys” was my favorite .38 Special album.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Saw them Live many times! Loved them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agreed that was a goofy comment about England. I’m sure by 88 they were like we will play anywhere when the sales nose dived…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I had forgotten about them by this time though I do remember this one. It was okay.

    Liked by 1 person

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