10 Essential 38 Special Songs

38 Special Songs

Photo: By Ben Strasser, U.S. Air Force [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Top Ten 38 Special Songs list explores the band’s entire catalog, which many people do not realize has existed since the mid-nineteen seventies. Like so many great southern rock bands, the roots of 38 Special originated in the south section of the United States in Jacksonville, Florida. Guitarist Don Barnes and singer Donnie Van Zant first formed the band. The geographical Jacksonville connection between 38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd runs far deeper than just coincidence. Donnie Van Zant is Ronnie Van Zant’s younger brother. Johnny Van Zant, who has been singing lead vocals in Lynyrd Skynyrd since the band reformed in 1987, is the youngest of the three Van Zant brothers.

In the early days, the music of 38 Special was inspired by their southern roots in the shadows of Lynyrd Skynyrd and other great southern rock bands such as The Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker Band. However, the band did not take long to find major commercial success by sculpting a sound bordering southern rock and pop music. Whatever one may decide to label their sound, no one could argue that it was not successful. The powerful vocals of Don Barnes captivated the radio airwaves and MTV audiences with killer vocals on songs like “Caught Up in You” and “Hold On Loosely.” Combined with his deep southern roots, Johnny Van Zant’s vocals blended well with Don Barnes’ pop rock sensibilities.

The band 38 Special has recorded a wide range of material that has crossed many genres. We have attempted to define that wide range in our top ten 38 Special Songs list. Of course, there will be many fan favorites that we did not have room to list. Please keep in mind that we are attempting to show the wide range of the band’s sound and to turn people onto one of the great bands of the Classic Rock Era that are still rolling along strong in today’s musical environment.

# 10 – Wild-Eyed Southern Boys

Opening our top ten 38 Special Songs list is one of the band’s signature songs. The great track “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” was released on their album of the same name, Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, in 1981. Jim Peteriki of the band Survivor wrote the song. However, labeling Jim Peteriki as just a member of the band Survivor would be a grave injustice to a man who has written some of the most famous songs in the history of classical rock. Jim Peteriki was responsible for penning the massive 1960s hit “Vehicle” by the band Ides of March. Jim Peteriki has also written material for artists such as Sammy HagarCheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Brain Wilson, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

# 9 – Fantasy Girl

The song “Fantasy Girl” also appeared on the band’s breakout album Wide-Eyed Southern Boys. The song “Fantasy Girl” was written by guitarist Jeff Carlisi and vocalist Donnie Van Zant. The song was released as one of three singles from the album. This is a fun, rocking song with a melody you will never forget.

# 8 – Back Where You Belong

How could you not love those great opening guitar lines that define the great signature 38 Special Sound? The track Back Where You Belong was released on the album Tour de Force in 1984. The song “Back Where You Belong” hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984. It was written by Gary O’Connor, who had some success as a solo artist in Canada. Gary O’Connor had also written songs for Molly Hatchet and Eddie Money.

# 7 – Teacher Teacher

The 38 Special song “Teacher Teacher” was released on the soundtrack to the motion picture film Teachers, which starred Nick Nolte. The song was written by Jim Vallance and Bryan Adams, whom we recently interviewed. The soundtrack and film were both released in 1984. The song was a top 10 hit on the US Billboard Rock Tracks, peaking at number four. The songs also broke into the mainstream Top 40 charts, reaching the number twenty-five position on the US Billboard Hot 100.

# 6 – Like No Other Night

In 1986, 38 Special released their sixth studio album. It would be Don Barnes’ swan songs to the band until he returned a few years later in 1992. Their sixth studio album was entitled Strength in Numbers. The song “Like No Other Night” continued the band’s string of successful pop singles bordering between rock and pop music. At this point, the band seemed far removed from their earlier Southern rock sensibilities.

# 5 – Second Chance

If one had heard the song “Second Chance” on the radio in 1988, they would have never thought it was 38 Special. Two years after the band had released the single “Like No Other Night,” which had seemed very far removed from their Southern rock sound, the band released a song that solidified that they had turned the corner and were no longer the same band at all that debuted in 1976 from Jacksonville Florida. However, “Second Chance” became the band’s biggest hit. The song reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 Music charts and No.1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts. For that reason alone, we have included the track on our top 10 Essential 38 Special songs list.

# 4 – Deja Vudoo

It’s hard to believe that this is the same band, well, almost the same band that released Second Chance. “Deja Vudoo” is dark and heavy southern blues. The song was released on the band’s tenth album, Resolution. The album’s title pretty much said it all. It was the band’s first album in close to seven years. Gone were the pop sensibilities of the 80’s, with a return to some good old hardcore southern rock. This was an impressive comeback album

# 3 – Hold On Loosely

The following three songs on this Essential Top Ten 38 Special songs list are among the band’s most popular songs. The three songs defined the peak of the 38 Special sound. While “Second Chance” may have been the band’s highest charting song of their career, the following three songs were easily the most loved 38 Special songs by the band’s fans. They were well-loved 38 Special Songs and defined a significant distinction in 1980’s popular culture known as the Big ’80s. For the most part, music was way overproduced in the 80s. However, these songs seemed to find just the right amount of production and grit to turn them into classics.

# 2 – Rockin’ Into The Night

The classic barn burner “Rockin’ Into The Night” opened up the band’s 1980 album of the same name. While the song only reached No.43 on the United States Billboard Charts, it became a staple of FM rock radio. The album also featured Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s legendary pianist, Billy Powell. Singing background vocals on the record was Dale Krantz, who would soon become, only a year later, the lead singer for the Rossington Collins Band. The song was really popular on MTV, turning many people onto the band for the first time. I remember doing a double take and wondering if that was Johnny Van Zant’s brother when I first saw him singing. It turned out it was.

# 1 – Caught Up In You

While many Top 10 lists here at Classic Rock History do not always label the most obvious choice in the number one slot, it’s hard to argue against “Caught Up In You.” The classic song was released on the band’s Special Forces album in 1982. The song was written by Don Barnes, Jeff Carlisi, and  Jim Peterik. The musicians on the song included Don Barnes on rhythm guitar and killer lead vocals, Donnie Van Zant on backing vocals, Jeff Carlisi on lead guitar, Larry Junstrom on bass, Steve Brookins, and Jack Grondin on drums.

The song “Caught Up In You” was a huge commercial success for the band, earning them a numb er one dong on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. The song also broke into the prestigious US Billboard Top 100, scoring them a top 10 hits on the charts, where it peaked at number 10. There was just something extraordinary about this song. It put you in a good mood and made you feel really good.

Updated January 12, 2024

10 Essential 38 Special Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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