Category Archives: Cassette Chronicles

The Cassette Chronicles – Hardline’s “Double Eclipse”

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above ad to purchase tickets to the Outlaws at the Narrows Center in Fall River, MA, on August 2, 2018!

HARDLINE – DOUBLE ECLIPSE (1992)

In modern day parlance, the debut album from Hardline would now be considered part of the melodic rock genre. But back in 1992 it was simply, despite coming out at the worst possible time considering grunge was about to explode, a hard rock and roll album.

The funny thing for me is that it reversed what I imagine was a generations long tradition. In music, it seems that the tradition is for an older sibling to pass down the music they love to a younger sibling. I know that in some cases, that it is how it worked for my brother and I.

But I have to admit until it came time to write this article, I had never bothered listening to Hardline. Rather, it was my brother who actually liked the band. He had their first couple of albums and really liked them. I can confirm that because ahead of listening to Double Eclipse, I checked with him to be sure my memory was correct. He said that this particular album was “cool”.

So I had some real interest in seeing if my brother was belatedly passing music UP to me.

Hardline featured singer Johnny Gioeli, brother Joey Gioeli on guitar along with Journey’s Neal Schon, Todd Jensen on bass and Deen Castronovo on drums. It was a solid lineup of talented players who could write a decent rock song with one great melodic hook after another.

But it did take a few minutes for me to really start getting into the album. The opening track is called “Life’s A Bitch” and it starts out as a great sounding fast paced rocker. The problem is that for the second half of the song, it just kind of flops around like a fish out of water, ruining the great start.

But thankfully for me, things pick up with the very next song. “Dr. Love” might not be the most original song title but the track as a whole sounds fantastic as it starts out a bit slowly and then gets moving right along quickly. “Rhythm From A Red Car” is a rocking thumper with a smoking guitar solo.

While the power ballad “Change of Heart” is incredibly weak, the first side of the album closed out with two fantastic rockers. I’m not sure exactly why it took seven people (including singer Eddie Money) to write the song “Everything” but it was excellent, perhaps disproving that saying about “too many cooks”. The majority of the songwriting is credited to Neal Schon and the Gioeli brothers. They wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s twelve songs.

I wish that I could say I loved the second side of the album as much as side one, but after a couple of great tracks to start off the side, the material kind of felt more like filler than great songs to rock out to.

“Hot Cherie” is a hard driving rocker with a great melodic sense to the song. Johnny Gioeli’s vocal work gives the song an added level and the way the lyrics flow really helps to further capture the band in fine form. “Bad Taste” is just an aggressively blazing number that got me fired up.

But “Can’t Find My Way” was merely a shoulder shrug for me. I did think “I’ll Be There” was decent but the Neal Schon instrumental “31-91” and the somewhat grandiose but still missing the mark balladry of “In The Hands of Time” brought Double Eclipse to a less than resounding finish.

When the band was on fire, which is basically whenever they are rocking out, my brother was indeed right…Hardline is “cool”. I just wish there’d been more of that and less in the way pedestrian balladry and other assorted valleys amongst those melodious peaks.

NOTES OF INTEREST: The band is still active today and has released a total of five studio albums along with a live album. Singer Johnny Gioeli is the only remaining original member.

Bassist Todd Jensen recorded with Alice Cooper and Paul Rodgers and briefly played with Ozzy Osbourne. He also spent time as tour manager for David Lee Roth.

Drummer Deen Castronovo has been in three other groups that featured guitarist Neal Schon. The first was Bad English which came before Hardline. After Hardline, there was a 17-year stint in Journey as well as Schon’s Soul SirkUS project. In mid-July 2018, his reunion album with Johnny Gioeli will be released under the Gioeli-Castronovo banner. The album is set to be called Set The World On Fire.

The Cassette Chronicles – Reverend’s self-titled debut E.P.

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above ad to purchase tickets to Michael Glabicki and Dirk Miller (of Rusted Root) in the Vault at Greasy Luck in New Bedford MA, on July 14, 2018!

REVEREND – REVEREND (1989)

For those that don’t know or perhaps have forgotten, the story behind the formation of Reverend is a bit of musical chair theater. When singer David Wayne left Metal Church in the late 80’s, he was eventually replaced by singer Mike Howe.

Before joining up with Metal Church, Howe was the frontman for the band Heretic. They released an excellent album called The Breaking Point in 1988 just before Howe left and the band split up.

But as luck would have it, the other ex-members of Heretic ended up asking David Wayne to check out their material and after some initial hemming and hawing Wayne signed on with them and thus came the newly formed Reverend.

Calling the process by which Metal Church and Heretic essentially swapped singers a bit incestuous might be a little too much like an episode of Game of Thrones but it certainly was a bit odd when it first happened.

Reverend’s self-titled debut EP contained just four songs but it laid the foundation for what was to come on the band’s first two full length albums.

The band’s sound is one of classic heavy metal power and thunder. Wayne’s vocals were still powerful and intensely delivered. Musically the band delivered the goods as well.

With only four songs, there’s a definite feel that this is just a sampling for listeners. The songs are all pretty fast paced here.

At first listen, I was somewhat unimpressed with the first two songs on the album. “Powers of Persuasion” didn’t persuade and “Dimensional Confusion” provided plenty of that second word. But that was more due to me being unfamiliar with the music rather than the actual quality of the tracks. After I listened to the songs a couple more times, I started realizing the songs had more going for it than I realized the first time around.

Still, the last two tracks were my favorite. “Wretched Excess” was the most vocally aggressive song. David Wayne’s vocals were at times spit out like machine gun fire which made me think of the same time of song construction that Overkill does on some of their material (I’m thinking of songs like “E.N.D.” from that band’s album The Years Of Decay.

As for the closing song “Ritual”, that is what I would call the band’s first GREAT song. The song craft is amazing as the music and lyrics merge perfectly. It’s a song that makes the EP for me and makes the release that much stronger for its inclusion.

Pure heavy metal played straight up fast and furious is the best way to describe Reverend the band and the EP. It certainly whets the appetite for seeking out the band’s two full-length albums World Won’t Miss You (1990) and Play God (1991).

NOTES OF INTEREST – David Wayne died after a car crash in 2005. 

Reverend guitarist Brian Korban, who was a member the original lineup of Heretic, reformed Heretic in 2011. They’ve released two albums, A Time Of Crisis (2012) and A Game You Cannot Win (2017).

 

The Cassette Chronicles – U.D.O.’s ‘Animal House’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above ad to purchase tickets to XEB in the Vault at Greasy Luck in New Bedford MA, on June 23, 2018!

U.D.O. – ANIMAL HOUSE (1987)

Normally when I choose which albums to write about in this series, I try to avoid using any particular artist in back to back weeks. This week, however, I am purposely repeating an artist choice because I have seen my admiration grow and grow for singer Udo Dirkschneider. 

I would say that a good part of that increasing admiration stems from seeing him live for the first time. He delivered such an amazing performance that it might just end up being my favorite concert of 2018.

So, when I remembered that I had a copy of the first U.D.O. album Animal House, I had thought to hold off a week. But then I said to heck with that! I didn’t want to wait to listen and write up my thoughts about the album.

This is the first “solo” album for Dirkschneider, but when I was reading the liner notes I had to wonder just how much of a solo album it really was. All the music is credited to “Accept and Deaffy” and while it doesn’t say it in the liner notes, the Wikipedia page for the album says the song “Lay Down The Law” credits its performance to Accept and U.D.O.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite enjoyed this album but it did strike me a bit odd for an album that was Udo’s declaration of independence after leaving (or was it a firing?) Accept that they’d write an album FOR him.

As for the music, I thought the first side of the album was a bit of a mix. The title track opens the album and a creepy opening piece is used before the song launches into a faster paced rocker. Meanwhile the song “They Want War” has a big keyboard sound as well as the use of a children and youths choir to fill out the finished product. It seemed a bit weird at first but it actually worked in the end.

Otherwise, the first side of the album rocked hard with “Go Back To Hell” and “Black Widow” then closed out with the ballad “In The Darkness”, which thankfully was pretty enjoyable.

Side two was much more of a full on metal slobberknocker. That “Lay Down The Law” song explodes in your ear like a few dozen sticks of dynamite. There’s little subtly in the title of “We Want It Loud” but that’s fine because it’s an energetically paced rocker. 

The band downshifts a little on “Warrior” but the song still manages to be rather heavy. “Coming Home” is blazing with Udo’s vocals fueling the fieryness of the song.

I really like when an album closes out with a fast-paced cut, leaving you at an adrenaline high point as it takes its leave from you. But “Run For Cover” was far slower than that. It straddles the line between a ballad feel and a more anthemic sound. I’d be lying if I told you if I was disappointed in the song as a closing track though. It actually turned out rather well.

So, while I do wonder how much of a solo album you can really call this one, Animal House was a no doubt smashing way to introduce U.D.O. upon the world. 31 years later, the band is still going strong and this album laid the foundation for all that came after it.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Guitarist Peter Szigeti and bassist Frank Rittel were only a part of the band for the Animal House album, but they each played on the first three studio albums from Warlock (Burning The Witches, Hellbound and True As Steel).

The CD edition of the album had a bonus track called “Hot Tonight”. In 2013, Animal House was among the albums given anniversary edition reissues. It included four live bonus tracks and the video for the song “Go Back To Hell”.

The Cassette Chronicles – U.D.O.’s ‘Faceless World’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above ad to purchase tickets!

U.D.O. – FACELESS WORLD (1990)

It’s a funny thing to me that despite the fact that I’m a really big fan of Udo Dirkschneider’s solo band U.D.O., I never once bothered to pick up one of their albums until 2004’s Thunderball which was the band’s 9th studio release.

Earlier this year, I was able to see the Dirkschneider band live in concert. It’s basically the U.D.O. lineup but they played an entire set of songs from Udo’s time in the band Accept. This was due to it being a two year world tour where he was playing the songs live for the last time before retiring them from his set list.

The show was simply freaking amazing and while I’ve picked up all the albums post-Thunderball, it lit a fire under me to go back and get the earlier material as well. I grabbed four CDs from the merchandise table at the show, but I also had picked up the cassette edition of this album, the band’s 3rd studio release, on one of my music buying excursions.

The first thing I noted upon listening to Faceless World is that the material has a much more considered and measured feel to it. According the Wikipedia post about the album, it has far lighter feel than the two albums that preceded it or any of the ones that came after it. At times, it feels more like a rock and roll album that one of the band’s more go-for-broke metal offerings.

In fact, I’d be hard pressed to call “Trip To Nowhere” anything other than a straightforward rock and roll song. Yes, there’s more of an edge to it because of Udo’s instantly identifiable vocal style but there’s really not a whole lot of metal aggression to the track. However, you will find that whether rock or metal, it is a very cool sounding song. I found that “Restricted Area”, while a fast moving rocker, also had a strong rhythmic feel to it as well.

The album opening “Heart of Gold” is a decent track but the way the vocals alternate within each verse from soft to hard felt a bit weird. Luckily, the song’s chorus was really good and helped give an overall lift to cut. Speaking of songs with stand out choruses, “Blitz of Lightning” has a very lyrically impressive one.

For the majority of the material on Faceless World, the songs range from mid-to-uptempo with a few songs really earning more of a sense of the all out aggression metal feel. But as is the case, there’s always a ballad track. Unfortunately, “Unspoken Words” was more than a bit hard to get into. There’s been a number of strong ballads in the course of the U.D.O. discography but this one pales in comparison. Also, the title track…totally flat and lifeless!

Of course, if you want to really stick your head into the speakers to make your ears explode with metal goodness, you would need to do it on the songs “Born To Run” and “Can’t Get Enough”. Both are intense pieces of music with the latter song being the most fiery example of pure metal. Lyrically strong, each of them is just over three minutes long. They get in, rock you into next week, and then blaze their way out again.

I’d have to say that I liked this album overall, despite the seeming attempt to be more reined in with the songwriting. There’s only a couple of down tracks out of the 12 on the cassette and honestly, it’s extremely hard to go wrong with any of the music that features the inimitable Udo Dirkschneider.

NOTES OF INTEREST: There was an anniversary edition of the album released on CD in 2013 that included two live bonus tracks and the video for “Heart of Gold”.

The Cassette Chronicles – Vicious Rumors’ ‘Welcome to the Ball’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above ad to purchase tickets to Unchained – The Ultimate Tribute to Van Halen in the Vaul at Greasy Luck in New Bedford, MA, on June 8th.

VICIOUS RUMORS – WELCOME TO THE BALL (1991)

You know how there are those bands that you’ve always been aware of, but never actually listened to any of their music? Well, let me introduce you to one of those bands on my list…Vicious Rumors.

As embarrassing as it is to think about considering their metal bonafides over the years, I’ve never gotten around to checking out anything the band had recorded. So when Welcome To The Ball dropped into my lap from the box of cassettes I have waiting to be listened to and written about, I figured it was about darn time I changed the band’s status with me.

This was the band’s fourth album and much like the ones that came before this is mostly burn your house down fast paced heavy metal. Musically the album is pretty interesting. Guitarists Geoff Thorpe and Mark McGee burn up their fretboards one every song. Both men co-wrote all the songs, in varying combinations, with singer Carl Albert and there is a definite sense of cohesion to the 11 tracks on the album.

While fiery guitar licks and a thumping rhythm from bassist David Starr and drummer Larry Howe cry out from each song, there’s many a varying style within that framework so that there isn’t a feeling of sameness to the material.

I was keenly interested in hearing the vocal work from Carl Albert, but things did not get off to a good start for me on that front. The effects employed on his vocal track for the opening song “Abandoned” was rather off-putting. That was quickly offset with the very next song, “You Only Live Twice”, which was far more straightforward (if even more aggressively paced) and that includes how the vocals were streamlined into the song.

The band did get a little topical in their lyrical subject matter on the first side of the album with both “Savior From Anger” and “Children”. They managed to go even further with that on Side Two’s “Mastermind” which manages to still resonate today, lyrically speaking, as it rails against the increased computerization in our daily lives.

Side one closes out with “Dust To Dust”, another fast paced rocker complete with a draw you in chorus. Albert’s vocal is impeccably delivered here.

The second half of the album has a couple of problematic songs in the aforementioned “Mastermind” and “Raise Your Hands”. Both tracks have their moments, but get otherwise ruined by ineffectual chorus that are just criminally lame in both construction and delivery.

But it wasn’t all for naught because the darkly twisted “Six Stepsisters” flows spectacularly well. It’s definitely a killer song that somehow manages to make me smile despite its thematic darkness.

The album closes with a crushing blaze of glory in “Ends Of The Earth” but the biggest surprise for me on Welcome To The Ball was the band’s one moment of stepping on the brake. What can only be referred to as a ballad with a big brass set of balls, “When Love Comes Down” is a surprisingly effective song. Musically, it is still pretty heavy and while the lyrics might be something like you would expect out of any ballad from this particular musical era, Carl Albert’s vocal embodying of the lyrics really sells the song.

After listening to the full album, I’m still not quite sure what to make of Vicious Rumors. They certainly have some great songs on this release, but they also have some songs that completely missed with me. However, I definitely am intrigued by that which I did like. This may have been my “welcome” to the band, but now I want to take off my jacket and sit a spell as I dig more in-depth into the Vicious Rumors back catalog.

NOTES OF INTEREST – Despite a myriad of lineup changes, the band is still going strong to this day. They recently announced a 30th anniversary tour for their 1988 album Digital Dictator.

The band’s first album was 1985’s Soldiers of the Night and featured guitar maestro Vinnie Moore.

The copy of the cassette in my possession might be a slight collector’s item as the cassette booklet appears to have been signed by singer Carl Albert. Sadly, he passed away in 1995 after a car accident.

The Cassette Chronicles – AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above image to purchase tickets!

AC/DC – BACK IN BLACK (1980)

Record Store Day 2018 was rather a dull and stale event for me. While I look forward to it each year, I’ve found less and less material amongst the slew of special releases that I’m interested in buying with each year’s passing. This year’s batch of music was the worst yet for me. There was really only one item that I wanted and it was specifically because it would be used for this article you are now reading.

AC/DC’s Back In Black got a special 2018 re-release on cassette. So instead of listening to the album on a tape that is 38 years old, I wanted a new copy (I own it on CD as well).

Unfortunately, I got to my local shop later than I’d hoped and couldn’t seem to find a copy of it. So, it seemed I was outta luck. Then fate, in the personage of my friend Jeff, intervened. He was going out to his local shop the day after Record Store Day and he was getting a copy of the album for himself and offered to pick up one for me if they had a second copy. A week later, the album was in my hands all the way from the state of Georgia.

Now before I talk about the album’s track list I should go back a little further. Despite not being a full-fledged rock and metal fan until about 1983-1984, I was at least a little bit aware of AC/DC, much to the chagrin of a few nuns and laypeople who worked at the Catholic school I was attending while in the fourth grade.

It was about that time that the boys in the school discovered the band’s song “Big Balls” and for totally immature males, this was THE GREATEST SONG OF ALL TIME! And you haven’t lived until you see the horrified faces of the teachers in the school as they hear a bunch of pre-adolescent boys running down the hallway singing the lyrics to the song. I managed to get in trouble for that despite the fact I wasn’t involved, having the misfortune of bad timing as I came out of the bathroom at the same time one of the teachers caught the other boys in the hallway. Still, it was freaking hilarious at the time. Between that and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, I had a small inkling of what the band was doing at that time.

Of course, I didn’t discover 1980’s Back In Black until it had been out a few years but by the time I was that full-fledged member of the metal music community, I was in love with the title track and “You Shook Me All Night Long”. I still am today as I get a real charge of electricity running through me whenever I hear the intro for either song.

So that’s a little background about my connection with the band. As for this particular listening session, I found it a bit odd that without any planning on the day I was going to listen to the album, I pulled out my AC/DC shirt and read the appreciation article in Classic Rock magazine on the passing of Malcolm Young.

So, how does this album that has sold so many albums since it came out that it ranks #2 all-time behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller in terms of total number of albums sold fair all these years later?

No surprise here, but it is still as fantastic a recording now as it was upon its initial release. I know so much has been written about the album and the individual songs that anything I say might seem like you’ve read it a million times before, but this album is simply a perfect encapsulation of the band. They really couldn’t have done better (and let’s be honest, never quite did) than what they did on Back In Black.

The first side of the album features stone cold classics like the eerily ominous “Hells Bells” with that echoing church bell intro and the relentless burner “Shoot To Thrill”. The latter song might just be one of my favorite songs from the band. What makes the album so remarkable to me is that even the songs that are an admitted step down from being “classic AC/DC”, they are still really great songs. While I’ve heard “What Do You Do For Money Honey” and “Given The Dog A Bone” countless times, I actually found myself with a refreshed sense of enthusiasm for both tracks. I know that “Let Me Put My Love Into You” is about as subtle as a sledgehammer through a plate glass window but still, the song has its single entendre charms.

As for Side Two, what can be newly said about the killer 1-2 punch of the title track and “You Shook Me All Night Long”? Easily the two best known songs from the Brian Johnson era and two of the best songs from the entire breadth of the band’s discography, you can’t ask for more out of these two songs. Hell, I saw Melissa Etheridge play “You Shook Me All Night Long” in concert with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on guitar and it still was a song that just kicked my butt all over again. As for the title cut, it’s perfect. ‘Nuff Said.

Closing with a defiant to the establishment anthem like “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” brought AC/DC’s legacy altering album to a rousing finish but before that you had the boozy charm of “Have A Drink On Me” and fiery “Shake A Leg” to keep the blood pumping.

Ideally, I would love to desire to buy lots of new stuff on Record Store Day each year. But the offerings (and cost of them) kind of precludes that. That said, I certainly was able to get the one true treasure I coveted and getting to write about how much it means to me makes it all worthwhile.

I don’t know what might be next for the band. Cliff Williams has retired, Malcolm Young died and Brian Johnson had to leave the band (or was unceremoniously kicked out depending on who’s telling the story) over the potential loss of his hearing. It’s just Angus with longtime drummer Chris Slade left in the band. But whether this is the end of the band or not, to have a senses-shattering album like Back In Black is all that any band could ever ask for. And since we are forever about to rock, AC/DC should be saluted endlessly for their contribution to our eternal playlist.

The Cassette Chronicles – 38 Special’s ‘Special Forces’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

ADVERTISEMENT – Click on the above image to purchase tickets!

38 SPECIAL – SPECIAL FORCES (1982)

Sometime back in 2017, I was pawing through the CD racks at my local record shop when I thumbed my way to the 38 Special divider. Unsurprisingly, the only CD the store had available was a greatest hits compilation. I made the decision to purchase that CD because in the band’s commercial heyday, I loved a lot of the songs that I ended up hearing on the radio, particularly the ones that made the singles chart that I would hear played on American Top 40.

But in that time and place I never owned any of the group’s albums (I did pick up their Drivetrain album that was released in 2004 and remains their last studio release to this point). So the compilation was a good way to hear what is considered their best material. And I loved the album! I played it numerous times while rocking out with those “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys” and their great rock and roll style.

But I wanted to hear more of their material, the songs that didn’t make the cut as a “greatest hit”. On one of my small cassette shopping sprees, I was able to grab up a copy of Special Forces and now I’ve finally gotten around to listening to it.

Given that four of the songs were released as singles, it should be no particular kind of surprising that there’s a lot of good stuff on this release. In fact, pretty much most of the album is outstanding. 

The album opens with “Caught Up In You” which for anyone who knows anything about the band will recognize as one of the band’s best known songs. It went to #10 on the pop singles chart while “You Keep Runnin’ Away” landed at #38. The latter song is a decent enough song but I really wasn’t all that captivated by the song, which is probably a bit odd considering that it was a track on the compilation.

What really stands out for me besides the appeal of the songs themselves is how great the guitar work is on Special Forces. Jeff Carlisi shreds all over the place on songs like “Back Door Stranger”, “Back On Track” (another single release) and “Take ‘Em Out”, a song that is an uninhibited rocker that will always be one that blows the doors off a place.

There’s not much in the way of a true ballad type song on the album, the band really does keep their foot on the gas most of the way through. However, with the judicious use of sound effects to simulate a dark and stormy night, they gave “Chain Lightnin'” a wider cinematic scope. You can feel the barely contained energy the song has. The song was released as a single, but I don’t remember hearing it back then, so when I did hear it for what was likely the first time (again, on that compilation), it quickly became one of my personal favorite tracks from 38 Special. 

It should also be noted that with both Don Barnes and Donnie Van Zant providing vocals, the band sounds great there as well. The southern rock stylings with the AOR vocals make for a winning combination in my book.

That song “Back On Track” that I mentioned before was not only notable for the guitar work, it had a grandly intoxicating vibe to the entire song. “Rough-Housin'” stepped lively as well.

Between 1977 and 1988, 38 Special were a huge success. Between charting singles, hit albums and concert tours, the band had it all going for them. I remember being glued to the radio whenever one of their songs start playing. The Special Forces album is a stand out example of just what it was that made the band as great as they were at that time. It’s got the songwriting chops and the electrifying performances. 38 Special were on the top of their game here and this is an album you will find yourself playing over and over again.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Former Survivor keyboardist Jim Peterik is a longtime collaborator with 38 Special and he co-wrote three of the songs on Special Forces. All three (“Caught Up In You”, “Chain Lightnin'” and “You Keep Runnin’ Away”) were released as singles.

Singer Don Barnes recorded a solo album called Ride The Storm in 1989 that was never released due to the record label being sold. However, it finally saw the light of day in 2017 via MelodicRock Records. I can say that it was an outstanding album!