.38 Special – Wild Eyed Southern Boys/Special Forces (Snakefarm Records)

140g coloured vinyl reissues

Boasting a genuine Van Zant brother, inherent Southern rock cool and hitmaker Jim Peterik in their camp, it’s little wonder .38 Special shot to fame in the early 80s.

Gunning for glory on the back of 1978’s breakout album Rockin’ Into The Night, the fired-up Floridians sensed an opportunity with album number four.

And when Wild Eyed Southern Boys was unleashed 40 years ago its landmark sound proved to be the perfect fusion of the band’s treasured roots and a bold vision of the future.

Juxtaposed with .38 Special’s follow-up Special Forces — a second successive platinum seller — Wild Eyed Southern Boys represents a rich vein of creative and commercial form.

And both albums deserve a long-awaited reappraisal courtesy of Snakefarm’s Re-Skinned series.

Without ever entirely ditching their Jacksonville roots, these career-founding records represent the true realisation of .38 Special’s ambitious take on Southern rock.

Driven by Donnie Van Zant’s desire to complement the Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy and Peterik’s determination to pen hit records, the stars suddenly aligned for a band arena-bound and born to entertain.

Spawning four Billboard Top 40 hits — including a first Top 10 single — Wild Eyed Southern Boys and Special Forces established .38 Special as serious contenders.

And four decades down the line the 140g coloured vinyl reissues of two classic albums celebrate the reinvention of Southern Rock in suitably flamboyant style.

Wild Eyed Southern Boys become men

Wild Eyed Southern Boys’ teasing title captured the mood inside the .38 Special camp as the band approached the 80s with confidence.

Acutely aware that tweaking their sound would draw inevitable criticism from Southern Rock loyalists, acknowledging their roots was key.

But with one eye on FM radio and arena billing, revealing the band’s ‘wild’ — or, more accurately, commercial — side was equally vital.

Ultimately, Wild Eyed Southern Boys found favour across the board as it breathed new life into a stalling genre.

And .38 Special somehow managed to keep everyone on side, delighting the 70s die-hards and Billboard converts alike.

There’s no denying the rootsy guitar work at the heart of a record fusing the old with the new to dizzying effect.

Don Barnes and Jeff Carlisi are as intuitive as they are intrepid as the beating heart of a band inspired.

And Van Zant’s vocal prowess represents a significant step up from Rockin’… — aided and abetted by a pin-sharp Rodney Mills production.

Steve McRay’s piano and Carol Veto’s backing vocals add rich authenticity to a fabulous record. 

The former’s dextrous work on Honky Tonk Dancer and Back Alley Sally is a joy to behold.

Hold On Loosely — .38 Special’s first Top 30 hit — comfortably steals the show as the standout track here.

But bullish set closer Bring It On says it best about a band with a plan.

Special Forces forces the issue

Part two of that plan was doubling down on a crucial commercial breakthrough.

Retaining the services of Peterik (months away from grabbing a Grammy for co-writing Eye Of The Tiger) and Mills was top priority.

And with the coveted pair back for more it was all-out attack on Special Forces.

Top 10 smash Caught Up In You maintained the momentum.

But Special Forces boasted a slew of singalong classics reflecting .38 Special’s growing confidence and evolving songwriting craft.

Look beyond singles Chain Lightnin’, Back On The Track and You Keep Runnin’ Away and there’s still much to admire from a band on fire.

Back Door Stranger bristles with Southern rock-fuelled intent.

And side two opener Rough Housin’ showcases Van Zant and Barnes at the top of their game.

Some called it cold commercialism but others called it sheer consistency — either way Special Forces was a special record.

Re-Skinned and remastered on bright orange vinyl, it’s an album that captures .38 Special at their expansive, explosive best.