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.38 Special 

With Lynyrd Skynyrd. Wednesday, August 18, at Tower City Amphitheater.

Today's pop stars could learn a thing or two from .38 Special. First, how to write good songs that stand the test of time. The southern rock band still has a good half-dozen tunes in rotation on classic-rock stations, and out of those, only "Rockin' Into the Night" sounds dated. Second, three years between albums is more than long enough to kill your career as a platinum best-seller. The 1981 smash single "Hold On Loosely" set them up for success, and in the days before MTV broke truly nationwide, they were crossover stars of the highest order: Videos from 1983's Tour de Force became staples on NBC's Friday Night Videos.

Hearing enduring favorites like "Caught Up in You" makes it easy to forget that .38 Special wasn't just a flash in the pan. Not only does the band's career stretch back to 1975, but the group has pedigree. Singer Donnie Van Zant is of the Jacksonville Van Zants, the brood that gave us Lynyrd Skynyrd singers Ronnie and Johnny Van Zant. The three-year layoff between Special's biggest album and 1986's unheralded Strength in Numbers relegated them to the good-ol'-boys-of-rock circuit. But as tourmates Skynyrd prove year after year, predictable set lists are always popular.

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