Too Much Time On My Hands- The Confusing Messages of .38 Special

Hi there, my name is Don Lewis and as you may have read in this columns title, I have way too much time on my hands. As a result, I tend to overthink many, many things including rock music. My goal here is to share with you my deep thoughts on pop, rock and classic rock music in order taht you all might think a little harder about the music we love. This week, I share my confusion in regards to the Southern Rock band .38 Special.

Pop songs are truth, poetry and usually words you can live your life by. When a songwriter pours out their heart and soul into a successful pop song, I’m of the opinion they should try and stay true to those feelings. Sure, things change, people change and relationships change but if a songwriter is going to dole out sage advice to listeners, it’s his or her responsibility to stay true to that advice, at least for a while. This brings me to the very serious discrepancies in the songwriting of the southern rock band .38 Special.

As a fan of the band I’ve often been confused when seeking relationship advice from them. See, in 1981 they had their first big hit, the catchy and ear wormy as all get out “Hold on Loosely.” It’s a great song that most everyone can relate to and we get this in the opening lyrics:

You see it all around you
Good lovin’ gone bad
And usually it’s too late when you realize what you had

Ah yes .38 Special, you’ve clearly been through the hardships of love like we all have. But what makes “Hold on Loosely” such an insightful song is the advice given which is evidenced in the title of the song and the chorus. In terms of love one should:

Hold on loosely
but don’t let go
if you cling too tightly
you’re gonna lose control

Indeed, wise words from well-worn rockers Don Barnes, Larry Junstrom, Steve Brookins, Jack Grondin, Jeff Carlisi and of course Donnie Van Zant who is brethren to the Van Zant’s of Lynard Skynard fame. He surely knows a lot as he’s seen love and hardship and yet manages to keep on rockin’.

But then, in 1982, things get a little tricky in terms of the point of view for .38 Special. Of course I’m speaking of the band’s follow-up hit that completely contradicts the guidelines and ethos set-up in “Hold on Loosely.” I’m speaking of course about “Caught Up In You.”

From the opening lines we see Barnes and company have made a complete 180 on their initial thoughts that one should hold on loosely when we hear:

I never knew there’d come a day
When I’d be sayin’ to you
Don’t let this good love slip away
Now that we know that it’s true

What the hell, .38 Special? I mean, clearly something (or, someone) has caused the band to change their tune (no pun intended) but are we to believe this can all happen within the span of two hit songs? These are two extremely different and very confusing messages. Are we to believe one should hold on loosely because clearly doing so caused someone in the band to not let a “good love slip away” but now you’re so “caught up” in this person and you know damned good and well that:

Your baby needs someone to believe in
And a whole lot of space to breathe in

Later “Caught Up in You” seeks to clarify this sudden change of heart with the lines:

It took so long to change my mind
I thought that love was a game
I played around enough to find
No two are ever the same

But I for one am no longer able to trust .38 Special because this turnaround happened in less than a year. It’s a confusing conundrum indeed but fear not, fellow admirers of the preaching of .38 Special! By researching the songs a bit, I may have found the reasons for the huge discrepancy in these two songs.


In 1981, .38 Special decided to alter their sound a bit from gritty southern roots to a more radio friendly arena rock sound. As such, they enlisted a few songwriters to help make this change. The two guys brought in were none other than Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan who everyone knows as the heart and soul of the amazing rock band Survivor. While .38 Special’s Jeff Carlisi and Don Barnes also helped write the song it appears that Peterik and Sulliva were really the key lyricists while Carlisi wrote the music, particularly the opening lick which carried the song.

Obviously this collaboration was fruitful and it actually caused some in-fighting in Survivor due to the fact that band had yet to score a hit and here was Jim Peterik writing hit songs for other bands. Yet Peternik enjoyed working with the band so much he later used clandestine means to help pen “Caught Up in You” as well. However there is little supporting evidence that Peterik had as much influence over the later hit thus my conclusion is as follows.

While indeed .38 Special is the band who made “Hold on Loosely” a hit, I feel is was Survivor’s Frankie Sullivan and (particularly) Jim Peterik who had more of a hand and therefore emotional attachment to holding on loosely. While certainly any of these writers may have since fallen head over heels in love since the writing of “Hold on Loosely” thus causing them to get “Caught Up in You,” I can no longer in good conscience accuse .38 Special of sending mixed messages in their songs.

You’re welcome.









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