4. Journey - Don't Stop Believin'

Like most iconic rock songs, "Don't Stop Believin'" has a beginning  become iconic because you can recognize them instantly.  Often, you only need a second or two to start to nod your head, as if to say, “Yeah, this is a great song.”  The opening piano riff of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is one of those moments.  Then Steve Perry’s perfect rock tenor echoes the thoughts of everman and everywoman.  “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere.”  How many of us have had that feeling?  We run outside, hail a cab.  "Where to mister?"  “Anywhere... Anywhere but here.”  There’s a life out there that’s better.  And it’s not here.

But "Don't Stop Believin'" almost never happened.

In 1980, Journey was at a crossroads.  After years of success, founding member, keyboardist and vocalist Greg Rolle left the band and they needed to decide how to replace him.  Do they hire a "yes" man who'd just do what they told him to do?  Or do they take a risk, leave their comfort zone and bring in a new member who they expected to make substantial contributions?  Luckily for us, they left safe harbor and brought in former Babys' keyboardist Jonathan Cain to man the keyboards and be an active songwriting contributor for the album that would end up being Escape.
Right from the start, Cain clicked with lead singer Steve Perry and songs soon began flowing out of their collaborations.  They quickly strung together pop melodies that were perfect for Perry's voice, while Neal Schon helped keep the rock in their roll.  One of their early projects was the song that ended up becoming one of the greatest songs of my lifetime, "Don't Stop Believin'."  In an interview with McKinney News, Cain talked about the songwriting process:

I brought in the title and the end piece and certainly the lyrics. I did a lot but it wasn’t without sitting there with Steve. We wrote together. There was a lot of arranging we did together. Neal brought the fire and the rock-n-roll attitude you want to have in a rock-n-roll band. Without the three of us, it just wasn’t Journey.
Many serious music fans dismiss "corporate bands" such as Journey, Styx, Boston and others, seeing them as more interested in popularity and money than in making serious records.  Band members were split on their reaction to the label.  "I hated it.  I thought it came from jealousy and envy.... and [us] having good business sense."  Drummer Steve Smith, on the other hand, said, "We probably were guilty of everything the critics said, as far as writing hit records... but I personally don't see anything wrong with that."  But they also took their craft seriously.  Not every song needs to be "Subterranean Homesick Blues" or "Ohio," just not like every movie needs to be "The Accused" or "Sophie's Choice."  Good music and good movies can also be fun.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Sean Penn once said that if the movie you're making isn't art, you're wasting your time.  Sorry, Spicoli, but you've become a little too serious for my tastes.  I want some fun with my art.  I like movies like Transformers and The Hangover.  So sue me.  Even though they're fantastical stories, they're people I can relate to.  I don't have much in common with Daniel Day Lewis' character in There Will Be Blood, which would fall under Penn's "art" test.  But an insecure teenager who just happens to fight an alien invasion side by side with other aliens?  That's more my cup of tea.  Art is great, and it has its place, all work and no play...  Jonathan Cain's sentiments said it best.  "You know what?  We're going to write songs about people's lives - about what's on their mind."  That's why they were so popular.  They wrote catchy songs with lyrics that people could relate to.  Again, what's wrong with that?

That being said, if you look at "Don't Stop Believin'" from a purely musical level, you're forced to give Journey some artistic credit.  Although the keyboard line and melody are pure pop, the rest of the song is more intricate and complicated than you'd think.  Drummer Steve Smith dances all over his drum set, keeping the beat but almost never playing the same beat on the same drum or cymbal.  He hits the tom toms, then lightly clinks a crash cymbal, finally hitting the snare that's the bread and butter of any rock song.  but after that, he clinks another cymbal, giving the drums an almost melodic quality to them.  Bassist Ross Vallory plays a bass line that isn't your typical timekeeper.  There's a nice buzzy effect to it and he jumps all over the place while also keeping the song moving forward, which is harder than you think.  Neal Schon's guitar work shows why people considered him a guitar wunderkind at the tender age of fifteen.  His opening guitar line has him racing over the neck, slowly building up to a massive shred, which culminates in a wail punctuated by a double crash of Smith's cymbals.

Even the song structure belies the simplicity that's normally associated with pop songs.  They don't even get to the real chorus of the song until the last fifty seconds of the song.  The "corporate rock" textbook doesn't tell you to do that.  It's intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-bridge-chorus-fade. 

And then there's the voice.  Steve Perry has arguably the greatest voice in the history of rock & roll.  He can belt out the rockers and softly deliver the tenderest of ballads.  His vocal performances bring what's needed for each song, and in "Don't Stop Believin'" it's a delivery that starts out on a smaller scale when the lyrics address despair, but then builds up into a strong and deliberate tone when the chorus finally arrives.  Jonathan's words flow out of Steve's voice so naturally, you can't believe the words aren't Steve's.  It's a lyricist/vocalist collaboration right out of the "Taupin/John" school.

Strangers waiting
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching in the night
Streetlight people
Living just to find emotion
Hiding somewhere in the night

Although it was popular on radio at the time, "Don't Stop Believin'" really found its niche when they began to play it live.  It almost instantly became the song that ended their concerts, so strong was the reaction.  So much like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by U2, "Don't Stop Believin'" found its true home on the stage, rather than the studio.  It's a song that doesn't sugarcoat that the world is a hard place, where countless people fall prey to the trappings of the easy life.  But for those who want to leave all that behind and strive for something more, there's the reminder that as long as you believe, and as long as you're willing to work for what you want, anything is possible.  It's a timeless message that still speaks to millions.

What's wrong with that?

(Fun Fact #512:  Steve Perry, who owns the rights to "Don't Stop Believin'" had a choice to make in 2007.  He had been approached by the creators of The Sopranos to have the song play at the very end of the very last episode, fading to black.  But Steve feared that "Don't Stop Believin'" would become forever known as the song that was playing when Tony Soprano died.  Once the producers showed him how the episode would end, he agreed to have the song play.  So while legions of Sopranos fans were disappointed with the ending, Steve Perry ended up being the real genius.  The clip was played over and over on various news/entertainment outlets as well as clicked on millions of times on YouTube.)

(Fun Fact #513:  In early 2009, Steve, who had been approached hundreds of times to use "Don't Stop Believin'" in various ads and movies, declining all until The Sopranos, was approached by the creators of a new television series.  They also wanted to use the iconic song.  Upon hearing that the series was focused around a glee club who took their singing very seriously indeed, he gave them permission to use the song.  Upon its airing in May of 2009, the pilot of Glee became an instant hit, largely to the rousing rendition they did of Journey's classic song.  Released as a digital single in early July, it went on to be downloaded over 500,000 times, giving Journey yet another gold record - sort of.)

(Fun Fact #723:  During the San Francisco Giants' run to the World Series title in 2010, the team would play "Don't Stop Believin'" during inning changes, since Journey is a Bay Area hometown band.  During game 5 of the National League Championship Series, they played the song again.  In the club level, people started turning around with their cell phones, taking videos while pointing and smiling.  What was the object of their attention?  None other than Steve Perry himself, standing up and leading the whole section in his song, belting it out at the top of his lungs.  I have to say I would've been as giddy as a schoolgirl if I'd been there.  Here's a great YouTube clip)
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