When I was in high school, Journey was the band. Oh, we paid lip service to Van Halen (whom we liked very much) and strutted about too cool for Duran Duran or pretended Rob Halpford of Judas Priest wore leather because he was a tough biker dude. (Surprise! He wasn’t!) And we all prayed to the Great Gods of Led Zeppelin while accepting Mick and Keith as our personal lords and saviors.
But “Don’t Stop Believin'” was the song we sang the most. “Lights” made it into more than one English comp essay (to the amusement of Mr. Murphy and the annoyance of Mrs. Snell.) But at high school dances, if you wanted to slow dance with a girl, “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” were the tunes to do it to.
And of course, you were nobody in high school if you didn’t know at least some of the lyrics to “Wheel in the Sky.” Never mind that most of us boys couldn’t attempt to sound like Steve Perry. We knew the tunes.
This was Journey’s golden era, 1978-1984, the end of which coincided with our high school graduation. But there was an entire history to this band that went all the way back to the summer of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” The band was founded by Neil Schon and Greg Rolie, two former members of Santana. Their early work sounded like it, too, getting into jazz fusion and meandering instrumental jams. The Santana connection got them a record deal. Hiring Ansley Dunbar of Jeff Beck fame (and later Jefferson Starship) helped. But record labels want hits. Their A&R guy tapped Rolie, Schon, and bass player Ross Valory on the shoulder and said, “Make some hits, or you’re gone.” They went looking for a lead singer. They did not hire Steve Perry. But the guy they hired did not work out, despite penning the well-regarded “Wheel in the Sky.” They then recruited Perry to record their breakout album Infinity. By now, they had their classic sound, only with Rolie sharing lead vocal duties. Listen to “Feeling That Way”/”Anytime,” which features Rolie as the primary vocalist, though Perry is in there sounding almost like a guest vocalist.
But Rolie was gone by the end of 1980, making way for The Babies’ Jonathan Cain. With drummer Steve Smith, this became the classic line-up. This also coincided with the birth of MTV. I’m not so sure this was a good thing. Journey’s videos, when they weren’t live clips, looked like they were shot by Mr. Murphy’s Mass Media class at Edgewater Park in Cleveland. (They were usually shot at San Francisco’s Embarcadero and Pier 39.) Perry would later rip the MTV need for dramatic mini-movies in a series of solo videos starting with “Oh, Sherry,” where he walks off the set and ends up singing the song to his girlfriend in the lobby. But the music…
Yeah, it grabbed us. We rode to school on this music. We got drunk or high to this music. (Yes, even me, who came from tea-totaling household. Sorry, mom.) Some of us even lost our virginity to it. (Mine disappeared to the strains of Genesis’ “Supper’s Ready,” but that’s all I’m going to say on that subject in this space.) We came of age to Steve Perry’s voice.
And then it seemed Journey hit a wall about the time my class graduated high school. They returned a couple of years later with Raised on Radio, featuring only Perry, Cain, and Schon, along with, dog, Randy Jackson on bass. But they weren’t firing on all cylinders then. We had moved on as well. Hair metal was huge. Punk and metal had a one-night stand in Seattle and squirted out grunge only a couple of years later. Metallica was getting taken seriously. KISS sounded less like Paul Stanley with big hair and more like the sort of three-chord menace you’d expect with a guy like Gene Simmons in the band. And then there was Guns N’ Roses. It seemed there was no room for Journey.
But they managed to pull it together in 1996. It was a strained reunion however. I remember listening to an interview on Cincinnati’s Q102 where the band paid each other compliments that had a certain edge to them. You could tell, especially from Perry’s tone, that they all hated each other. What killed that line-up, however, was a hip problem Perry developed. While hiking in Hawaii, Perry’s hip gave out. He’d have to get a replacement if he’d ever want to tour again. Journey found a replacement, which did not go over well with Perry. Suffice it to say, it’s unlikely he’ll ever return.
And why should he? The band made do with Steve Augeri and new drummer Deen Castronovo splitting Perry’s vocal duties. But then they decided to find someone more permanent and recruited Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who sounds remarkably like Perry, as their permanent lead vocalist. Around the same time, “Don’t Stop Believin'” got a new lease on life as one show, The Sopranos, ended with the song and another, Glee, began with it. Suddenly, Journey was hot again, and fans were surprised to find they were more than just a nostalgia act. Now kids who went to high school with my stepson are coming of age to this music.
Don’t stop believin’ indeed.