Hearin’ is be­lievin’: the Jour­ney sin­gle that keeps on givin’

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

You wouldn’t be able to pick Neal Schon, Steve Perry and Steve Smith out of a line-up. But then, the only line-up those three would be in th­ese days is a Forbes mag­a­zine spe­cial on the most royalty cheques ever picked up for a sin­gle song. Back in 1981, when the Jour­ney men wrote Don’t Stop Be­lievin’, they were thrilled with its top 10 plac­ing in the sin­gles charts, but un­aware they had just writ­ten a mu­si­cal phe­nom­e­non.

In this down­load era, on each of the many oc­ca­sions that their power bal­lad has fea­tured in a film or been played at a ma­jor sports event, it’s climbed back up the charts. It’s now in the top 10 of most sin­gles charts in the world. It just goes on and on and on and on.

If you pre­sented Don’t Stop Be­lievin’ at a song­writ­ing class, you’d be laughed out of it. It has one of the strangest song struc­tures ever, with the cho­rus not mak­ing an ap­pear­ance un­til more than three-quar­ters of the way in.

Lyri­cally, it’s a po­et­i­cally strained: Steve Perry sets up a nar­ra­tive thread at the beginning – a small town girl and a city boy both tak­ing a mid­night train, but we never find out what hap­pens to them. In­stead, there are a se­ries of ex­hor­ta­tions to “don’t stop be­liev­ing” and to “hold on to that feel­ing”. Th­ese kinds of ba­nal apho­risms, so loved by politi­cians and TV per­son­al­i­ties, mean noth­ing but sound pos­i­tive and up­beat.

The song was al­ways there as a mi­nor rock clas­sic over the years, but went straight to the front of the queue when it was used at the end of the fi­nal episode of The So­pra­nos three years ago. For se­ries cre­ator David Chase, ac­quir­ing rights to the song was a real strug­gle.

“There was a lot of ‘con­ver­sa­tion’ about my song choice,” he says. “When I said Don’t Stop Be­lievin’, peo­ple were go­ing ‘What? Oh my god!’. I said just give it a lis­ten, and lit­tle by lit­tle, peo­ple started com­ing around.”

Chase picked the song be­cause it un­folds a bit like the fi­nal episode of The So­pra­nos: a grad­ual build up of ten­sion with no real res­o­lu­tion. The line that goes “The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on” was cru­cial to Chase be­cause it was his an­swer to all the spec­u­la­tion of how he would end the se­ries.

Steve Perry, Jour­ney’s singer, was ini­tially re­luc­tant to give per­mis­sion for the song to be used. He felt that it had built up a cer­tain sta­tus over its pre­vi­ous 25 years or so and if it was used at such a dra­matic stage of a prom­i­nent TV se­ries, it would be in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to The So­pra­nos and not to Jour­ney. “I was con­cerned,” ac­knowl­edges Perry. “I was not ex­cited about the pos­si­bil­ity of the So­prano fam­ily be­ing whacked to Don’t Stop Be­lievin’.”

The band had no such hes­i­ta­tion when Si­mon Cow­ell ap­proached them last year and asked them if he could use Don’t Stop Be­lievin’ as the X Fac­tor win­ner’s de­but sin­gle (a song that re­li­ably sells by the mil­lions). It was a flat “No”.

“Si­mon had con­tacted our man­age­ment,” says gui­tarist Neal Schon. “He wanted to redo the song with a dif­fer­ent ar­range­ment. We lis­tened to it. We de­clined.”

Cow­ell’s mas­ter plan was ru­ined, he had to scrape around for a dif­fer­ent song for Joe McElderry, and all he could come up with was the pedes­trian Mi­ley Cyrus song The Climb. How­ever, Jour­ney had no prob­lems with the ver­sion of the song used on the US TV se­ries Glee (see fea­ture, page 8) – they loved it and read­ily agreed.

By rights, though, this song should never had made its way out of the stu­dio. On pa­per its struc­ture is con­fused and frag­mented: it opens with a pi­ano riff, moves to the first verse, there’s a gui­tar arpeg­gio, a sec­ond verse, a pre-cho­rus, a gui­tar solo, a third verse, a re­peat of the pre-cho­rus, an­other gui­tar solo, and then – at three min­utes and 20 sec­onds – the ac­tual cho­rus ar­rives.

Yet it worked mag­nif­i­cently. And it con­tin­ues to do so. Don’t Stop Be­lievin’ just goes on and on

and on and on.

Jour­ney to the cen­tre of the charts

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