Back in high school and into college, I was a big-time Journey fan. I can’t think of a more perfect album than their two-CD set The Essential Journey. Their song “Don’t Stop Believin'” only seems to get more popular as the years go on. The once formidable jazz-fusion band that played only instrumentals morphed into arguably the greatest band of the Album Oriented Rock era was an unlikely trip. Yet, somehow, their lyrics were able to diagram a teen’s love life perfectly, all the while setting them to a clean version of hard rock and metal with clear pop overtones. It was easy for critics at the time to cry “sellout!” in reviews of the band’s music from 1978’s Infinity through 1986’s Raised on Radio. But, could it have been simply blind luck for this band to stumble across a sound made popular by Boston, only to take their music to newer popular and, dare I say, more popular heights?
It all started when this quartet of San Francisco hotshot musicians gathered together to record some jazz-fusion instrumental albums. Then, they got the itch to find a lead singer. Enter the sincere-sounding soulfully rocking former turkey farmer Steve Perry, the other with the trademark soaring instrument that was equal parts Robert Plant and Sam Cooke. Perry transformed Journey from a musicians’ band into a hit-making, make-out inducing machine. For every transitive “Don’t Stop” and “Anyway You Want It”, there’s a slow dancing gem like “Faithfully”. Whether they knew it or not, Bon Jovi’s career blueprint was equal parts Loverboy and Journey.
And, then, last week, it happened. I stumbled across the article listing the 19 (!!!) nominees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame while surfing the net at the hospital where my 81-year-old mother lay with a surgically repaired left hip. As we have seen for more than a decade, Chic was back on the list. So were Pearl Jam and 2pac, who were nominated in their first year of eligibility. Then, upon second glance I saw it! Journey had finally been nominated for induction! I could not believe it. But, there is was on the nomination list, the name “Journey”. Yes, they are equal parts rocker and popper, but who cares. I have to admit that they have outlasted many of my “culturally” significant artists like Squeeze and The Replacements. Journey should be immortalized, since they continue to be a band that sells music.
In order to paint the picture, the last high school at which I taught and coached would play “Don’t Stop Believin'” at every home football and basketball game between the third and fourth quarters during which the whole student section would sing along. This newer tradition is quite a sound, and sight, to behold.
So, yes, Journey has transcended the rock music genre and may one day be mentioned alongside Beethoven. And that first step toward immortality could take place in mid-December when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame announces the Class of 2017 Inductees. So, the band whose Departure album cover was tastefully completed in icing on my 18th birthday cake (God bless the lady that actually pulled that off!).
Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty & John Mellencamp may all weave tales about the working man. But, when it comes to that same working man having a soundtrack of his life, it is Journey who is there for his celebrations, his defeats, his achievements, his sorrow, and possibly even there for the creations and births of his children. Nearly every Journey hit song sends me back in time in search of a particular memory.
Now, the new singer sounds very similar to Steve Perry. Guitarist Neil Schon could not have found a singer that was so close to Perry vocally-speaking. But, the guy really is missing something soulful in his vocals that Perry naturally had. Maybe Steve was never given the credit he was due for that touch of Motown and soul in his tone, all the while we were busy making out to the band’s music. And while I feel all former members of this band deserve induction, including the last two lead singers who tried to fill Perry’s shoes, the version all of us wants to hear perform at their induction ceremony is Steve Perry. Plain and simple.
By the way, how many “nahs” does it take Journey to get to the end of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”? 151.