Why Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ Is The Old But New ‘Living On A Prayer’

It’s the new Living On A Prayer even though once upon a time, Living On A Prayer was the new “it”. About two years after the horse has bolted, I’ve finally decided to address the Don’t Stop Believing phenomenon, but more importantly to also take the liberty of introducing another equally magnificent-in-need-of-revival song by Journey.

My first encounter with Don’t Stop Believing was when I read an article back in 2009 about the most downloaded songs of the first decade of the 21st century. I was amazed to see that a song from 1981 was not only in the top 10 but was in fact the most downloaded song to have been originally released prior to the year 2000. Not a song by the Beatles or Elvis or Michael Jackson or Britney, not a massive number one hit, but a Journey song that scraped the US top 10 and missed the UK top 40 altogether. Indeed this is a song that until 18 months ago hadn’t been played on mainstream radio in New Zealand at any stage in my 11 year career.

So why did Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing become the new Living On A Prayer, superseding the Bon Jovi song several years its junior that had previously held the title of the ultimate party arm-in-arm at 1am singalong? As is the case with most phenomenons, it was a combination of factors which gradually snowballed until a tipping point was reached. In the last few years a number of sports teams in the States started adopting Don’t Stop Believing as their team anthem. The song was then parodied on Family Guy. Then The Sopranos used the song in the infamous “black-out” last episode where lead character Tony may or may not have been killed. And then the clincher.

As critically acclaimed as The Sopranos was, as much as Family Guy almost successfully plays rival to The Simpsons, as dominant as any of those sport teams may be, it took a wholesome, mainstream show like Glee to push Don’t Stop Believing over the edge. The cast of Glee have now put more songs on the Billboard Hot 100 than the Beatles, though in the age of downloads this is a less significant feat than it sounds. None-the-less, the semi-acapella remake done by the cast of Glee in a show which is as much “hit” as it is cultural phenomenon was what really introduced a 30 year old Journey song to a whole new audience.

All of which doesn’t really explain the appeal of Don’t Stop Believing. Accepting that everyone now knows the song, why does it inspire 18 year girls born in the 90s to scream hoops of delight as they skip hand-in-hand to the dancefloor? For the same reason Living On A Prayer has been the cheesy anthem of choice for so long, the answer lies in a combination of the simple but uplifting lyrics of not giving up, the once heard, always remembered melody and the high tenor vocals of the lead singer. Just like Jon Bon Jovi before him (even though chronologically it was after), Steve Perry has an astounding tenor vocal range which (when used correctly) amounts to a subconsciously more exciting listening experience. Both Jon Bon Jovi and Steve Perry sound like men’s men, but it would surprise most people to learn they are singing at roughly the same height as the Bee Gees, only in natural voice and not falsetto.

But as I said earlier, the horse has bolted and PHDs have probably already been written on why this 30 year old song is more popular now than ever before. So with that in mind, here is another song from Journey, also from the album Escape (1981) and also not necessarily a radio staple any more. Featuring one of my favourite understated guitar solos ever (Neil Schon at his best), Who’s Crying Now has the lushness and melancholy of another forgotten favourite from the era, the Bee Gees Spirits Having Flown. Interestingly, it was also a bigger hit at the time than Don’t Stop Believing, peaking at US #4 as opposed to Believing’s #9. Here it is, a stunning live (and faithful to the studio original) Who’s Crying Now by Journey.

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