This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #416: Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.
Journey has had an enormously successful career as a band. Beginning in the late 1970s and continuing on through the late 1980s, Journey reigned as one of the top “arena rock” bands in the entire world. Led by vocalist, Steve Perry, lead guitarist, Neil Schon, Johnathon Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass and Steve Smith on drums, Journey had a string of hits such as “Wheels in the Sky”, “Open Arms”, “Lights”, “Lovin’, Touchin’ and Squeezin'”, “Any Way You Want It”, “Who’s Crying Now”, “Faithfully” and, of course, “Don’t Stop Believin'”. Journey have sold over 80 million albums worldwide and have had 19 Top-40 hits but, surprisingly enough, they have never had a #1 hit on the Billboard charts, making them the second most successful band in history never to have had a #1 song. *(Electric Light Orchestra had 20 Top-40 hits without a #1 hit, to claim that dubious honour).
The story of Journey and, in particular, the song, “Don’t Stop Believing”, is one of the more amazing tales, statistically-speaking, in all of Modern Music history. “Don’t Stop Believin'” was released in 1981 and came from an album called, “Escape”. The song reached #9 on the US BIllboard charts. However, it still managed to sell enough to be certified at 5-times Platinum, making it one of the top #100 most successful songs, in terms of sales, of all-time. Sung with passion by Steve Perry, arguably, one of the greatest male vocalists in rock history, “Don’t Stop Believin'” became a staple of all of their live shows. Its message of always believing in your dreams and never giving up, resonated with fans all over the world. In fact, the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings used the song as a “hype song” because of the reference made to “south Detroit” in the opening verses. *Funny bit of trivia about that, though, there is no region of Detroit known as “south Detroit”. Geographically-speaking, south of Detroit is Windsor, Ontario, Canada. When asked about this discrepancy, Steve Perry said that “south” just sounded better, lyrically, than any of the other directions so, the band went with it. A further note of interest is in the actual construction of the song. Most rock/pop songs follow a familiar structure of verse/chorus, verse/chorus…repeat. “Don’t Stop Believin'” abandons this format and refrains from adding the chorus until the very end of the song. Perry says that the band took pride in being storytellers when it came to their songs. In the case of “Don’t Stop Believin'”, Perry says the idea for the portraits he painted with his lyrics came from watching people leaving a Journey concert one night and wondering what some of their personal stories were. So, he decided to write the song to describe just that. If you listen to the lyrics carefully and imagine a crowd leaving an arena after a show, you can get a good idea of what Perry saw in his mind when he penned the song.
Like most popular songs, “Don’t Stop Believin'” had its moment and then, disappeared from the charts, as newer songs took its place. If that had been the end of the story for this song, it still would have been a success for the band. However, “Don’t Stop Believin'” holds a unique record of being the most downloaded song in the history of iTunes streaming service. What caused this 80s rock song to become so popular in the decade of 2010 is its appearance in two iconic TV shows.
(1) First of all, “Don’t Stop Believin'” was the very first song featured in the popular show, “Glee”. For those who may have never watched it, “Glee” was a show about a Highschool Glee club. Each episode, they focussed on a song that reflected on the story arc of that particular episode. For the debut episode, the kids on “Glee” sang a song about holding on to their dreams and never giving up. Their version of “Don’t Stop Believin'” introduced the song to an entirely new generation of fans. Their live performance of this 80s hit was, also, nominated for a Grammy award for Best Live Performance by a Duo or Group.
(2) But, in case “Glee” wasn’t enough, “Don’t Stop Believin'” cemented its place in popular culture by being featured in the closing scene of one of the biggest tv series of all time, “The Sopranos”. Journey’s 1981 hit became the soundtrack to one of the most memorable and controversial closing scenes in television history. Many scholarly articles have been written about that scene (when the screen suddenly goes black in mid-conversation during a family dinner in a diner), with many scholars crediting “Don’t Stop Believin'” with offering the clue to the moral underpinning of mob boss, Tony Sopranos’ philosophy on life.
When the members of Journey originally recorded, “Don’t Stop Believin'” back in 1981, I am sure they thought that the song stood a reasonable chance of being a hit. But, I can’t imagine that they would have guessed at the cultural relevance their song would take on a few decades later. Simply put, “Don’t Stop Believin'” is one of the most popular and recognizable songs ever! Full stop! End of discussion. I will post Journey’s version below, the “Glee” version of the song, “The Sopranos” closing scene and, finally, one of those scholarly articles/podcasts about that scene (which will include a section about the song and its importance to the entire series). So, get ready to go down a rabbit hole today! Enjoy.
The link to the live music video for Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey can be found here.
The link to the music video for Don’t Stop Believin’ as aired on the TV show, Glee, can be found here.
The link to the closing scene of “The Sopranos” TV series, featuring Don’t Stop Believin’ can be found here.
The link to the podcast that discusses “The Sopranos” and includes a discussion on the importance of Don’t Stop Believin’ to the show, can be found here.
The link to the official Journey website can be found here.