No. 13: Journey, ‘Don’t Stop Believin” – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
With Journey‘s ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ earning a well deserved slot on our Top 100 Classic Rock Songs list, keyboardist Jonathan Cain gave us the story behind the origins of the track, which he crafted with guitarist Neal Schon and vocalist Steve Perry.
Cain says that the secret behind the enduring popularity of the song, which comes from their highly successful 1981 album ‘Escape,’ and also hit the Top 10 on the Billboard charts, comes down to the fact that “we did some things right when we wrote the song.”
First, he points out that ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ is a musical stimulant, one that “gives the listener permission to dream.” As he puts it, “I think everyone wants to believe the grass is greener somewhere else.”
“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world/ She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.”
“The song begins with the midnight train goin’ anywhere and I think people are liking that concept that there is some place to go and hope that life is better. I remember those days being darn good, you know, you could go see Journey for $17.50. People that grew up in those times like the song because it reminds them of better days, so maybe we jog them back?”
Explaining the writing process, Cain recalls “when we cut the song in the studio in Berkeley at Fantasy, really it was another song. I brought the chorus in [and] it was one of the later songs we wrote. We wrote fairly quickly – I had the chords, we worked backwards in rehearsal and it was a group effort, really a sort of an improv thing. If you listen to the piano part, it is the chorus without the melody, stripped down. Same chords, but the bass line makes it sound like it’s different.”
Was it all really that easy? Apparently so… “We just took those chords from the chorus and created a verse out of them and added a bass line. Neal came up with all of that. The little break that Neal came up with sounded like a train. I said to [Journey vocalist Steve] Perry, ‘my God, I love that song ‘Midnight Train to Georgia,’ what about the midnight train going anywhere’ and he was like ‘oh, I love that.’”
Cain also has a personal connection to the song’s title, courtesy of his dad: “My father was the one, when I was starving in L.A., back in the ’70s before I got in the Babys, he’d call me from Chicago saying ‘don’t stop believin.’ You remember the vision we had, this is your destiny to stay out there and make it happen, no matter how bad it seems, you can’t give it up.’ That’s where the title came from in my head.”
After being featured in the series-ending episode of ‘The Sopranos’ and being adopted as a baseball anthem (to use only a couple of examples) ‘Don’t Stop Believin” continues to demonstrate a seemingly everlasting, and possibly growing popularity more than 30 years after it was originally released.
And yet, after all that, Cain still modestly describes ‘Don’t Stop Believin” simply as a song where “we did some things right.” Listening to this classic Journey song, it’s immediately apparent that in fact, they did everything right. In the universe of great story-based songs, ‘Don’t Stop Believin” stands tall as one of the very best.
Watch Journey Perform ‘Don’t Stop Believin”