How a Rejected Babys Song Becomes Journey’s Signature Ballad
The song that would become Journey's signature ballad was not received with open arms when Jonathan Cain initially presented it to the Babys. So he shelved "Open Arms" for another time.
"My understanding is that he had most of it sketched," former Journey frontman Steve Perry told Classic Rock Revisited. The two had been discussing song ideas one day at Perry's house, not long after Cain left the Babys for Journey.
As Cain recalls, Perry was interested in writing a different kind of material. "He was talking to me about his solo album and wanting to do ballads, wanting to do soaring melodies with ballads," Cain said in 2019. "I said, 'Steve, there's no reason for you to go do a solo album. You know, you could do it here in Journey.'"
Cain went out to his car to retrieve his Wurlitzer piano, which had had brought along "just in case" and showed Perry the half-conceived song he originally offered to the Babys. It needed work: Cain had the melody down, but no lyrics. Perry, however, immediately recognized the song's potential.
"I asked him what that was," Perry remembered, "and he said, 'This is just a song that I started. I played it for my wife and I played it for [Babys frontman] John Waite but he said it was too syrupy.' I told him, 'Too bad for him and good for us.'"
The pair promptly set to work finishing "Open Arms." "That particular one kind of wrote itself. It went that quick," Perry told Classic Rock Revisited. "Escape was not easy; it still was hard. Jonathan and I had a lot of moments writing lyrics where there was difficulty between us. He would make a suggestion and I would say that I would try to sing it but then I would not be able to believe it, or own it for myself, so I would have to throw in a couple of changes or make additions to it to make it mine. That was fine with him; that is basically collaboration."
Watch Journey Perform 'Open Arms' in 1982
Cain and Perry were ultimately excited about what they had come up with. "I just remember just sitting there going, 'Oh, wait til the world hears this,'" Cain said in an episode of VH1's Behind the Music.
When they brought the song to Journey, however, Neal Schon was at a loss. "It's not that I didn't like the song when I heard it," he said in the same VH1 episode. "It was just so far removed from anything we had ever attempted to record before. It's just like, 'What am I gonna do on this?'"
Cain said, "you're gonna be an orchestra, that's what you're gonna do." In addition to bassist Ross Valory and drummer Steve Smith's tracks, Cain added rhythm guitar and everyone contributed backing vocals.
Years later, when revisiting footage for Live in Houston 1981, memories of constructing the song with Cain and the emotional significance from decades ago surfaced again for Perry.
"I had to keep my head down on the console when 'Open Arms' was on," Perry told Classic Rock Revisited. "There is one line in the song that I always wanted to be a certain way. I have ideals about certain things. The line 'wanting you near' – I just wanted that line to go up and soar. I wanted it to be heartfelt. Every time it would come by, I would just have to keep my head down and try to swallow the lump in my throat. I felt so proud of the song that I had written with Jonathan."
Released in January 1982, "Open Arms" made its way to No. 2 on the charts, becoming one of Journey's most recognizable songs and a set list staple. A missed opportunity for the Babys had turned into a phenomenal hit, penned between two bandmates who had only just begun working together.
"[Perry's] idea melded with what I always had been wanting to find in the song lyrically," added Cain, who credited Perry with "championing" the tune through its completion. "You never give up on a song. No matter what anybody says about your song, there's something there."
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