Journey was part of a family of rock bands who were big as the 1970s turned into the 1980s, along with Styx, Foreigner, and REO Speedwagon, who were variously called corporate rock or faceless rock or some other mildly pejorative name. They tended to be popular among suburban high school kids, ignored by the coastal critics, unseen on their album covers (hence “faceless”) and victimized by especially poor bass playing.
Journey was clearly the best of these bands; guitarist Neal Schon and keysman Gregg Rolie were alumni of Santana and boasted some serious hops, and then they added the leather-lunged Steve Perry in time for their fourth album, Infinity, from 1978. Perry brought Journey a whole new level of success ,with “Lovin’ Touchin', Squeezin” becoming their first Top Forty hit in 1979. (Rolie was soon replaced by Jonathan Cain from the Babys, but I presume I'm the only Babys fan around here.)
From that point on, Journey was one of the most popular rock bands in the land, with 17 more top Forty hits, six of them reaching the Top Ten. And one of them was “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
I am old enough to remember when “Don’t Stop Believin’” first came out, and it was obvious from the beginning that this was a schlock classic. Among other things, it has a brilliant structure, building through verse after verse while not entering its chorus (and not using its title phrase) till the cathartic coda. Since its release on October 6, 1981, it has never disappeared, not even for an instant; according to Wikipedia, it is the most downloaded song from iTunes that was not recorded in the 21st century. The song has so overwhelmed the Journey catalog that I have heard a knowledgeable music fan (my son Jack) refer to the band as a one-hit wonder.
That’s unfair. “Don’t Stop” (I hate having to squeeze the apostrophe in before the close quote) was arguably not even Journey's biggest hit: It peaked at Number Nine, while “Separate Ways” went to Number Eight, “Who’s Crying Now” went to Number Four, and "Open Arms” spent six weeks at Number Two in early 1982. I wouldn’t even say it’s their best song, giving “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” (you’re doing it to me again, Journey) that honor. I can remember being at high school marching band practice and hearing that song roaring out of the rec center across the street, causing the senior tenor sax player standing next to me (who was so cool he smoked) to remark laconically, "Journey's kicking ass."
But if you have to be remembered for one thing and one thing only, “Don’t Stop Believin’” isn’t half bad.
The Case For It starts, obviously, with "Don't Stop Believin'," but Journey was the dominant MOR rock band in America from 1979 to 1986, if that kind of thing floats your boat. They had an awful lot of minor hits that still sound pretty good on the radio, like “The Party’s Over” and “Lights.”
The Case Against Let’s face it folks; Journey is a pretty schlocky band. They didn’t really transcend or transform MOR as much as they simply embodied it. They didn’t end up exerting much influence on the world of music, aside from the fact that we will never be rid of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
The Cool Factor I’m stumped here. Neal Schon's mustache?
The Verdict When I told people I was voting this year, the most common response was “Ooh, Journey is on the ballot! You have to vote for Journey!” And given the class that was inducted last year, I have no doubt that they’ll get in. This is, improbably, Journey’s first time on the ballot, but the landscape is obviously ripe for them. Looking over my ballot, there are acts I will have to leave off with a great deal of regrets, while I have just mild misgivings about omitting Journey. I vote no on Journey, but don't worry, folks - they're going in anyway.