— Journey stands as perhaps the quintessential example of rock by association.
Journey’s music isn’t just part of the soundtrack in the background of your life. Rather it’s pegged to specific events, moments or experiences.
If you’re a “Caddyshack” fan, your mind may Journey back to the scene when Rodney Dangerfield blasts “Any Way You Want It” from his golf bag, interrupting Ted Knight in mid swing. In 2007, “Don’t Stop Believin’” played from a diner’s jukebox as the HBO series “The Sopranos” ended. More recently, “Don’t Stop Believin’” was covered by the cast of “Glee.”
And those represent a small sampling of instances in which Journey’s music has permeated pop culture beyond its rock moorings. It’s tempting to say that Journey is the Energizer Bunny of bands, except for the fact that Journey was born before that marketing critter (1973, as opposed to 1988) and has lasted longer.
“Journey is the ultimate embodiment of the people’s rock band,” noted Steve Horowitz, who teaches an online course called “Rock and Roll in America” at the University of Iowa. “Except for during the band’s early years as Santana band refugees performing jazz-rock, critics have hated Journey for their slick style.
“Meanwhile, ever since the mid ‘70s, fans have loved them and bought their records by the millions. Their songs were and continue to be the theme music of many a high school prom because they capture that spirit of melodramatic hope and angst one feels as a young person growing up into an adult world that does not make sense.”
The Journey currently on tour is a revamped version of the original 1973 edition created by bassist Ross Valory and guitarist Neal Schon. Both are still with the group, but now it also includes instrumentalist Jonathan Cain, drummer Deen Castronovo and vocalist Arnel Pineda.
The Journey zeitgeist thrives today for a whole new legion of fans, thanks in part to Pineda, a Filipino who joined the group in 2007. Schon had invited Pineda to audition for the gig after seeing some of his videos on YouTube.
“I think they found a singer who is an exciting person to watch onstage, which they haven’t had in a very, very, very long time,” explained Phil Gallo, music writer for Billboard magazine. “I think they went out and recorded a collection of new songs that connected with the (former lead vocalist) Steve Perry era better than anything they’ve done in a long time. The new songs line up with the hits quite nicely.
“There’s also the fact that this guy came from the Philippines. There are a lot of Filipinos who are now new Journey fans, and in some cities that creates a sizeable base.”
Journey’s hit list has been a fixture on every rock radio station since the 1970s, when it released its breakthrough fourth album, “Infinity,” the first with Perry in the fold. Aside from “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Any Way You Want It,” some of the band’s other notable creations include “Open Arms,” “Send Her My Love,” “Who’s Crying Now,” “Separate Ways” and “Wheel in the Sky.”
Aside from FM stations and film/TV, Journey also took its brand of arena rock into stadiums — during games. “Sports teams like the Chicago White Sox playing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ really made use of their music in a big way,” Gallo said. “Then it caught on with other teams and other sports.”
Journey’s mojo has remained fairly steady and formidable over the years, even while personnel changes were taking place. It’s a tribute not so much to an image projected by individual artists, or by the group as a whole, but how its music itself is rooted in the culture.
“One reason a rock band achieves longevity is because they have an incredible concept-story-brand,” said Jason King, artistic director and associate professor at The Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music in the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. “They also achieve longevity because they’ve made an indelible impact on public consciousness, an impact that seems to keep getting renewed with each successive generation.
“But most importantly, a rock band achieves longevity because they have compelling songs ... songs that are staples on radio stations around the world and in every karaoke bar, songs that have, over time, become part of the fabric of our everyday lives. The Beatles had a timeless catalogue. The Eagles have those kinds of songs. The Rolling Stones have those songs. And certainly Journey does as well.”
Despite the popularity of Journey’s songs, said music critic Andrew Barker of Variety, the band doesn’t always get its due from classic rock purists. “Journey occupies an unusual place in the rock canon,” he said. “On the one hand, they were enormously successful, and they’ll continue to get airplay on classic rock radio as long as classic rock radio exists. On the other, they’re still as despised by the cognoscenti as they’ve ever been, and I can’t see that stopping either.”
Obviously, a band can’t please everybody. But the mere fact that "Sopranos" creator David Chase chose “Don’t Stop Believin’” as the soundtrack for his show's cryptic and dramatic ending says the song and the band are held in generally high esteem.
“I think ‘The Sopranos’ element made you listen to the lyrics and made you kind of get behind the idea that the show closed with a vague idea of what’s important in life,” Gallo said. “It boils down to family in a lot of cases. In this case, these four people seemed to wind up at the same table.
“It’s (the song itself) a strange story of fictional people in south Detroit. (“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world, she took the midnight train goin’ anywhere. Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit, he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere.) Now the song is associated with a big family. I think it gave it some powers.”
Said Barker: “Parodies aside, it’s hard to think of a single negative effect that ‘The Sopranos’ finale has had on that song. It’s a lot like what ‘Wayne’s World’ did for Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ — before the movie, the song was well known, but after the movie, it was a staple of the culture.”
The same can probably be said of Journey as a whole.
“Journey’s imprint on the popular culture — from high school proms to sporting events to TV shows — guarantees they will not be forgotten,” said Horowitz, who is also a staff writer for Popmatters.com. “They are a shorthand way of evoking the late ‘70s-early ‘80s."