They were the boys from the Bay, the sultans of San Francisco rock. I’m talking about Journey, the band formerly led by Steve Perry. With over a dozen studio albums and two dozen charting singles on the Billboard Hot 100, we loved them and still love them; they’re a staple on Classic Rock radio and their 1988 Greatest Hits collection remains one of the top catalog releases. However, it’s back into the vault to remember, quite possibly, their most well-known song. It may not have peaked the highest or sold the most during its original run, but its impact through the media, especially in the past few years, has given it the new life it deserves. So, a little history on the anthem that is “Don’t Stop Believin'” and how we got to where it is now:
“Stop” is featured on Journey‘s album Escape, recorded in the spring of 1981 and released in late July of that same year. It was co-written by band members Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry and Neal Schon and co-produced by Kevin Elson (who worked with the band since 1980’s Departure) and Mike Stone, his first time recording them after previously working largely with Queen. In terms of a composition, it has the distinction of consisting of several verses and pre-choruses before one big chorus in the last-minute of the song. That section also proclaims the first uses of the title. Sounds weird on paper, but it worked. Columbia pushed the song as the second single after ballad “Who’s Crying Now?” climbed as high as #4 in October.
Today, on the chart dated November 7, 1981, “Don’t Stop Believin'” climbed to #40 on the Hot 100, moving up from #56 where it debuted the previous week. At the time, it was the group’s sixth top 40 hit. After peaking at #9 the week before Christmas, the song fell, finding itself back at #40 on the chart dated January 30, 1982. Though its time in the top 40 was short, it accumulated enough weeks in the top 100 to rank as the #73 single of 1982. It would also help extend the Escape era; followup single “Open Arms” became the band’s biggest single ever, reaching #2 a few months after “Stop” was off the charts.
Though it was a significant single in its own right, Journey went onto other big hits through 1987, when the group took a hiatus. They reunited in 1996 for Trial By Fire, but after lead singer Perry sustained an injury and a subsequent tour was postponed, the original lineup began to fall apart, including the dismissal of Perry, and a series of alternate singers combined with minimal airplay and sales for the new material left the group with no momentum. It was definitely one of their lows.
Things began to turn around several years later as “Stop” became popular with several sports teams on winning runs. Then, in 2007, “Stop” was used in that pivotal final scene of the HBO series The Sopranos and reaction was quick at digital retailers. In 2009, the song also gained new life when it was performed by the cast of Glee in their pilot episode. The cast version peaked at #4 on the Hot 100 and remains their highest peaking release on the chart to date. Countless other acts have covered the song, from Alvin and the Chipmunks to U.K. The X Factor winner Joe McElderry. From television placements to massive arenas around the country, the song is pretty much everywhere. Chances are, you probably have a copy of it in some form.
“Stop” is the biggest seller of all-time to have never been originally released during the digital era (from 2003), with total sales at nearly 5.9 million digital copies in the U.S.; couple that with another 500,000 copies in physical certifications and 1 million ringtones sold and you have what continues to be a monster sales hit over three decades after the song was first released. Escape is certified 9x Platinum domestically, their largest sum behind Greatest Hits. The dream era bloomed just perfectly.
It’s hard to imagine a world where this classic song was never as big as it is right now, but then again, Journey was a one of a kind act and this is certainly a one of a kind song. Thanks for the memories, and hold onto that feeling like we always will be.