Our top 10 Journey songs looks at one of the most beloved bands in classic rock history. Journey formed in San Francisco in 1973, originally planning to simply be a backup group for other artists. The band was initially made up of Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Greg Rolie (lead vocals, keyboard) – both from Santana – as well as Frumious Bandersnatch’s Ross Valory (bass) and George Tickner (rhythm guitar), with Prairie Prince (of The Tubes) on drums. Over the years, the lineup has changed multiple times, with members coming and going. Neal Schon is the only member to have appeared on all releases from the band.
After quickly abandoning the plan to be a backup group, the band experimented with a jazz-fusion sound. The band’s self-titled debut album was released in 1975, followed by Look into the Future a year later and Next in 1977. Sales of these first few albums were not promising, with only one (just barely) making the top 20. These disappointments led to the band moving further away from their jazz roots and more towards a harder (and more popular) rock sound. This coincided with Steve Perry joining the band as frontman, a change which, coupled with the band’s new sound, saw their fortunes improve dramatically.
Journey achieved their first top 20 single in 1979, whilst the band’s sixth album Departure (1980) charted at number eight. The early ’80s saw the band reach the peak of their popularity, earning a number-one album entitled Escape in 1981 and many successful singles. Following an explosion of success, the band decided to take some time off, with a few members, including Steve Perry, working on solo projects. Raised on the Radio (1986) was a massive hit for the band, but Steve Perry felt unable to continue with the group, causing them to go on hiatus for almost a decade between 1987 and 1995.
The band eventually reformed, to a decent enough reception, but following a hip injury, Steve Perry decided to leave the band for good. Ironically, he was replaced by another Steve, Steve Augeri (of Tyketto and Tall Story) whilst drummer Steve Smith (who also left) was replaced by Dean Castronovo. The band’s 2001 album, Arrival, was met with quiet success, after which Augeri was forced to leave the band due to problems with his throat. The remaining band members scoured YouTube to find a new singer, eventually settling on Arnel Pineda. The first record released with Pineda on lead vocals (Revelation, 2008) was a great success, and this was shortly followed by the TV series Glee introducing the band’s music to a whole new generation of listeners.
Although the glory days of the bands are over, it makes a nice change for an iconic band such as Journey to still be decently chugging along almost half a century since their debut. Despite an ever-changing lineup, the band managed to create some extraordinary tracks, the best of which will be featured on this list of the top ten Journey songs.
# 10 – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
This single from Evolution (1979) was the band’s first song to break into the Billboard Top Twenty, where it peaked at number 16. The track was written by Steve Perry and seems to be an extremely personal track about a relationship that is believed to be inspired by true events. The song sees Steve Perry’s girlfriend having an affair with someone else, leaving him feeling broken and lonely. During the final chorus, the girl gets a taste of her own medicine when it is revealed that the guy she cheated with is now cheating on her. This twist allows Steve Perry to get the last laugh, even if his own heart is broken.
The track begins with a bass-infused drum beat, which is quickly joined by a squealed guitar and some lush piano chords. The screeched guitar soon makes way for a crunchy, distorted sound which, when paired with the gorgeous piano notes, captures the familiar mix of joy and pain that is love. Steve Perry imbues the lyrics with anguish and emotion, something which is particularly evident during the song’s title hook.
The vast majority of the song’s second half is taken up by a Beatles’ Hey Jude-inspired “Na na na” section. In less capable hands this could seem lazy or uninspired, but, mixed with soaring guitar runs, Journey manages to create a catchy and evocative outro. Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ was the first of many Journey songs to be a success, so it thoroughly deserves its place on this list.
# 9 – Only the Young
Originally intended for inclusion on Frontiers (1983), this track was then sold to the band Scandal, who received significant payment after Journey decided to record and release their version of the song. As the title suggests, the track covers a timeless topic; the boundless promise and freedom of youth. Journey put their spin on things by suggesting that the young are potentially smarter than the generations before, and can see through the lies of the past; allowing them to build a better future.
This track is full of ’80s rock essentials, including a powerful and catchy chorus and a face-melting guitar solo. Neal Schon’s solo is only short on this track, but he manages to pack it full of ideas, somehow suggesting freedom, victory, and a hint of sadness with just a few chords.
There’s a sad story that goes along with this song, as it was played to a sixteen-year-old fan with cystic fibrosis as part of a request from the Make a Wish Foundation. The band was deeply moved by this experience and was devastated to find out that the fan passed away the next day. This must have been especially upsetting given the theme of the song and is believed to have caused the group to realize that in-band tension was petty and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. The track was used to open the band’s Raised on Radio tour, in tribute to the departed teenager.
Only the Young is one of those often underrated Journey songs which, especially given its backstory, comes with a real punch of genuinely powerful emotion.
# 8 – Wheel in the Sky
Although it was only a minor hit upon release – peaking at number 57 in the US – Wheel in the Sky has gone on to become a bonafide Journey classic. Recorded in 1977, the track comes from the period when the band was transitioning toward a harder rock sound, so much of the song features edgy and immediate guitar chords and simple rock beats.
The track begins with an instrumental section, made up of a thoughtful and subdued sound quite unlike the rest of the track. As soon as the growling guitar kicks in, the ominous atmosphere begins to build. The song’s churning guitar riffs echo the titular wheel in the sky, which represents the idea that time goes on and on; that seasons will change and repeat forever and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
The song’s references to being on the road and away from home suggest that the band’s incessant touring could also have informed the song’s lyrics. The track ends on a hopeful note, where the final instance of the song’s chorus hook changes from “turning” to “yearning,” hinting that the band finds hope and promise in their existence rather than an endless cycle of repetition.
Unlike a lot of Journey songs, the meaning behind Wheel in the Sky is quite ambiguous and open to interpretation. This ambiguity mixes with the track’s moody and vaguely menacing instrumental, creating an exciting and uneasy hard rock Journey classic.
# 7 – Lights
One of the first Journey songs to feature Steve Perry, Lights is a soft rock ballad that has gone from being a minor hit (reaching number 68 on the charts) to being one of the band’s signature tracks. The song has become a mainstay of classic rock stations and San Francisco based sports events.
The track is an ode to San Francisco, where Journey originated, and is full of references to the beauty of the city and its bay. Ironically, Steve Perry originally wrote the track about Los Angeles but found that the lyrics did not scan as well as he’d hoped. Realizing that the band’s precious San Francisco would be a better fit, Perry and Schon tweaked the track, and history was made.
Lights is a very calming and soothing rock song, and it’s almost impossible to resist finding a lighter to sway about with. The track features tender chords, just on the very edge of distortion, and a harmonious, tinkling piano. Dramatic keyboard notes sound subtly in the background, adding further atmosphere to the images the song creates.
The instrumental is the perfect complement to the track’s lyrics, creating a relaxed and peaceful image of San Francisco. Even never having visited the place you can’t help but imagine yourself watching a gorgeous sunset whilst surrounded by loved ones.
Lights has gone from humble beginnings to being one of Journey’s best-loved tracks. You don’t have to be from San Francisco to understand how magical this dreamy track is.
# 6 – Who’s Crying Now
Who’s Crying Now is one of the more successful Journey songs, peaking at number four in the US and becoming the highest UK charting Journey single at the time. The track is a soulful piece, with a simple piano riff at its heart. According to the band, Steve Perry wrote the song’s chorus whilst on his way to Jonathan Cain’s house during a storm. Upon his arrival, Cain had a few suggestions for changes and the song was finished that afternoon.
The instrumental is moody and bitter, and you can tell it was inspired by a storm. The central piano hook is catchy but not particularly joyful, and, when this is paired with Schon’s piercing and high-pitched guitar solo, you get the sense of the tense and tragic relationship described by the song. The lyrics tell a story of a toxic and tumultuous relationship, which, once again, can be linked to the song’s stormy inspiration.
This was the first Journey song to feature Cain, who had previously been a member of The Babys. It speaks volumes of Cain’s talent that he was so effortlessly able to slot into the band’s lineup and help create such an evocative and atmospheric piece. Of additional note is the curious decision for the drumbeat to be absent for much of the song, only appearing during the chorus and towards the track’s end. This allows for Cain’s impressive piano hook to become the song’s anchor, allowing its greatness to take center stage. Who’s Crying Now is a grim and tempestuous masterpiece.
# 5 – Open Arms
The third single from 1981’s Escape, this track is an emotional power ballad and is often seen as being one of the best examples of this emotive sub-genre. It is believed that Cain had already begun working on the song when he was a member of The Babys, but that band was not keen on the melody. After hearing the concept, Steve Perry was immediately interested, and the two finished the track together. The rest of the band were not so enamored with the track (or ballads in general) but, after performing the track live, they saw the crowd’s warm reaction to the song and had a change of heart.
The track’s lyrics see Steve Perry (in extraordinary vocal form) pleading with his lover to forgive his wrongdoings and restart their relationship. The track utilizes some sparkling piano chords, a heartbeat-like drum, and some beautiful orchestral elements, all contrasted by some gritty guitar runs.
The track is one of the band’s most successful songs, earning them their highest position on the Billboard 100 (number two). The track has been introduced to a wider (and more contemporary) audience by managing to become a staple of many pop diva’s covers discography, including Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, and Celine Dion. Open Arms’ immense popularity is no doubt down to its relatable, heartfelt lyrics and gorgeous instrumental. You can be sure that many couples have used this – and other Journey songs – as the first dance at their wedding, and it’s easy to see why.
# 4 – Faithfully
Another one of those stunningly powerful Journey songs, Faithfully comes from 1983’s Frontiers. The track was written by Jonathan Cain whilst on the road and was completed in an extremely short time (something which the religious Cain puts down to divine intervention). The track is a charming ode to Cain’s wife, which pays particular mind to the realities of being in a relationship with a rock star, and how these issues aren’t going to be a problem for them. The song is unusual in that it does not have any real chorus, instead featuring two chorus-like sections that both end on the same two lines.
It’s inevitable, being two of the band’s best-known power ballads, that Faithfully is going to be compared to Open Arms. While traditionalists might prefer the more conventional Open Arms, Faithfully imbues the power ballad with even more layers of drama and emotion. The strident and chiming electric chords which follow the first “chorus” are truly magical, and a perfect example of the unbelievable range of sounds which guitars can create.
Bryan Adams (who supported Journey on the Frontiers Tour is thought to have been heavily influenced by Faithfully whilst writing Heaven, and, legend has it that Prince called Cain to check whether or not he thought Purple Rain sounded too similar to the track. That Faithfully could inspire such iconic songs should give you some idea of the sheer magnetism and brilliance of this moving and timeless power ballad.
# 3 – Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
This moody ’80s classic comes from Frontiers, and was a decent hit for the band, staying at number eight on the chart for six consecutive weeks. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) is a dark and moody piece brooding with heavy and atmospheric guitar and foreboding synthesizer chords.
The song tells the story of a couple who have broken up and gone their separate ways but will still always share a connection because of the time they spent together. The track was written on tour whilst Schon and Valery were both going through stressful divorces and this no doubt informed the creation of the song. The track is notable for making its debut halfway through the tour, with these live performances being the first time fans would hear the record. Needless to say, the fan reaction was extremely positive.
The song’s release coincided with the creation of MTV, which meant bands were forced to come up with wacky and weird concepts for their music videos. This track has, unfortunately (if not unfairly), been labeled as having one of the worst music videos of all time. The video features the band playing cringeworthy imaginary instruments on a wharf. As well as looking completely ludicrous, the video does a real disservice to what is a powerful and edgy piece of ‘80s rock.
# 2 – Any Way You Want It
The opening track of Departure, Any Way You Want It is an immense, stadium-filling, feel-good track. The song is often used to close Journey shows, finishing concerts on a genuinely euphoric note which is sure to stick with fans. At the center of this hard rock track is a call and response between vocals and guitar which is simply an absolute unbridled pleasure to listen to. This method is believed to have been inspired by Thin Lizzy bassist Phil Lynott, who was jamming with Steve Perry and Neal Schon whilst the two bands were on tour together.
Even if you’ve somehow never heard of Journey, chances are you will be familiar with this track, as it has been featured in any number of different films, TV shows, and commercials since its release. The song is well suited to this type of setting as it’s a real rip-roarer of a track that grabs listeners straight away, with that introductory vocal hook, and doesn’t let go until it reaches its end three and a half minutes later.
As well as the call and response guitar, the most notable part of the song is the sparkling organ (and mellotron) notes which briefly play during the chorus, adding a pinch of variety and manic glamour to proceedings. When a track is as shiny and genuinely awesome as this, it’s no surprise that it has become a mainstay of popular culture.
# 1 – Don’t Stop Believin’
Love it or loathe it (not that that’s possible) there is truly no other track that will ever top a list of Journey songs. Taken from 1981’s Escape, this track is, quite simply, one of the most anthemic and catchy rock songs of all time.
Don’t Stop Believin’ begins with a glittering and iconic keyboard riff, which is soon joined by Perry’s vocals and some urgent and jittering guitar. From there, the song just gets bigger and bigger, introducing some catchy pre-choruses and instrumentals before finally climaxing with that enormous chorus.
Like a lot of Journey songs, this track did decently enough upon first release, but, over time, morphed into achieving legendary status. Thanks to various television shows over the years (The Sopranos, Glee, The X-Factor) the song has been in and out of the chart ever since its initial release, even managing to become the 25th best-selling track of 2010 in the UK, over twenty years since its release.
The track’s enduring popularity can be put down to its cheerful and feel good message, which is one that everyone needs to hear at some point in their lives. Along with this, the clever structure and progression really take the listener on (ironically) a journey. Don’t Stop Believin’ is a heavenly piece of everlasting rock goodness that will no doubt keep listeners believin’ long into the future.
Throughout their career, Journey’s various incarnations have created a plethora of memorable and moving tracks, creating an impressive and influential discography. You can be sure that each of the Journey songs on this list will be remembered and cherished for years to come.
Top 10 Journey Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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