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Don't Stop Believin'? We couldn't if we tried
June 08, 2011

Three decades after its first release, Journey's anthem is still doing the business, played everywhere from baseball parks to the big screen and now on teen TV favourite, Glee, writes KEVIN COURTNEY

IF ENDA KENNY was serious about bringing this country back from bankruptcy, he'd push for our national anthem to be scrapped and replaced by a radio hit from 1981 by a band of jazz-influenced rockers from San Francisco.

If we adopted Don't Stop Believin' by Journey as our anthem, it could be just the morale boost our little country needs. If you don't believe me, just look what the song did for the Chicago White Sox baseball team. When they adopted it as their rallying cry in 2005, they swept to victory in the World Series for the first time in 80 years. Just think what it could do for Team Ireland. The song is spinning in my head as I speak to Journey's guitarist, Neal Schon, who, along with keyboard player Jonathan Cain and now-departed singer Steve Perry, co-wrote the song that now threatens to devour the entire world. So, how did Don't Stop Believin' become bigger than the hole in the ozone layer, and is there any way to reverse the process?

“I have no idea," laughs Schon, “but I can tell you that when it was being written in the 1980s, in rehearsals over at my place in Oakland, Jonathan had just come into the band, and he came in and he just started playing that keyboard riff that the song starts out on, and he hummed a few melodies and a few lyrics, and I wrote the next section, and then Steve and Jon honed the lyrics and there it was. Then we arranged it, but it really took about half a day to put down. And after we recorded it and it was mixed, I listened to it and went, wow, I think this song's gonna be big one day."

Schon had no idea how big. Sure, Don't Stop Believin' became a US Top 10 hit in 1981, propelling their eighth album, Escape, to number one, and establishing Journey as one of the megabands of the 1980s. But another song off the album, Open Arms , charted even higher; there was no hint then that Don't Stop Believin' would turn into an unstoppable monster hit.

The song's second life may have begun as far back as 1998, when an acoustic version of it was used on the soundtrack for the movie The Wedding Singer. But when it featured in the final episode of The Sopranos in 2007, all hell broke loose. Soon, everybody was putting out parodies of Tony Soprano's final televisual moments, including Jon Stewart on The Daily Show , and Hillary Clinton, in a campaign video.

By the end of the last decade, you couldn't attend even the smallest sports event in the US without hearing the song blasting out of the bleachers. But that wasn't the end. The song became a hit once again when it was covered by the cast of Glee , and it's since become a staple of high-school musicals from Ballyfermot to Bangalore.

It now boasts the highest digital sales of any song released in the 20th century - that makes it a more popular song to download than Hey Jude, Like a Rolling Stone, Stairway to Heaven or Smells Like Teen Spirit .

Such is its momentum, the song is already in the top 30 most popular downloads of all time; so far, more than four million people have consciously clicked the button marked “bring this song back into my life".

“That it has become as big as it is now this many years later only makes me think there are more songs sitting on those records that actually should be bigger too," says Schon. “You know, if people concentrated on another song for once . . . but you know what? I'm not gonna push it. If they keep on going with that song, all the baseball leagues, everybody . . . man, it's just all over the place. Glee, that television show, huge across the world, they ended up doing our songs on their record, and they had a number one, and that brought a lot younger audience to our back catalogue, and our catalogue has sold more than it's ever sold."

It's been quite a journey for the Bay Area band, and Schon is happy to ride the rollercoaster and see where it takes them next. He was just 15 when he got his first gig - as a guitarist with Santana. He formed Journey in 1973, envisaging them as an instrumental fusion band in the vein of Mahavishnu Orchestra. The group twiddled their way through the 1970s with moderate success, until their record company suggested they get a lead singer in.

They hired Portuguese-American singer Steve Perry, a young belter influenced by Sam Cooke and other soul greats. With Perry up front, and boasting a poppier sound, Journey began their rise to megastardom, but one thing kept nagging at Schon. While they also enjoyed chart success in the UK and other non-US territories, Neal felt the band was too focused on the homefront, with the result that they were an almost exclusively US phenomenon.

“I think everything happens for a reason," he says, “and I think it's great that we didn't go to all those countries across the world early on in our career, because now it's really fresh. We've just got back from South America, all sold-out dates, places that we've never played before, and the audiences were ecstatic." You can't go nearly 40 years without some break-ups and line-up changes. Journey split up in 1989, got back together in 1996, and have been on the road since then. The current line-up features three-fifths of the classic Journey line-up: Schon, keyboard player Cain and bassist Ross Valory. Drummer Deen Castronovo has been with the band for over a decade. Steve Perry bowed out shortly after their comeback album due to health problems; his big shoes are being filled by young Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who was spotted by Schon singing in a Journey tribute band.

“Arnel has really brought a lot to the band, and our fans absolutely adore him, and I love him - he's the greatest guy in the world and he's a tremendous singer. I think he's actually helped open us up a bit.

“And now we're considered more of an international band because he's from Manila."

If you journey down to the O2 on Saturday, Schon promises all the hits, including Any Way You Want It, Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin', Who's Cryin' Now , and of course that song. There'll also be a few tracks from their new album, Eclipse , which, says Schon, is “mystical from beginning to end. It's about faith, love, hope and spiritualism."

Well, if Don't Stop Believin' fails to work its magic on our economy, at least they've got some back-up.

Journey headline the O2 Dublin on Saturday.

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