December 19 – Don’t Stop Believin’ A Decades-old Song Can Be A Smash

One of the luckiest, and in quite a few people’s minds best, rock songs ever had a big day 40 years ago today. “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey peaked at #9 on the Billboard charts on this day in 1981. The fact that it never got higher than that would come as a surprise to many given that it’s considered a rock classic and is one of the most played “recurrent” singles on radio year after year.

Don’t Stop Believin’” was the second single off Journey’s seventh studio album, Escape, the fourth with singer Steve Perry. The band was hitting their creative and commercial peak, with the album being their only U.S. #1 and their biggest-seller outside of their Greatest Hits compilation. Currently it’s 9X platinum in the U.S. and has topped 12 million sales worldwide.

The song was popular enough at home, no question about that. It spend 13 weeks in the top 40, but it might seem hard to believe now that the previous single, “Who’s Crying Now?” spent longer on the charts and had gotten to #4, making it the band’s biggest hit to that point. “Don’t Stop Believin’” did well in Canada as well, where the album went triple platinum, but was close to ignored elsewhere. In the UK, for instance, it crawled to #62. And while the California band had their diehard fans, they weren’t universally adored. Critics tended to lambast them regularly. Rolling Stone was not atypical at the time when it rated Escape just 2-stars, saying “Who’s Crying Now?” “does sound good” but otherwise the album was “less a testament to talent than to the times,” calling them “heavy metal lightweights”. They didn’t even mention “Don’t Stop Believin’” in their review.

Time was initially somewhat kind to Journey and the album. The love song “Open Arms” off it was a hit (getting to #2 in North America, it was the highest charting single for the band, who with 18 top 40 hits trail only ELO for most hit singles without a #1 hit)and by the end of the century, Classic Rock had listed it as the 22nd greatest album of all-time in their opinion.

The stroke of luck for Journey however, came in 2007. It was that David Chase was a fan of theirs, and the song in particular. Chase was a writer for, and producer of the HBO hit show The Sopranos, and he needed a song to close out the final scene of the final episode with. He chose this one.

He loved the song. “Musically (it) starts to build and build into something as it’s just about to release. And when you look at that scene, you get that feeling.” He especially liked the line “’He took the midnight train going anywhere’. I felt these two characters had taken the midnight train a long time ago. that is their life… the dark train.”

Millions tuned in to the finale, and its ambiguity ensured many more would discuss it for days to come and rewatch it, all the while taking in the sounds of Journey. It was the musical equivalent of a winning Powerball ticket for Steve Perry (who has a new Christmas album this year) and his by then ex-bandmates. The song was requested constantly on rock stations and it vaulted back up the charts, to #6 in the UK and #2 in Canada. By then, I-pods were a popular device and “Don’t Stop Believin’” began being added to them. By the millions. For a brief time, it was the most downloaded song ever, and it remains the biggest hit from the 20th Century on I-tunes. The song which had after some time earned the band a gold record for the sales of the 7” vinyl record, jumped to 5X platinum based on the millions of paid downloads.

I guess there’s a message in there. If at first you don’t succeed (or at least not as well as you had hoped) hang in there and “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Success could be just around the corner.

23 thoughts on “December 19 – Don’t Stop Believin’ A Decades-old Song Can Be A Smash

  1. Sometimes someone makes the right song choice in a soundtrack and everyone wins. Usually someone sticks in a ‘product placement’ effort and it does nothing for the movie/series feel. the right song can add to the whole.

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    1. thanks Deke. I like the song, don’t mind hearing it sometimes but I agree… it’s been overplayed for the past decade at least. It’s nice here the classic rock station at least play five or six Journey songs including ‘Wheel in the Sky’ and a couple others you don’t hear everywhere all the time.

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      1. Must admit, I’ve only spent a few cumulative hours in Detroit and to me that’s still a few too many. One of the few American cities I’ve seen I haven’t felt comfortable in.

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      2. Windsor I’ve never spent much time in, but seemed OK when I’ve driven through and maybe stopped for a coffee. Kind of a generic Ontario mid-sized city. I once had a gf who had some family there, never went with her but she liked the town.

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      3. Windsor’s OK. Very different when the auto plant stuff dried up. Passing through and grabbing a coffee is pretty good for it, these days (all deference to those who still live there). I can’t talk, my town (Owen Sound) isn’t much better but at least we have lots of hiking/outdoor stuff do to for folks into that.

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      4. Same in Oshawa, from 70s to about 2009 GM closed two factories altogether, sold off some parts plants which closed soon after, downsized…at one time 24000 workers, down to 2600 & closed the last auto-manufacturing plant there not long back. Probably a few hundred people left in the office there these days. But it is close enough to Toronto to not have destroyed the economy but it has had impact.

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      5. the ripple effects of that type of thing are huge…I mean there were bars and restaurants along the street across from the complex which really only served the purpose of accomodating the factory workers; both CP and CN had huge, busy rail yards adjacent to the factories at one time, now there are no parts to haul in or autos to haul out so that’s gone, and on and on.

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      6. Yup. And the even smaller towns dry up even faster. And housing prices in the big city go up and up and up. I was talking to a co-worker recently, she’s in college. She doesn’t even consider owning a house, like, ever.

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      7. In Ontario, I can understand that! One significant reason my sweetie and I never gave too serious consideration to moving back (back for me) up there. When my dad was young, he worked at GM, bought a 3-bedroom bungalow on a pretty big lot in the suburbs w/o our mom working , after he’d been in the factory maybe 6 years. Now that same house is priced in the $800 000 range…even at a good factory, ain’t no way one person could pay for that!

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      8. Prices here have, I think doubled in about 8 years but they’re still cheaper than majority of places in the country, which is disheartening. There’s actually been a trend of a migration of both people and offices from California here because places like LA and San Jose have gotten so ridiculously expensive out there.

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