Take A Midnight Train Going Anywhere With This Alternative Best of Playlist For AOR Kings: Journey…
The idea that Journey might be pretty cool is clearly a difficult one to get your head around, but back in the eighties, Journey were the thinking AOR fan’s go-to band. REO Speedwagon and Kansas were too wimpy, Boston took six years to release an album, Survivor were good with that Rocky tune but not a lot else and Foreigner let us all down with the desperate “I Wanna Know What Love Is”, which might have been good for trying to get girls at the school disco to do a slow dance, but otherwise just didn’t cut the mustard. Bunch of wimps, the lot of them.
On the other hand, Journey had, in Steve Perry, a soft throated warbler that would, outside of a rock band, get twitchers traversing continents to hear, and also the significant guitar skills of Neal Schon. Mr Schon had pedigree with Santana and although his guitar had a tone cleaner than Barry Scott’s kitchen, it could also rock dirtier than a van-driver’s fantasy wife. In the somewhat less enlightened late seventies, you might say Journey catered for both the ladies (Perry’s blue-eyed soul) and for the gentlemen too (Schon’s axe-attack).*
Yet the critics disliked both Journey and the Arena Rock / AOR genre as a whole. At a time when The Sex Pistols were singing “No Future” and The Specials were bemoaning the “Ghost Town” where they lived, Journey’s tale of small town girl living in a lonely world – recklessly taking midnight trains going “anywhere” – and bumping into City boys, not just born but “raised” in South Detroit, also recklessly taking midnight trains of unknown destination – seemed a little, well, cheesy. Frankly, they were both fortunate not to get mugged.
So having established Journey are something of a Marmite band, here’s some of their best songs.
To keep it interesting, I have avoided the obvious hits – all of which can be found on not just one, but two Greatest Hits albums. The fact that this playlist contains such gems as it does (and trust me, I could listen to this all day) is testament to the depth of Journey’s back catalogue.
Enjoy this Alternative Best of Journey playlist on Spotify and (further below) Youtube:
1. Can Do
After “Don’t Stop Believin’” played out over the end credits to the very last episode of The Sopranos, only Frank Sinatra could have been more indebted to the Mafia for musical success, yet Journey enjoyed spectacular record sales in the USA in the late seventies and early eighties despite their rather more progressive heritage. This song is from 1978’s “Infinity”, their first with Steve Perry, and sounds like the sort of thing Queen were making with Sheer Heart Attack. Great guitar, heavy early-Queen-esque riffage, and nice vocal harmonies.
2. La Do Da
Journey began as that most Spinal Tap of combos, a jazz fusion band in 1973. Former Santana members Neal Schon on lead guitar and Gregg Rolie on keyboards / lead vocals got together with Ross Valory on bass and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. After two or three albums the record company asked the trio to find a singer, and future Vinnie Vincent vocalist Robert Fleischmann came on board. Then, in 1978, a soulful singer by the name of Steve Perry replaced him. It is the blend of Perry’s silky vocal harmonies over Schon’s chugging riff that make this such a classic tune.
3. Do You Recall
On 1979’s “Evolution” the band brought a pop sensibility to the songs, perhaps the best of which was this mid tempo pop-rocker. A structured verse and chorus, plus melodic guitar solo – this was the template that Bon Jovi later followed to great success seven years later.
Shining in the silver moon / Crystal ships are sailing to the sea….. Just to show it isn’t all ballads and pop songs, there’s this proto-dreampop / psychedelic number from “Evolution”. It is quite unlike anything else Journey recorded. If you’re not a fan, then just give this one a listen to perhaps blow away your preconceptions…
5. Sweet and Simple
Another Queen-esque song in its ambition – think “Somebody To Love”. As the title implies this is rather sugary – to the extent it might give you toothache listening to it. However, it is also a terrifically constructed ballad with fantastic vocals that show off Perry’s astonishing range, which build to a gorgeous crescendo.
6. Where Were You
Despite the poor punctuation (No question mark? For shame!) this song is back to the rockier side of Journey and opened Journey’s live shows and the “Captured” double live album. From 1980’s “Departure”, everything that’s great about Journey is in this song: a great Schon riff and solo, great playing from Smith and Valory, and a Perry vocal to blow you away.
7. Line of Fire
Another rocking track from “Departure” and another great mix of Perry’s soulful vocal with a hard rocking band behind him – and a great solo from Schon to lift things even higher.
8. Natural Thing
Back to a more mid tempo soul ballad on this “Departure” track. Classic Journey with the piano intro, Perry’s Sam Cooke vocal with added harmonies and a strong Schon solo again. Sounds like a classic R&B ballad from the fifties, given an AOR makeover.
9. Keep On Runnin’
The best song on “Escape” without a “g” may not be “Don’t Stop Believin’”, but may be this – the rockingest (yes that is a word) track on the album. Schon never sounded better, and for once (Greg Rolie’s replacement) Jonathan Caine’s keyboards are kept to the background.
10. Raised on Radio
This title track to Journey’s 1986 album is a paean to American AM radio with name-checks for Maybelline, The Great Pretender and Louis Louis, evoking memories of drive-in movies and more innocent days. The “Raised on Radio” album saw the band in turmoil with the departure of Steve Smith, whilst Ross Valory was replaced too – by future American Idol judge Randy Jackson. The album was one of their best, and shows a more modern, mature sound.
11. Be Good To Yourself
Another “Raised on Radio” standout. This song has an unusual chorus, with the harmonies to the front and Perry singing across them. The standout from the “Raised on Radio” album, and it’s first single, reaching number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
12. Happy To Give
Journey always did a killer ballad, and this one from “Raised on Radio” is as good as any they did. Perry never sounded more full of sorrow and heartache.
Here’s all of the tracks on a YouTube Playlist for those that don’t have Spotify.
So there it is. Did I miss your favourite? (Remember the rules for an “Alternative Best of” mean you must avoid the greatest hits). More to the point, can you actually listen to this without your toes curling? Or is it just me? Any other Journey sympathisers out there? Be good to hear your thoughts in the comments section.
* Because, went the assumption of the day, ladies don’t like noisy guitars.
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