If you’re reading this, you know “Don’t Stop Believin’.” If you don’t, you may be too young, in which case I’ll simply intone, It Awaits. Other acceptable excuses include just moved from Pitcairn Island, just moved from Ganymede, raised by wolves, raised by Dravidians, spent your life trapped in a giant bucket.
But basically if you’re reading this, you know “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s been hated, loved, love-to-hated and versa vice, adopted by The Sopranos, sports teams, school bus chorus kids. It’s been recast by drunks in bars who belt out “STOVE -TOP, STUF-FING!!!” for the big finish. It’s been recast as a web-famous video cover version concerning, if memory serves, a mascot egg falling in love with a mascot calculator on a tennis court which doubles as a karaoke bar. It’s been condemned because “South Detroit” for the “city boy” doesn’t actually exist (nobody heard of poetic license? or those floating cities come to save us from melting icecaps?).
It’s been mocked, God knows. My brother and watched the live version on MTV and chortled about warts in Steve Perry’s nostrils.
Sure they were easy to punk, especially for us Residents-loving punk squirts. We were a little too young. Others, a little too old.
But for a crucial cohort–those ending-edge Boomers plus a lotta bleeding-edge Xers–something was happening, 1981 a sweet spot in the special sauce. Young people struggling with zits, angst, parental units, attempted facial hair, social anxiety, stalling the car out at a stop sign, the sign (or no?) to steal that kiss at a slow dance–tarried not a jot over Journey’s prog-rock spawning or settled San Francisco roots.
With one comment to rule them all, I turn your attention to one “Phatt Daddy”’s online Escape remembrance:
“really, almost 40 years from high school, a time you thought you could never escape, home work, detention, laps (if you played sports), labs, & crabs, etc.”
Well I wouldn’t wish crabs on too many people, but Phatt Daddy’s in the neighborhood. A lot of us were white and middle-class or better and didn’t know Privilege or First World Problems from Pudding Pops. The cohort had its blind edges. But the five men who recorded this caught the mass surgent, adopted for a cohort soundtrack, and surfed that all the way to Diamond status–conferred in 2021, ten million units shifted. (Ubiquitous media presence too: Honk if you remember the Journey arcade video game, midget digital band members flicking between screen-capture facial expressions.)
Tough to remember it started back with those kids stuck with Toughskins, plus Hot Wheels and/or Barbies; with manager doyen Herbie Herbert bringing in guitarist Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie from Santana, whose titular leader just split from Herbert.
Ross Valory on bass and rhythm guitarist George Tickner from Frumious Bandersnatch joined the mix, as did drummer Prairie Prince, who came over from SF’s outrageous Tubes, and decided quick he liked them better. Aynsley Dunbar from the UK took the drum stool; the self-titled debut from 1975, featured song titles like “Kohoutek”—an instrumental, one of two. After all, this lineup had no dedicated singer.
Tickner left before the followup ‘76’s Look Into the Future, featuring a rave-up of the Beatles’ “It’s All Too Much”—with a “Rain”-style backwards coda. Rolie on the mic sang agreeable but hardly ironclad; ditto Next, next year.
With ‘78’s Infinity, though, Herbert had Steve Perry, and a plan. Simple one-word titles; high-gleam cosmic conceptual art from Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse; plus a flying-wedge commercial attack to shove said results so far into store browser’s sensory organs as stacked displayed and standees could convey. Infinity wedged just under the Billboard Top 30. That new cohort stirred, and the early stuff became the detritus of fusty geeks, maybe even (Gawd forbid) the stash of somebody’s parents.
With Dunbar out and Steve Smith in, ‘79’s Evolution got the Top 20 and three million sold. Departure, one more year and one more triple-platinum. Rolie left after Dream, After Dream, (also 1980)–an obscure soundtrack to an obscure Japanese film. He helped pick out his replacement, though, and Jonathan Cain jumped right in with the piano intro to “Believin’.” Thenceforth flame torched fuse.
The band, lamented old drummer Dunbar, was “so tight it just doesn’t go anywhere.” But for commercial purposes, they’d just gone galactic, with a sound seemingly slick and of itself, though spin it over and strands starts to unweave. Perry took from Sam Cooke how to artfully fall away from notes (hear how he’d flip Cooke’s “you make me we-eeak” to his own “you make me we-eep,” for Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”) Co-producer Mike Stone cut his teeth with Queen and brought traces of Freddie & Co. through slick, sinister guitar and frizz-your-wig funky bass.
Vestigial prog traces remain in the odd-accent guitar stabs of “Keep On Runnin’,” ode to a factory drone waiting for Friday night. Schon festooned everything in those atavistic, high-relief guitar etchings he’d learned at Santana’s side.
“Dead Or Alive” sketches a hit man, an unlikely subject for such a band until you get quick that this isn’t grit (like the dark stuff Escape’s co-producer Kevin Elson towed Lynyrd Skynyrd through)–it’s about the guy’s Maserati, the coolness of that Maserati, the coolness of “a cat with nine lives who’s too far gone/too feel the chill.” Which is to say, it’s about an ’80s movie concept of a hitman. Shiny. Slick. Colors you could lick.
What’s left? Perry left, for good, 1996. The band sells tickets with a sound-alike. The crucial cohort can’t call anybody fusty no more; most of them have grandchildren. “Some will win/Some will lose,” sounds carnal-exciting until, like that Roger Waters line about ten years behind you, you look up and in fact have lived it.
But listen: Few years back I caught Steve Perry at a panel presentation. He was not going to sing. He was not going to read. He was not going to speak a piece. He was going to take part in a discussion, with the others, maybe answer a few questions at the end.
No one remembers the poor souls on the rest of that panel. Wiped. Women—they were all women—stocked the first two rows, wanting nothing more than to see Steve Perry, hear Steve Perry, get a hug from Steve Perry, get their question answered by Steve Perry.
They came from all over the Lower 48. At least one of them came all the way from another continent.
So you see, neither I (nor anyone else), need to urge anyone, don’t stop with the believin’.
It’s out of our hands.