By David Chiu
Looking back at this Bay Area band’s career, one has to ask the question, ‘When hasn’t Journey’s music been played on the radio?’ Whether you love it or completely indifferent about it, Journey’s music has been nearly inescapable on classic rock (and even lite rock) stations. You were probably humming to a Journey song on the car radio last night. Steve Perry’s raspy, tougher-than-leather vocals and Neil Schon’s guitar pyrotechnics, not to mention the catchy hooks, has virtually ensured Journey’s reputation as the premiere American arena rock band who can pack a house and land a single on the charts with one finger.
But when it comes to albums, well…that’s another story. Ask anybody (with the exception of the hardcore fans, and you know they are out there) what is the definitive Journey album, and the glib, casual answer might be “Greatest Hits.” That was first released in 1988, although the band had put out albums since 1975. It is telling about how the band approached making records. The music from these newly reissued releases spanning the commercially successful Steve Perry years hardly contains any variation stylistically—Journey’s sound was built on hard boogie (and later sleek)rock, power ballads and flashy and bombastic musicianship from Schon and company. With a blueprint containing those elements that helped sell millions of albums, why mess with a winning formula? (Remember the fate of new Coke?).
Still if you love this meat-and-potatoes aspect of ‘70s rock, then dig in: Each of the albums offers at least one bonafide hit single with a few interesting cuts. Journey’s first albums were moderately successful. But it was Infinity (1978) that introduced singer Steve Perry who helped significantly augment the band’s fortunes. Vocally, he is an upgrade from the modestly-soulful keyboardist/singer Gregg Rolie. You know Perry made his mark on the opening track, the Bay Area valentine “Lights,” with his over-the-top belting on that and the other hit “Wheel in the Sky”; other noteworthy songs include “Something to Hide” and “Feeling that Way” that showed Journey unabashed sentimental side.
The title of Journey’s 1979 album, Evolution, doesn’t mean there was a change in the band’s sound; it has, however, one of rock’s most singable songs, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” with its ‘nah-nah-nah’s’ at the end. Departure (1980) continues to follow in the same vein with the in-your-face rocker “Anyway You Want It.”
Escape (1981) is the band’s strongest album out of the batch and it’s no fluke—it yielded three hit singles, the automatic crowd pleaser “Don’t Stop Believin’”; “Who’s Crying Now”; and the mother of all power ballads, “Open Arms.” Journey hit a career peak with the addition of keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who replaced Rolie; he impacted the group greatly through his playing and songwriting. ”Stone in Love” and “Still They Ride” are some of the few album cuts that can stand on their own along with those singles. (The reissue also contains the “La Raza del Sol” B-side and three live cuts from a 1981 Houston concert).
If you don’t feel that adventurous in getting the individual studio albums, there is the aforementioned Greatest Hits, which has also been reissued with a bonus track, “When You Love a Woman,” first released on the 1996 reunion album Trial By Fire (the hard-charging “Message of Love” would have been a nice addition). It’s an absolutely perfect, filler-free compilation—every song on this set continues to be played on radio.