Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing: The Meaning of the Song
When the screen suddenly goes black and the accents of Journey’s Do not stop Believing remained silent during the finale of an iconic TV show The Sopranos in 2007, it might have symbolized the death of Tony Soprano, but it started a new life for the timeless Journey classic.
The song’s revival provided an extraordinary new chapter in a fairy tale story that began in 1981 and continues to this day. After his Soprano-assisted cover, the song became a late UK Top 10 hit in 2009 (it limped to a paltry number 62 on its initial release), has been streamed almost half a billion times on Spotify and has been picked up by everyone from Steel Panther to once Teenyboppers Hanson. These days, Do not stop Believing is a sort of unofficial American national anthem – and that’s largely thanks to Tony Soprano.
“It’s the incredible power of blending music and imagery,” says Gary Calamar, whose job as one of Hollywood’s top music supervisors is to find the perfect blend. “That Soprano was amazing, the final scene of one of the best TV shows of all time. There was a huge audience with high expectations for the final. Plus, the song is a great mix of heavy bandeau rock with Steve Perry moaning his heartfelt and, dare I say, inspiring lyrics.
Calamar compares the use of Do not stop Believing with other memorable scenes involving specific songs: Night Ranger’s Christian sister in boogie nightsStealers Wheel’s Stuck in the middle with you in reservoir dogsSia’s breathe me in Six feet Under ground. “When you have a big music scene like this, it has a huge impact,” he says. “It really sinks in and sticks to your skin.”
“I think the song’s continued popularity goes back to its core meaning,” says Kara Wright, A&R coordinator at publishing company Peer Music. “Do not stop Believing carries a timeless message that says don’t stop believing in yourself – don’t stop believing in the world – don’t stop believing in anything. Life goes on (and so on) whether you’re a small-town girl, a city boy, the Sopranos, or a member of your high school glee club.
The public’s insatiable appetite for Do not stop Believing was highlighted just two years after it was used on The Sopranos when he was featured in the pilot episode of the TV show Joy in May 2009. The cast version of Do not stop Believing surpassed that of the original Journey, reaching #4 on the US Top 100 and echoed the digital download success of the original, going gold in the US with sales of over 500,000. Joy The cast later covered the song, resulting in combined sales of 973,000 for both versions. It also did well in Great Britain where the Joy the cast recording debuted at No. 5.
To further underscore the seemingly boundless affection for the song, in addition to its highly publicized inclusion on The Sopranos and Joyversions of Don’t Stop Believin’ appeared in – deep breath – Family Guy, Scrubs, South Park, My Name is Earl, Just Shoot Me, Benidorm, Eastenders, TV Burpcountless editions of The X Factor and American Idol, Swedish Idol, Australian Idol…you get the picture.
While Do not stop Believingthe inclusion of 2007 on The Sopranos is considered by many to mark the start of its latest wave of popularity, in an LA Times article Jonathan Cain of Journey – who wrote the song with Steve Perry and Neal Schon – cited its use in the 1998 comedy Adam Sandler The Wedding Singer like the spark. Although Gary Calamar, who is also a DJ on Los Angeles-based radio station KCRW, disagrees. “For better or for worse, I don’t think Do not stop Believing never left. I’ve always felt his corny presence.
Ten years later, Sandler and Do not stop Believing were brought together in bedtime stories. In the meantime, he featured in the 2003 drama Freak with Charlize Theron. The actress, who was also the film’s producer, was so keen to include the track that she personally wrote a letter to Steve Perry. After viewing the proposed scene, Perry agreed to use the song and even became the film’s musical consultant.
The song is in the title of the documentary Journey Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journeywhile other films to feature him include Top view, backs, cloudy with a chance of meatballs and Losers.
Gary Calamar, whose credit list includes House, Dexter and after sunset, understands why the song is featured so regularly. “In a way using these songs is like batting practice for a music supervisor, you know you have a good chance of hitting the park with one of those old power ballads and a great scene above.”
“It’s a feel-good song with a positive message and a memorable melody,” says Kara Wright, “and it’s an anthem that can be accepted and applied to any type of situation.”
To back up his point, browse Spotify and you’ll come across a dizzying list of artists who have covered the track in everything from symphonic metallers Northern Kings to downhome rockers in overalls Hayseed Dixie. There are classical versions, bluegrass versions, acapella versions, dance versions and lounge jazz versions. Scroll through YouTube and you’ll even come across a reggae cover alongside versions of Panic! At The Disco’s Brendan Urie, John Mayer, Stashrip and even tuned-to-air workout audio by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Do not stop Believing is a perennial live favorite, and not just for Journey. During its lifetime it was covered by a range of artists. Notable recent live performances include his inclusion on Kanye West’s set list during his 2008 glow in the dark tour while a charity event for the Rainforest Fund at Carnegie Hall in May brought together the unlikely combination of Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Sting, Debbie Harry and Shirley Bassey for an encore of the song.
“I think the revival of Do not stop Believing can largely be attributed to the exposure and emphasis that entertainment platforms such as television, video games and advertising are now giving to music – an ideal medium that works well for current and classic titles” , says Kara Wright.
The song’s inspirational message made it a favorite of sports teams, never with greater impact than with the Chicago White Sox. During the 2005 season, the unfortunate baseball team adopted Do not stop Believing as their rallying cry. The team duly reached the World Series for the first time in 80 years and Steve Perry was invited to attend as they swept the Houston Astros in four games.
It’s hard to go anywhere these days without being exposed to song in some form or another. Across America, innocent “Stop” signs have been transformed into homages to Journey with the simple addition of two words.
Wherever you go, you can even carry your Do not stop Believing panties or clutching your Do not stop Believing Teddy bear. Its ubiquity is why Kara Wright feels Do not stop Believing is “at the forefront of other decades-old songs revitalized and reintroduced into popular culture”.
Wright believes the song’s success paved the way for others. Absolutely, given the digital revolution and the multimedia phenomenon, I think it’s an amazing time for classic rock songs to find new life. In this way, long-forgotten music will continue to be revived as young audiences gain a new appreciation for rock history. The universe of catalogs that have not yet been unveiled is fascinating.
And what about the men who wrote it? Unsurprisingly, the song closes out every Journey show these days, though given its popularity, it would likely cause riots if it didn’t.
Former singer Steve Perry has a more complicated relationship with song. The only times Perry has sung onstage since stepping away from music in 1995 was when he made appearances on three shows with the band Eels in 2014. And although he sang Journey songs with the band, Do not stop Believing was not one of them.
The original version of this article appeared in Classic Rock issue 153