Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin'” (1981): One Track Mind

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Tony Soprano tucked into a booth at a New Jersey diner, one of those old-time places with a selection of jukebox tunes right at the table.

He considered, briefly, something by Tony Bennett, then went with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,'” and the final, controversial, moments of HBO’s “The Sopranos” — one of television’s most challenging series — began to unfold.

As the camera cut to Soprano’s wife Carmela, Journey frontman Steve Perry sang: “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere.”

Back to Tony: “Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit, he took the midnight train going anywhere.”

From there, nothing much else happened, short of some shady characters giving Tony the stink eye. Then, just as Perry sang “Don’t stop,” Soprano looked toward the restaurant’s entrance and the screen abruptly went blank — sparking furious debate about what happened next.

Even among members of Journey.

“The point of the song playing,” Perry said in published reports this week, “is that you just don’t give up; life goes on even if you’re the Sopranos. … In the midst of his turbulent life and everything, there’s always this sense of family and this sense of dreams and hopes for some kind of normalcy — some kind of don’t-give-up, don’t-stop-believing feeling. I actually shouted ‘All right!’ at the end.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Check out our in-depth talk with Gregg Rolie, where he discusses his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career with Santana and Journey.]

An era-defining radio hit — this one, “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Now” once leaked from every passing car, it seemed — “Don’t Stop Believin'” helped move nine million copies of the album “Escape” in 1981.

It was, and I’m not making this up, also part of a video game. (“Don’t Stop Believin'” played in the background while you controlled various band members, helping them — again, not making this up — avoid groupies and evil promoters on the way to the Journey spaceship.) Still later, and perhaps just as improbably, it became a lockerroom anthem during the Chicago White Sox’s run to a World Series title a couple of seasons ago.

Not bad for a tune that mentions a neighborhood, south Detroit, that doesn’t exist. (Perry subsequently covered for this by inserting the name of every single stop the band made on its endless 1980s touring schedule — even “Shreveport,” again not making this up, when Journey played a cowbarn in my hometown called Hirsch Memorial Coliseum.)

Now, it belongs to television history.

“It puts our feet in the cement,” Journey keyboard player Jonathan Cain said this week. “We’re a staple in the American music culture. Like us or not, we’re here to stay.”

But, what did this final scene, you know … mean?

Many appear to be counting on an as-yet unannounced “Sopranos” movie to subsequently explain things, and the soundtrack seemed to bolster that theory: “Some will win, some will lose,” Perry offered. “Some were born to sing the blues. Oh, the movie never ends. It goes on and on and on and on … “

There is some truth there, even if a sequel isn’t in the offing.

“The Sopranos” finale, to me, challenged us to once again accept the mundane, open-ended nature of our own lives — and that goes for mobsters, too. Some, in fact, will win — and some will lose. But we know little about how that all will turn out.

In the meantime, there are smaller joys, like a jukebox and its perhaps disposable heroes. Not to mention video games that demonize groupies and evil promoters.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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