In searching for forgotten gems from Journey, we left aside arena-filling efforts from Escape through Trial by Fire — which combined sold some 18 million copies. Been there, done that, right?
We also left aside the post-Steve Perry era, since — let’s be honest — you could argue that all of those tracks are, outside of Journey’s most committed fans, essentially little-heard deep cuts.
Instead, our five songs are plucked from the band’s late-1970s period, as Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon polished up their seminal fusion-rock sound and then saw the band go supernova with the addition of a pair of Steves, first Perry and then drummer Steve Smith.
Rolie and Smith, in exclusive SER Sitdowns, offer some insights too, as we go beyond the hits with Journey …
“OPENED THE DOOR,” (INFINITY, 1978): The last song on the first album to feature Steve Perry, “Open the Door” is perhaps the perfect intersecting point between Journey’s early fusion-rock sound and the looming pop ballardry that would hurtle Journey into its 1980s-era status as platinum-selling arena gods.
“Opened the Door” begins like every achingly gorgeous, ear-wormy love song they ever hit with a few years later — but after Perry’s initial three minutes, Gregg Rolie joins in a soaring vocal bridge (“yeah, you opened …”), and from there Neal Schon and Co. are loosened from those binding conventions. Aynsley Dunbar, on his final recording date with Journey, sets a thunderous cadence, and Schon powers the song — and this album — to its soaring conclusion.
With Infinity, Journey began a two-album run with Roy Thomas Baker, and songs like “Opened the Door” underscore the legendary Queen producer’s sweeping impact on the way the band constructed its songs for the rest of the Perry era — from its flanging guitars to those dizzyingly stacked vocals, which made Perry, Rolie, Valory and Schon sound like an army of singers.
“DAYDREAM,” (EVOLUTION, 1979): An episodic triumph, very much in keeping with the prog-rock pretensions of the day — from the dreamy, Jon Anderson-esque verses, to its rangy guitar riffs, to its forward-thinking keyboard asides.
For Steve Smith, who had only just joined Journey during the previous tour, that collaborative spirit defined the period. Tracks like “Daydream” were composed in a free-flowing manner, something the drummer says directly impacted his own subsequent turn toward jazz.
“The band wrote collectively in a rehearsal room,” Smith told us. “The music would develop in a jam session-style situation. Most of Journey’s music was developed collectively at first and then fine-tuned into songs. I learned a lot from that situation and continue to write like that to this day.”
Eventually, of course, Journey would begin to fracture — and by 1986′s Raised on Radio, as Perry took control of the band, both Smith and founding bass player Ross Valory would briefly find themselves out of jobs. (They returned for 1996′s Trial by Fire, and Valory remains with Journey today.) The transition from Rolie to Jonathan Cain — formerly keyboardist with the Babys — would also nudge the band’s sound closer to the pop mainstream.
“LITTLE GIRL,” (DREAM, AFTER DREAM, 1980): “Little Girl,” a lengthy paean to love’s innocence that starts out sweetly pastoral before launching into a stratospheric shower of sound, would arrive as part of a bold restatement of the band’s progressive-rock prowess — and it couldn’t have come at a more surprising moment.
Journey was, at this point, on a pop-chart roll (having already placed Top 25 hits with “Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin’” and “Anyway You Want It”), even as Rolie announced his departure. This would be his final group project — and instead of pointing to the future, tracks like “Little Girl” (not to mention the underrated “Destiny,” their longest-ever recorded track, from the same album) confirmed just what Journey could still do conceptually. Written as part of a soundtrack for a now-forgotten foreign film, the band is arguably at the peak of its creative powers here.
Of course, Dream, After Dream sunk without a trace once Journey issued its multi-multi-platinum smash Escape a year later, and this song became known — if it was known at all — simply as a B-side to the “Open Arms” single.
“HUSTLER,” (NEXT, 1977): An explosion of heavy-rocking sexuality, “Hustler” found Journey considerably toughening up its by-then-established fusion-based formula — something the group would eventually return to, but only decades later with 2011′s impressively muscular Eclipse.
“You know, a lot of metal players connected with that album,” Rolie told us. “Songs like ‘Hustler’ — I wrote the music for that — had such a rough edge to it. They picked up on that stuff. The way I look at the early Journey stuff is, if we played that now, we’d be out with Phish, or the Matthews Band. We were a great jam band.”
On tracks like the Next-opening “Spaceman,” we hear the first flowerings of a pop sensibility, as well. Yet, Next reached just No. 85 on the Billboard Pop Album charts. So the four-piece group (Rolie, Schon, Dunbar and Valory) began searching for new blood. They briefly added Robert Fleischman — who arrived shortly after this album’s release, toured with the band and even received co-writing credit on three songs for Journey’s following album — but eventually settled on Perry.
“SOMEDAY SOON,” (DEPARTURE, 1980): The final major vocal collaboration featuring Perry and Schon — who by then had shared the mic on key early Journey tracks like “Feeling that Way/Anytime” and “Just the Same Way” — and, still, one of the more memorable for its thoughtful optimism.
“I remember (Journey manager) Herbie (Herbert) calling me up and saying there was a college that wanted to use this song in their music department to show good songwriting,” Rolie told us. “I said, ‘Really?! Maybe I will finally get a degree of some sort.’ (Laughs.) The thing is, that song was so difficult to write. I ended up looking out the window, and the lyrics just wouldn’t come. Finally, that’s what popped into my head — ‘someday soon.’”
“Someday Soon” appeared on Journey’s sixth release, their next to the last with Rolie — who was replaced by Cain after a wildly successful tour chronicled in 1981′s Captured. Reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard album charts, Departure was, at the time, the band’s highest charting effort ever.